This summer I was granted the opportunity to intern for the Madison County branch of the Cornell Cooperative Extension as an Upstate Institute fellow for the Agricultural Economic Development program. Cooperative Extension’s role in the community is wide reaching, as there are several facets to the responsibilities of the different Madison County programs. The mission statement reads, “The Cornell Cooperative Extension educational system enables people to improve their lives and communities through partnerships that put experience and research knowledge to work.” Programs run include 4H, agribusiness outreach, and Open Farm Day. The Agricultural Economic Development office of the extension is vital to the agriculture market of Madison county by creating market opportunities for farmers and encouraging value-added enterprises. The secondary objective of the office is to maintain a sizeable arable land base in the county to encourage future economic growth in the agricultural sector.
Agriculture is one of the country’s oldest foundational markets, but in today’s economy it only makes up 1 percent of GDP. On the other hand, agriculture and related industries employ around 11 percent of the American workforce, per the USDA. The Agricultural Economic development office takes the role of encouraging economic growth in a sector that is often forgotten, yet incredibly important to the world’s expanding population.
My role as the office’s Upstate Institute Fellow was to analyze the greater economic impact of Madison county’s agricultural sector. The goal was to produce two final products. The first was a calculator that would utilize economic multipliers to show the approximate greater economic impact of agricultural output, employment, and value added in Madison county. The calculator was broken down into sectors such that the individual impact of certain outputs, such as dairy, could be analyzed. The second product of my work was a report detailing the economic impact and importance of Madison county agriculture, which was distributed to the county Agricultural Advisory Committee.
In terms of addressing economic growth in the agricultural sector, I hope that my work serves as an example to the farmers of Madison county concerning the economic importance of their work. Since agriculture is such a small portion of GDP, it can frustrate farmers that there are not many numbers to prove the importance of their work other than the fact that everyone needs to eat. It is my goal for farmers to obtain an idea regarding how their production, employment, and value added is multiplied in the greater scope of the American economy.
Working in the Agricultural Economic Development office has been an excellent opportunity to research and supplement my own economics education. Economic growth and development is an oft explored topic in many classes, so the chance to observe and learn about the mechanisms that lead to growth and development in a rarely discussed sector is a valuable experience. This type of work is what inspired me to become an Upstate Institute Field School Fellow. Academic papers regularly analyze the effects of policies, programs, and grants, but they cannot always provide the firsthand insight that the affected party can. My time at Cornell Cooperative Extension granted me the chance to see firsthand how an important industry works, develops, and takes advantage of economic opportunity.