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Advancing Economics, Transforming Lives

Winter 2015
In This Issue
From the Interim Chairperson
FIM Student Takes Flavor Tour across America
Ross Analyzes Food System Innovation
Weatherspoon recognized Nationally as Faculty Mentor Role Model
Faculty Awards and Honors
Alumni News (Winter 2014-15)
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From the Interim Chairperson

We are always pleased when one of our own is recognized. In this case, President Lou Anna Simon recognized Scott Swinton with the William J. Beal Outstanding Faculty Award at her State of the University address Feb. 10. We congratulate Scott for this well-deserved award and are pleased for the warm glow his recognition brings to the department.


We are also pleased that the new chair search is progressing. A position description has been approved, and qualified applicants are encouraged to apply. We would appreciate your help in circulating news of the opening and inviting qualified candidates to apply. We look to fill the Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE) chair with someone who has demonstrated excellence as a scholar in research, teaching and/or extension, and excellence in administration, communication and leadership. We thank the AFRE chair search committee members-Frank Lupi, Nicole Mason, Chris Wolf and Scott Swinton (chair), and Jim Kells from the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences-for their efforts.

I continue to be impressed with the nationally and internationally recognized programs that our talented and dedicated AFRE members deliver. These efforts have led to AFRE being ranked among the top five university departments globally for research in agricultural economics by RePEc (Research Papers in Economics, https://ideas.repec.org/top/top.agr.html).

Another area that deserves special mention is AFRE's undergraduate program, which has now grown to 852 undergraduate majors-193 in agribusiness management, 619 in food industry management and 40 in environmental economics and policy-plus 137 students completing specializations (minors) in these fields.. These numbers are all the more impressive when we recall that our undergraduate majors numbered 300 in 2005 when the department underwent its last external review.

With this increase in our opportunities to provide undergraduate educational services has come the need for increased leadership in this area. To address this need, I am pleased to report that Jim Hilker has agreed to serve our academic community as associate chair for undergraduate education. In this new position, he will continue to teach, organize and provide direction to our undergraduate program while continuing, as only Jim can do, to maintain a highly valued extension outreach program.

Now to end on a personal note. Sometimes economists are painted as rather self-serving, bottom-line-driven professionals who are always looking for but never expecting to find a free lunch. What I observe in AFRE is just the opposite. We work hard because we care about one another, because we believe that what we do is important and because we believe that people benefit from what we produce. I'm proud to belong to such a team. 

Lindon J. Robison 
Adrian Mendoza 

FIM Student Takes Flavor Tour across America


The Sunset Flavor Tour is one road trip that MSU senior Adrian Mendoza will never forget. That's because he was part of an internship with Sunset Produce to promote and educate consumers about the grower's products, driving coast to coast in a colorful food truck that stopped at some of America's leading grocery stores.

Sunset is the brand name for the family-owned Mastronardi Produce, based in Ontario, Canada, one of North America's leading greenhouse companies and a recognized industry leader with brands such as Campari, Angel Sweet and Kumato tomatoes, plus cucumbers and peppers.

Following a series of interviews with Sunset, Mendoza, a food industry management major with a minor in agribusiness management, was selected along with MSU graduates Mallory Flanders and Madison Rial to embark on Sunset's first "Flavor Tour" to spread the word about its products to a wide swath of American consumers, mainly in grocery stores but also at community events. Flanders and Rial both graduated in 2014 with degrees in food science.

After several weeks last July spent learning about Sunset's business and products, the three-person crew hit the road in early August in a Chevy Volt chase car and a Mercedes Sprinter food truck emblazoned with decals of Sunset produce. Their multicity tour included stops in Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Boston, Denver and San Francisco. The Flavor Tour ended in mid-October with a stop at the Produce Marketing Association's 2014 Fresh Summit in Anaheim, California.

"When conceptualizing the tour, our overall goal was to spread flavor," Daniela Ferro, communications coordinator for Sunset, wrote in an email. "We wanted to share our passion with consumers and show them our products and how they can use them, how healthy flavor can be and how sustainable greenhouse growing is."

Although this was the first such tour for Sunset Produce, Ferro said she believes the company selected the perfect group of young people for the job.

"From the beginning they all exuded incredible enthusiasm and passion," she said of the three-person team, dubbed the Flavor Crew. "Their ability to apply everything they learned combined with their own experiences and personalities really blew us away. They were able to introduce many of our Sunset products, share our greenhouse story and collect consumer data efficiently."

