By Gary Truitt
“This thing all things devours: birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stone to meal; Slays Kings, ruins towns, and beats high mountains down.” The answer to this old riddle is time. It impacts all of us, and its progress is unstoppable. The march of time is producing some changes in one of Indiana’s important agricultural assets, the Ag Econ Department at Purdue.
This fall it was announced that, after 40 years, popular ag economist Dr. Chris Hurt was retiring. This is just the latest in a number of well-known names to exit the world famous department. Some of the most influential and respected leaders in agriculture have come out of the Krannert Building on the West Lafayette campus.
Not only in academic circles but in policy and political arenas as well, the Purdue Ag Econ Department has made its mark. But, just as important, this expertise has been available to working farmers on the local level via the Extension service. This is a powerful example of how the Land Grant University system has been at the bedrock of the success of American agriculture.
Time, however, is bringing change to Purdue Ag Econ. Not only a change in the old guard as careers end and new names take their place, but also change in the kind of information being required and change in the way that information is disseminated. “Going forward there are going to be a lot fewer county meetings,” said Jayson Lusk, current department head. Not only as a result of the pandemic but as a result of the ever increasing need for speed by farmers. “Farmers today want information on their mobile phones and iPads. They cannot wait until the next local meeting is held by Extension,” stated Lusk.
Not only will the delivery system be different, the kind of insights and data provided will also change. Cloud computing, big data, algorithms and artificial intelligence are providing farmers with a whole new suite of analysis and recommendations on everything from seed selection, soil fertility, and weed management to financial planning and marketing. Globalization, too, has brought a whole new set of issues that now impact agriculture. Trade policy, consumer attitudes, monetary manipulation, and, as we have seen this year, world health crises are now things of which farmers need to be aware. Analyzing these trends will be a key role for the next generation of economists at Purdue.
This will only happen with continued support and funding of the Land Grant system. This is one thing we cannot let time erode.