The fundamental issue of the 1980s will be whether agriculture will preserve its identity. The 1980s will be the decade decision as to the structural organization of agriculture. It is not anticipated that the agricultural sector will be preserved intact, or, alternately, totally transformed by 1990, but by then the die will have been cast. In a different idiom, a point of no return will have been reached.
Structural questions touch virtually every policy issue in agriculture. Income tax, estate tax, environmental protection, availability of farm credit, terms of price and income support — these and other issues are interwoven. Agricultural economists relate to structural issues in two ways. We are concerned for our clients. The kind of agriculture to prevail makes a difference to farmers and their families, to rural communities, and to the citizenry of the South. It makes a difference also to agricultural economists professionally. In 1969 many of our analytical skills were developed for a dispersed market-oriented agriculture. If a different kind of agriculture materializes, the need for economic guidance will not end, but many of us will find ourselves technologically obsolescent.