Shifting into a higher land-grant gear

Melissa McKendree's research focuses on consumer and producer marketing, production economics and farm management. Through her MSU Extension appointment, she helps farmers improve their processes.

Melissa McKendree

Developing a deep knowledge of a land-grant university’s mission often takes years. Understanding the unique relationships and interactions between and among education, research and Extension can be a hurdle for new staff. That’s not the case for Melissa McKendree, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.

“Extension, research, and teaching work best when they’re working together,” McKendree explains, likening each element to individual gears that create a continuous feedback loop of problem solving and results. “The Extension gear moves from discussion with stakeholders during outreach events, which pushes the research gear into new areas of inquiry. The Extension gear gets that motion back when we share our findings with stakeholders, and all the while, the teaching gear is linking in these real-world examples and solutions to the next generation of ag economists.”

McKendree runs in all three gears with her split appointment – 50 percent research, 35 percent Extension and 15 percent teaching farm management classes. Her research focuses on consumer and producer marketing, production economics and farm management. Through her Extension appointment, she helps farmers improve their processes.

“Extension keeps me on my toes and connected with the agriculture industry,” she said. “I have had the opportunity to learn more about Michigan agriculture and have worked with producers in Holstein feedlots, in tart cherry orchards and in asparagus fields.”

McKendree’s family owns a commercial landscaping business, sod farm and cattle ranch. Her experiences with those enterprises – and her involvement in 4-H, FFA, the National Agri-Marketing Association, agriculture economics quiz bowl and the University of Florida’s College of Agriculture Life and Science Ambassadors program – have helped guide her career.

Q&A: Melissa McKendree

Title: Assistant professor and Extension specialist, MSU Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics

Joined MSU: 2017

Education: B.S. in food and resource economics, University of Florida; M.S. in agricultural economics, Purdue University; Ph.D. in agricultural economics, Kansas State University

Hometown: Alachua, Florida

How I would explain my job to a 10-year-old: I try to understand what people think about the food they eat and how it is produced. I also study how farmers make decisions about what they raise or grow and try to help them be profitable.

A major research breakthrough I’d like to see in the next decade: I hope science can discover how to cure or eradicate all kinds of cancer. I have lost many people I love to cancer.

The best part of my job is: I enjoy the opportunity to work in multidisciplinary teams. Complex agricultural problems require many minds approaching the problem from different angles. AFRE has many of the top people in agricultural economics and I get to learn from them. I get to work with energetic undergraduate and graduate students and have many great colleagues from other departments, like Animal Science, Community Sustainability and Extension.

If I weren’t a researcher, I’d be: An entrepreneur, most likely in my family’s business in Florida.

Words of advice to a young scientist: Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You are young – experiment, push limits and learn from your failures.

Something many people don’t know about me is: I like to bake and do crafts. When I was growing up, my family was always outdoors, either riding horses, fishing or hunting. I even caught (and released) three sharks this summer when I went fishing with my dad. I really love the ocean and being on the boat even though I don’t get to do that very often. When I first saw the Great Lakes, it messed with my brain because it looked like the ocean (waves crashing and all), but there was not a salty smell.

Influential or inspiring person: That is a tough one! I have been blessed with many great influencers in my life, especially my family. My biggest influences would probably be my dad and mom, and my grandmother, Sharon Short (my paternal grandmother; she passed in 2010). My parents are the hardest working and most giving people I know. My grandmother was my biggest encourager.

On my bucket list: I love to travel. My husband and I are trying to see all 50 states. I have been to 35 so far (I still need to see many of the New England states). I also want to travel more internationally, especially to Ireland. I went to Egypt in 2009 when I was an undergrad. The Giza Pyramids were amazing.

Favorite way to spend time off: With my family and friends.

Something everyone should do at least once: You need to be uncomfortable. When Buddy and I first got married, we moved away so I could attend my master’s program at Purdue. We had never lived away from our families before. When we were frustrated with work or school or each other (not very often), we had to depend on each other to get through. We couldn’t drive across town and get our family to help us because they were 14 hours away. Another way to do this is to become friends with someone from a different country or culture.

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at or call 517-355-0123.

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