For Mendoza, 22, the Flavor Tour was an invaluable opportunity to see how food products are placed in a retail outlet, promoted and ultimately sold to the food-buying public. After pulling into each new location at the beginning of the week, the team toured the store (stores included groceries such as Whole Foods and Costco and regional favorites such as Fairway in New York) and met with store managers. The team was charged with checking out the Sunset products and making sure the displays were properly stocked. They shopped for the ingredients they would need to prepare sample items such as a Campari tomato bruschetta, a tomato and watermelon salad, or a flatbread pizza made with Sunset peppers. The emphasis was on keeping the prepared food simple to allow the flavor of the produce to shine through, Mendoza said.

"We either had people say, 'We love Sunset, we always buy Sunset,' or some people didn't know of us at all, and some people said they didn't like tomatoes, so we had to say, 'We'll change your minds!" Mendoza said.

At the PMA convention in Anaheim, the team interacted with food industry representatives from around the world. The Flavor Tour also garnered mentions on various food blogs and was the subject of a story in the Fall 2014 issue of the produce industry magazine The Snack. Upon their return to Sunset headquarters in Ontario, the team made a presentation to company executives, and Mendoza debuted an eight-minute video of the tour that he put together.

Mendoza said he learned about the internship from Larry Zink, AFRE's industry relations/outreach coordinator.

"It was a big decision to take a semester off," Mendoza said. "And it really was eye-opening. With everything I learned, I wouldn't have it any other way. I got an overview of the whole industry and the opportunity to see the consumer end rather than just being in an office."

   -- Christine Meyer  

Brent Ross
Ross Analyzes Food System Innovation

AFRE's Brent Ross, assistant professor of food industry management, believes now is the perfect time to study how rising public interest in food can create opportunities for entrepreneurs.

"It's really an exciting time in food and agriculture because there's a lot of innovation and new business models are being introduced to the marketplace," Ross said. "One of the reasons for this is that the food system has become more fragmented, and this creates entrepreneurial opportunities for new and existing food businesses. My research focuses on the strategies and new business models that food firms have used to exploit these opportunities."

His latest focus is on food hubs, which work to aggregate and distribute locally grown and processed foods to mainstream commercial outlets such as grocery stores and cafeterias.
In 2014, Ross received a $495,000 competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Working with AFRE colleague Rob Shupp and two professors from the University of Missouri, Ross will study how food hubs are organized and how they create value. Food hubs generally focus on providing source-identified or values-based products for distribution and sale; some also are involved in training food entrepreneurs or in operating farmers' markets, Ross said.

"The food system is moving away from standardized food products and looking to provide innovative food solutions," he said. "We're also seeing food being used not just for sustenance but to provide other benefits, including giving consumers an avenue to communicate their values. These changing preferences can create opportunities for entrepreneurs."

Ross's prior research on entrepreneurship in the Midwest wine and grape industry helped set the stage for the food hubs project. In 2012, he joined professors from the University of Missouri and Cornell University in winning a $499,000 competitive grant to look at new strategies to help wineries in Michigan, Missouri and New York survive and grow.

Not all of Ross's research is on small firms. He also is exploring the ways in which large food companies have taken advantage of consumers' burgeoning social conscience to expand their businesses and extend their reach.

"They're looking to increase their citizenship, and that can be good for business," Ross said. "Companies that used to talk about the bottom line now refer to 'the triple bottom line' - incorporating economic, environmental and social costs into their decision making."

At MSU, Ross has been able to extend these research interests into the classroom.

"As much as possible, I use examples from my research as mini-case studies for students in class," Ross said. "I've found that students learn best from getting their 'hands dirty' with real problems, and the truth is, I end up learning a lot from them as well."

A Canadian by birth, Ross grew up on a dairy farm outside Stratford, Ontario. After receiving his bachelor's degree from the University of Guelph, he moved to the United States for graduate study in 2000. He completed a master's degree in agricultural finance at the University of Illinois, where he continued for a Ph.D. in food and agribusiness management.

Settling in mid-Michigan has been a good geographic and cultural compromise between his native Ontario and earlier home in Illinois, he said. His interest in entrepreneurial opportunities and the organization of the food system "is one I think will be fruitful going forward. I foresee a significant amount of demand for research and teaching in this area," Ross said.


-Christine Meyer

Weatherspoon Recognized Nationally as Faculty Mentor Role Model  

Dr. Dave Weatherspoon, professor in AFRE, was recognized at the 15th Minority Access National Role Models Conference in Washington, D.C., in October 2014 for his efforts in advancing the recruitment, mentoring and retention of underrepresented students in the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Dave's nomination for this prestigious award read as follows: "Dr. Weatherspoon has been dedicated throughout his academic career to mentoring, recruiting and providing research opportunities for first-generation students. Dr. Weatherspoon's efforts were recognized in 2010 with the Legend Award from the Minorities in Agriculture and Natural Resources Association, the premier organization that identifies and promotes talent and networking in the areas of agriculture, natural resources and related sciences.

