Professor of agricultural economics Xavier Irz: Transform the agricultural sector now to make a real impact

Xavier Irz aims at developing new ways of reconciling economic performance and competitiveness with environmental sustainability in a socially equitable manner throughout the food system.

What is your field of research?

Agricultural and food economics, or the application of economics to the analysis of issues throughout the food chain, from primary production to food processing, retail, and even the final consumer.

Why is it important?

There are serious concerns about the sustainability of the current food system as well as questions about the effectiveness of agricultural policy. For instance, in most EU countries the food system accounts for a quarter to a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Farm profitability remains chronically low, while the incidence of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases is high or increasing. Transforming the system with traditional policies and market-based solutions requires an understanding of behaviours, incentives, trade-offs, costs and benefits, which are studied in agricultural economics.

Research in this area helps develop new ways of reconciling economic performance and competitiveness with environmental sustainability in a socially equitable manner throughout the food system. Rigorous analysis is required because good intentions and intuitive ideas often produce unintended effects at a systemic level.

What in your field of research especially inspires you right now?

At a policy level, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which absorbs 40% of the EU budget, is being reformed to align itself with the objectives of the EU’s Green New Deal. This is a good time to produce research that informs policy-makers, shapes the transformation of the agricultural sector and has a real impact.

New and exciting technological and institutional developments in agriculture and food also need to be studied from an economic point of view. As an illustration, what are the prospects for the adoption of artificial meat by Finnish consumers, and what would be the consequences of this adoption for the rural economy? Or how can the right incentives be created to encourage farmers to capture carbon in agricultural soils?

At the same time, the big data revolution offers new exciting opportunities to improve our understanding of how agricultural and food markets function.

Finally, there is strong and constant interest in food issues from all parts of society – think of the debates about food waste or sustainable diets – which means that it is a good time to be an academic studying these issues.

Xavier Irz started as professor of agricultural economics in the Department of Economics and Management of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry on 1 January 2021. He will continue working at Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) as a visiting researcher for one year. He is also involved in the organisation of a large international congress by the European Association of Agricultural Economics as chair of the programme committee.