Update From the Chair: Fall 2021

AFRE Chairperson and University Distinguished Professor Scott Swinton reflects on his first three months as chair and shares news and updates from the department.

Dear AFRE Community,

As we end the third quarter of the year, I end my first three months since taking the baton from Titus Awokuse as chairperson of our Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.  I have much to learn, but I’m grateful to be surrounded by a terrific community of mentors, young and old.  The past three months have been eventful.

MSU’s return to in-person study and work on campus is the top headline. President Sam Stanley Jr.’s decision to require both vaccination and masking was questioned by some but welcomed by many. A small number of our students have been diagnosed with COVID cases, but no teaching faculty have been diagnosed since the term began.  So far, we are threading the needle.  MSU’s COVID dashboard shows positive, reported COVID case numbers declining after a jump the first week of class, and no AFRE course has had to shift to remote learning.

It truly feels good to be back together in person on this lovely campus.  Gathering with incoming undergraduate majors back on the patio behind Cook-Seevers Hall in late August, the sun was shining and the energy level high. While giving a visiting class in ecological economics last week, the lively questions were energizing.  On top of that, both of AFRE’s graduate student welcome events saw record turnouts—more evidence of excitement to be together. The campus tailgate scene before last Saturday’s Nebraska football game channeled the same upbeat energy.  Happily, the anticipatory energy was rewarded with a remarkable, come-from-behind victory.  Go Green!

As a learning community, our people are the heart of the matter.  Over the past three months, we have lost some special individuals.  This AFRE Quarterly opens with the obituary of Mike Weber, a faculty member who helped to shape AFRE’s international development economics work.  Others who have just stepped back from active faculty roles include Thom Jayne (retiring end of this month), Jinhua Zhao (transferred to Cornell University), David Hennessy and Hongli Feng (transferred to Iowa State University), and Aleks Schaefer (transferred to Oklahoma State University).  We have just begun two searches to replace David (as Elton R. Smith Professor of Food and Agricultural Policy) and Aleks (as Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Food Policy).  So give a heads-up if you know any good candidates!

Other AFRE people gained great honors.  MSU named Tom Reardon a University Distinguished Professor—the highest honor for a faculty member who has built their career on the banks of the Red Cedar.  Last month, Tom Reardon and Thom Jayne both saw their work in international development economics recognized as they were named Honorary Life Members of the International Association of Agricultural Economists.  Meanwhile, April Athnos earned the Graduate Student Teaching Award from the Teaching, Learning, and Communications section of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA)—on top of her earlier AFRE Outstanding Teaching award.

More important than awards are the ways that we use applied economics and management to enhance lives and livelihoods.  This AFRE Quarterly has stories of how our faculty members have done that in very different ways.  When the Michigan dairy industry struggled to adjust to COVID-induced demand shocks, Melissa McKendree, Corey Clark, and other members of our Extension Farm Business Management Team and the Product Center provided timely business management pointers in sync with their animal scientist colleagues.  Looking to new information technologies, Michael Olabisi, Mywish Maredia, and Eric Crawford have developed a new mobile phone app to communicate agricultural prices and quantities between prospective sellers and buyers in Nigeria.

We close with a set of profiles of our students, who constitute the next generation of business managers and economic thinkers.  Agribusiness Management sophomore Maddie Cary describes her summer internship with Nutrien Ag Solutions and how she got elected Vice President of Public Relations with MSU Collegiate Farm Bureau.  PhD students Rahul Dhar, Eric Abaidoo, and Mohammed Beroud recount how they are maturing as agricultural development economists and what keeps them balanced—from hugging a toddler, to chasing soccer balls, to basking in Moroccan Andalusi music.

We send our warm wishes from the banks of the Red Cedar, where ag econ, food econ, and resource econ and management are back in full swing!

Scott Swinton

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