Dr. Weatherspoon was the founder of this national organization 30 years ago as an undergraduate student at MSU who was concerned about the on-campus climate and perceived lack of support for students of color. Dr. Weatherspoon has mentored numerous non-traditional students at Michigan State University and Florida A&M University, where he began his academic career. In addition to recruiting, he routinely accepts high school and undergraduate summer research students into his research program to garner firsthand experiences to better understand the economics and business of the food and fiber system.

Offering these experiences is germane to Dr. Weatherspoon's goal of increasing the number of minorities in Ph.D. programs in agricultural economics because the lack of a significant mass in this important field of study has major implications for food access, health, as well as global trade and development. Beyond his academic field, he also mentors several MSU student athletes and advises them on academics and life skills needed to succeed in college."

 -Mark Meyer


Faculty Awards and Honors      


Faculty and Staff News


Eduardo Nakasone joined MSU Jan. 1, 2015, as an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the departments of AFRE and Media and Information. His office is 401C Morrill Hall of Agriculture.

Catherine Snider, administrative assistant, received the CANR Staff Advisory Committee's Staffer of the Month award for February 2015 for her work with the AFRE Food Security Group.

Professor Dave Weatherspoon is on sabbatical leave in 2014-15, working with the USDA Economic Research Service in Washington, D.C


Faculty Awards and Honors

AFRE assistant professor Jordan Chamberlin (Ph.D., AFRE, 2013) and Jacob Ricker-Gilbert (Ph.D., AFRE, 2011) of Purdue University received a "best contributed paper" award for their paper, "Land rental market development in Malawi: an empirical analysis of trends, drivers, participants and impacts," presented at the 2014 Inaugural Economics Association of Malawi (ECAMA) Research Symposium Oct. 8-10, 2014, in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Former faculty member Nango Dembele (Ph.D., Agricultural Economics, 1994) was awarded the title of Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Mali. Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita granted the award in recognition of his long-standing contributions to food security and improved agricultural policies in Mali. Dr. Dembele is currently minister and food security commissioner of Mali.

Assistant professors Clo Garnache and Nicky Mason were named Fellows in MSU's 2015 Academy for Global Engagement. They will use the fellowships to develop and enhance their international research portfolios. They join David Ortega, a 2014 fellow.

Professor Scott Swinton received the MSU W.J. Beal Outstanding Faculty Award Feb. 10, 2015. The award citation stated that his "research on linkages between agricultural production and environmental management has been pioneering" and noted his enthusiasm for mentoring graduate students.

Professor Dave Weatherspoon was recognized at the 15th Minority Access National Role Models Conference in Washington, D.C., Oct, 10, 2014, for his efforts in advancing the recruitment, mentoring and retention of underrepresented students.


Student Awards and Honors


Ryan Vroegindewey (M.S. student) won second place in the MSU Global Focus photo contest. The winning photo, "Ramadan Sorghum," from his 2014 summer field project in Mali, will be displayed in the International Center lobby and featured in MSU International magazine.

Ph.D. students Chenguang Wang and Hui Wang were
awarded MSU Dissertation Completion Fellowships for spring 2015. 


AFRE Alumni News (Winter 2014-15)    



Wilfred Mwangi (Ph.D., 1978) passed away Dec. 11, 2014. Dr. Mwangi, a native of Kenya, worked as an agricultural economist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) for 27 years.  He served as leader of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project and as CIMMYT regional representative for Africa. 



Tocka Koita (M.S., 1986) has become senior operations evaluation officer at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 



Chuck Chopak (Ph.D., 1991) was promoted in late 2014 to vice president for technical services at DAI, Inc. 


Georges Dimithe (Ph.D., 1998) recently joined GRM International as team leader of the regional trade project.  He is currently based in Accra, Ghana. 



Nelissa Jamora (M.S., 2006) completed her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in 2014.  At the international Rice Congress, her paper earned her the 2014 Young Rice Scientist Award. 



Uchook Duangbootsee (Ph.D., 2014) has taken a position as assistant professor of agricultural economics at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand, as of Jan. 1, 2015.

Tim Hodge (Ph.D., 2013) has taken a position as a statistician/analyst in the Global Analytics department at Ford Motor Credit Company.

Wolfgang Pejuan-Ucles (Ph.D., 2015) is now an associate professor in the Agribusiness Department at Zamorano University in Honduras. 




Advancing Economics, Transforming Lives is the quarterly newsletter of the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Michigan State University (http://www.afre.msu.edu/).
Editor:Scott M. Swinton
Writers:Mark J. Meyer and Christine Meyer
Assistant Editor:Debbie Conway
Copy Editor:ANR Communications
Layout Editor:ANR Communications