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Agribusiness is related to the production of food and fiber. Agribusiness includes agricultural input industries, commodity processing, food manufacturing and food distribution industries, and third-party firms that facilitate agribusiness operations including bankers, brokers, advertising agencies, and market information firms. Harvard Business School professor Ray A. Goldberg introduced the term agribusiness together with coauthor John H. Davis in 1955 in a book titled A Concept of Agribusiness. Food and fiber products that rely upon agricultural production, which is inherently decentralized and subject to the vagaries of weather and disease, often are perishable and require specialized economic institutions and public policies including sanitary regulations. Decentralized farmers of a particular commodity, such as milk, have organized agricultural marketing cooperatives to aggregate their product and coordinate sale to large food-manufacturing firms in a fashion that enhances product quality, economic efficiency, and fairness of the market pricing system.
Similarly, on the input side there are tightly coordinated (contract farming) arrangements for chicken and pork. In the beef and grain industries, agribusiness coordination uses complex pricing mechanisms, such as futures markets, to hedge risk and price products. Closer to the consumer, large supermarket chains have integrated back into the wholesaling of food products and developed private-label food products (such as bread with the supermarket’s name on it) to countervail the power of branded food-product manufacturers who would charge a premium for their products.
Public policies toward the agribusiness sector have been critical in creating the food and fiber system that is seen throughout the world. Food safety and health regulations are critical. Agricultural commodity and pricing policies in developed countries aid in the pricing of commodities such as milk, wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, and other products. These policies attempt to stabilize commodity price cycles and to ensure the economic health of the agricultural industries.
Public policy also aids in the organization of agricultural marketing and input supply cooperatives and the development of commodity promotion programs wherein farmers fund advertising efforts such as the “Got Milk?” program in the United States. Here the desire is to improve the incomes of farmers by enhancing their bargaining power and expanding the demand for their products.
Antitrust and competition policy also affects agribusiness. Over time the food systems in the United States and other countries have become industrialized. Relatively few large food processing firms and relatively few large retailing organizations sit between decentralized agricultural production and the general consuming public. Antitrust/competition policy examines proposed mergers and acquisitions in these concentrated industries to determine whether they would increase pricing power to the disadvantage of consumers or farmers. Those policies also prohibit price-fixing cartels and attempts to monopolize industries.
In the March-April 2000 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Goldberg revisited the concept of agribusiness with Juan Enriquez. He observed that ethanol, an additive to gasoline, and pharmaceutical products were made from agricultural outputs. Agribusiness in the 2000s also includes forestry and forest products and the plant nursery industry.
- Agribusiness: An International Journal. Research journal published quarterly by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ.
- Enriquez, Juan, and Ray A. Goldberg. 2000. Transforming Life, Transforming Business: The Life-Science Revolution. Harvard Business Review 78 (2): 94–104.
- Goldberg, Ray A., and John H. Davis. 1957. A Concept of Agribusiness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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