This is a quote has been taken out of context as he was actually making the observation that there is a danger in running a company on visible figures alone and some important factors are “unknown and unknowable’ and yet must also be managed.
Producers set agenda at REAP
For producers the “unknown and unknowable’ are never far away and how to build resilience in an agri-food business within this context is the theme of this year’s REAP conference. We will be looking at the challenges from a number of perspectives with the aim of bringing new thinking into the industry.
We have a strong, knowledgeable (and forthright) Producers’ Panel that will be articulating the needs of the producers for farm-centred technology. And taking the story to the top of the value-chain will be the head of agriculture for Sainsbury’s.
Listening to them and responding will be a panel of technologists, with experience in other market sectors, looking to understand the challenges of agri-food.
Alongside this we will be bringing the research community to discuss a new farm-based research network that will create a stronger link between laboratory and farm. A selection of posters will showcase current research themes across the institutes.
One of the reoccurring themes from our Pollinators and Special Interest Groups that we aim to start to address at REAP is “how to calculate potential Return on Investment (ROI) of new technology”.
While the innovation may look compelling, there are so many unknowns that doing the right sums to ensure the numbers stack up can be difficult.
Will it work as effectively on the farm as the article / sales person / trial plots suggest? How will it integrate into existing farm practices? Will costly staff (re-)training be needed? How long will it take to recoup the initial investment?
It’s time, I would argue, for agricultural economics to be put to work on the farm. Although it is well established as an academic discipline it will have limited value in the real world until it can model some of these unknowns.
Learning from healthcare
This issue has been tackled in healthcare, which has seen a growing sophistication in health economics as those developing new drugs now having to demonstrate economic benefit, as well as improved patient outcomes (and of course safety) before their product will be considered for adoption by the National Health Service. As result this discipline is now highly developed and trusted.
The hurdle to overcome before farmers and growers groups will make serious investments in technology is the lack of a method to achieve the independent evaluation of the economic benefits and calculations of ROI in the field. To achieve this we need to improve the ways of measuring what we can and a better understanding of how to account for that we can’t. One of the aims of REAP is to take us nearer to that goal.
A new era for agri-economics?
Health economists are fast becoming a sought-after breed. I hope the day comes where a trusted, independent agricultural economist, backed by a proven methodology, will be available to offer farmers a high quality service around new technologies and innovations.