Matt Andersen has a simple reason as to why you should care about his research.
“I like to eat three times a day,” he says. “Do you?”
With the world’s population growing by an average of 1.10 percent annually and projected to reach some 10 billion people by 2050, the University of Wyoming economist has joined a global effort to spur additional spending on agricultural research and development in an effort to ensure that there’s food for every mouth.
Though not as bleak as countries like Cameroon and Zimbabwe, where food insecurity threatens everyday life, the United States has its own challenges.
While the country’s population has soared to about 316 million, up from 226 million in 1980, the growth of public spending on agricultural research in recent decades has slowed, resulting in what Andersen calls “troubling reductions” in productivity.
“The most important and impactful part of my research is to provide concrete information to policymakers about the importance of making these absolutely critical financial investments in agricultural research,” says Andersen, an associate professor in the UW Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics since 2007.
He will further his research this fall as a visiting fellow at the University of Leuven in Belgium, where he will work with internationally renowned information scientist Wolfgang Glanzel. “If we are going to feed the expanding global population in the next 100 years, we need to keep spending money on agricultural research. We need to spend more money on agricultural research.”
Andersen’s research has garnered national and international attention, too. He co-wrote a 2010 book, Persistence Pays: U.S. Agricultural Productivity and the Benefits from Public R&D Spending that won three major awards—including the Quality of Research Discovery Award from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, the largest and most prestigious organization in agricultural and natural resource economics.
In the book, Andersen and his co-authors found new evidence linking state-specific agricultural productivity measures to federal and state government investments in agricultural research and extension.
Their findings were supported by a December 2012 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which recommended the U.S. boost its annual spending on agricultural research by a whopping $700 million.
This is all particularly heady work for Andersen, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and worked as a ski patroller in Colorado for six years before deciding to pursue his master’s degree. And, even then, Andersen planned to become an attorney. He later changed his mind and studied mineral economics at the Colorado School of Mines (‘00), then shifted to agricultural and resource economics while earning his Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis (‘05).
Now, Andersen’s work could prove pivotal in America’s efforts to meet the increasing demands of its population.
But his job, he says, pales in comparison to that of the farmers and ranchers who work the land to provide food for all of us.
“I couldn’t run a farm or a ranch if my life depended on it,” Andersen says with a laugh that fills his small square office inside UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“That’s hard work!”