Agricultural ministers of the OECD met in late February 2010 – the first time since 1998 – and issued a communiqué that touches on everything and says close to nothing. For once, such an empty statement is perfectly fine. The OECD Secretariat doesn’t need its ministers in order to do an excellent job in providing intellectual guidance and hard data.
The flagship of OECD research is certainly the country-level analysis of agricultural policies, based on Producer and Consumer Support Estimates and enriched by a brief description of recent policy developments in the report on Agricultural Policies in OECD Countries: Monitoring and Evaluation 2009.
New research on the CAP has been presented at an OECD Workshop on the Disaggregated Impacts of CAP Reform in March 2010.
The OECD also prepares a regular report on the Environmental Performance of Agriculture.
Equally important are the thematic research pieces. A 2009 piece on the ‘Adjustment Options and Strategies in the Context of Agricultural Policy Reform and Trade Liberalisation’ compares the liberalization experience in various OECD countries. It concludes that the agricultural sector frequently adapts better to liberalization than expected (greater efficiency, higher quality, different products), so that the need for adjustment policies is often overestimated. Policies to encourage exit from the agricultural sector are beset with the problem of windfall profits (payments for actors that would have left the sector anyway). Adjustment policies should rely, wherever possible, on generally available adjustment measures, including through the social security and tax system.
Especially interesting is the case of sectoral adjustment policies in Australia. The Farm Family Restart Scheme (FFRS) – now renamed into “AAA Farm Help – Supporting Families Through Change” – assists “low-income farmers who cannot borrow against their assets by giving them access to improved welfare support, as well as adjustment assistance for those who wish to leave the industry. It included income support for a maximum period of one year, grant of up to AUD 45 000 for those wishing to leave farming, access to professional advice on the future viability of the farm business, and other forms of counselling. The FFRS operates as a decision support system for farmers considering exiting the industry by giving them access to professional advice on the future viability of their business and on employment opportunities if they choose to exit the industry.“ Quite different from EU round-about handouts!
Another OECD work published in 2009, ‘Managing Risk in Agriculture: A Holistic Approach’, assesses the sources of risks, discusses private and public risk management tools and offers an overview of the implementation of risk management tools in OECD countries. It reveals the complexity of risk management and calls for prudence in designing governmental schemes (so as not to encourage risk-taking and replace private risk management mechanisms).
‘The Implementation Costs of Agricultural Policies’, published in 2007, finds that the advantages of targeting policies at desired outcomes outweigh the increased transaction costs of implementation for a very broad range of parameters. Furthermore, transaction costs can be much reduced through best practices (especially by the use of information technologies). This undermines the standard argument that the need to avoid excessive transaction costs makes a blunt policy like the Single Farm Payment inevitable.