The Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society Conference (in New Zealand!)

Since 2009 I have attended and presented at a number of Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society (or AARES) Conferences. While 3 days of listening to economists bang on about supply and demand, productivity and efficiency might not be everyone's cup of tea I always leave these conferences with new ideas and enthusiasm for new projects.

Although AARES is the 'Australian' society, we kindly let our Kiwi friends become members as well - mostly I think so that we have an excuse to have the conference in NZ once in a while!

This year the conference was held in Rotarua on the north island. I'd never been to the north island before and all I knew about Rotarua was its reputation for stinkiness due to the sulphur gas which escapes from guyers and boiling mud pools around the city.

On arriving I was met by that distinctive 'rotten egg' smell and wondered slightly how pleasant the week might be. Fortunately the smell seems to come and go and after awhile I stopped noticing it. The boiling mud pools were fascinating too, 200C at the surface but only 7 metres down temperatures reach over 2000C. Needless to say the canny Kiwi’s have taken advantage of this and my hotel not only had a heated pool and spa but all their hot water is heated through geothermal heat exchangers.

One of the best parts about AARES is catching up with other researchers and academics from across Australia and New Zealand and it may have been this catching up which led 22 of us to miss the bus to dinner on the first night! Nevermind, we had dinner at the hotel (lovely NZ lamb shanks) and got an earlier night than planned.

After a very enthusistic Powhari (Maori welcome) the confernence got underway with a fanctistic presentation from Professor Tom Hertel of Purdue University in the US. Tom spoke about the challenge of sustainably feeding a growing global population, a popular topic at many conferences. Refreshingly, Tom spoke with a great deal of optimism but also highlighted the continued need for further spending on research and development.

Another particularly interesting session during the conference was the invited papers session from the American Agricultural Economics Association on policy for managing infectious diseases. Some of the measures that Prof. Alan Olmstead from the University of California spoke about were very heavy handed but highly effective in eradicating diseases like pneumonia in the US.

I think that biosecurity issues, with both their productivity and potential human health impacts are only going to become more important so the importance of knowing the most effective and efficient means of dealing with issues will continue to grow. All the speakers in this session also highlighted the challenge of dealing with special interest groups in these circumstances although none had a perfect solution.

The general rule at these types of conferences is that you only get to go if you’re presenting and since I was attending due to the support of CQ University I also had to step up.

My presentation was entitled “Using choice experiments to assess the costs of supplying carbon offsets in beef production systems” and detailed work done in the third section of my Phd.

Choice experiments are really just a fancy way of designing survey questions so that you can understand people’s preferences for different options in a way that they don’t just give you the answers they think you want. They’re also really useful for trying to work out preferences for things that don’t yet exist in the market, like carbon offsets.

The nice thing about choice experiments is that you can work out exactly how much value people put on different aspects of a choice. For example, in this experiment we were interested in how much beef producers would want to be paid to grow trees or sequester soil carbon to produce carbon offsets. We were also interested in how they would calculate that value.

Using the choice experiment we now know that beef producers want to be paid an extra $3.50 - $4 per hectare for every extra day of paperwork they would have to do with carbon offsets. The results of the survey also showed that most beef producers would be pretty wary of being involved in a carbon trading program and would want to trial it on a tiny area (less than 2%) of their property before getting involved in a big way.

Since my presentation was in the last session on the last day, once it was done, that was it, conference over for another year. Next year it is in Canberra and the following year it will be back in Queensland and as an ‘honorary’ Queenslander I’ve been roped into the organising committee.

If anyone would like a copy of my paper or any of the others from the conference, let me know as they will be available online very soon.


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