Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

The SAEA: Current Services and Future Directions

Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

The SAEA: Current Services and Future Directions

Article excerpt

In reviewing past Southern Agricultural Economics Association (SAEA) presidential addresses, a continuing theme is the changing structure of agriculture and how we, as applied economists, can address critical issues facing a dynamic food and fiber sector. Although the SAEA membership should periodically reflect on our role as a profession, we should also reflect on the role of our professional organization. This reflection is particularly important as the academic environment shifts toward fewer new Ph.D.'s and tighter budgets, our membership base evolves to encompass a more diverse set of interests, and the economic environment in which we operate changes, with an increasingly concentrated structure of agriculture and expanding emphasis placed on environmental and social issues as they relate to the food and fiber sector.

Many of the trends potentially influencing membership in the SAEA were outlined in last year's SAEA presidential address by Richard Kilmer. In particular, he focused on potential reasons for declining membership in the SAEA and other professional agricultural economics associations. Among potential reasons, he notes the declining number of new Ph.D.'s in agricultural economics and a shifting specialization among new Ph.D.'s toward environmental economics, natural resource economics, international trade, and development; areas that are served by alternative organizations. He also cites a national trend of declining membership in service organizations in general.

Although certain factors that influence membership levels and viability of a professional organization are beyond the control of the organization, core functions served by the organization are not. To maintain a viable membership base, it is critical that these core functions create value to the members. Among the functions of a professional association are to facilitate sharing of ideas both among the professionals in the association and with others outside the association. Professional associations can provide a mechanism for mentoring of students and new professionals. In addition, activities of a professional association can serve as certifying mechanisms for professional advancement. Some questions that the SAEA should periodically ask in fulfilling these functions include:

* Are we bringing in sufficient new ideas to foster professional development?

* Are we providing good avenues for sharing of ideas?

* Are we providing a mentoring role for students and new professionals?

* Are we providing the necessary quality of papers and articles in our meetings and journal to provide a "certification" role?

The SAEA's two most important products are the annual meeting and the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics. Therefore, if the SAEA is to fulfill the functions outlined above, then the Association will most likely do so through the provision of these two products.

In 2004, the SAEA Board undertook the challenges of examining the services and products offered by the Association and identifying potential methods for better serving the Association's membership and other users of its services and products. As president-elect, I volunteered to spearhead these efforts with the assistance of the SAEA Board members. The approach the SAEA Board decided to take was to ask purchasers or potential purchasers of the SAEA's services and products about perceived benefits from using the products and services, purchasing habits, ideas for products and services, and their demographics. In fall 2004, SAEA members and nonmember economists in the region and surrounding areas were asked to participate in an online survey regarding the SAEA's services and products. The majority of this paper will be dedicated to presenting the results from this survey. The SAEA's two primary services and products are the annual meetings and the journal; hence, a large portion of the analysis of the Association's products and services is focused on the meetings and the journal. …

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