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President Column

July 2017

It’s hard to believe my tenure as AAEA President is coming to an end.  It has been an honor and pleasure to serve an organization that has had such a positive impact on my own career.  Inheriting the reigns of an organization on solid financial footing and stable membership numbers, thanks in no small part to the outstanding leadership of previous boards and presidents, made the job immeasurably more enjoyable than it could otherwise have been.

It has been a productive year for AAEA and I’ll use my last column to recap a few of the highlights:

  • After a 15-year hiatus, we re-launched the Early Career Professionals’ Workshop with about 60 attendees in Vail, Colorado, in May.  Even at my career stage, I learned a lot from the workshop and picked up several good tips on how to be a better agricultural and applied economist.  Some of the highlights for me were Andy Barkley’s inspiring talk on being an enthusiastic teacher, the insights and advice from the editors of the AJAE, Food Policy, and AEPP, and the discussion of promotion and tenure cases with Nicole Ballenger and Paul Patterson. Thanks to the AAEA Trust and the USDA-Economic Research Service (ERS) for providing funding for the event, and to Cheryl Devuyst and Norbert Wilson for helping with the planning.  The plan, now written into the operating policies of the Mentorship Committee, is to hold the workshop every two years, with more intimate one-on-one mentorship programs planned for the intervening years.
  • We began rolling out the results from the “Priorities and Solutions” project, a joint effort between AAEA, C-FARE, and ERS led by Gene Nelsen, Jill McCluskey, and Caron Gala.  The project represents an attempt by the profession to highlight key social problems and articulate the role agricultural and applied economists can play in helping solve the problems.  I attended one of the dissemination events at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in April and was impressed both by the breadth and depth of what we have to offer.  These efforts have been particularly important given recent discussions in Washington about the federal budget for agricultural research and education and with discussions about reorganization of the USDA in the air.  As a result, Jill McCluskey, Scott Swinton, and I sent a letter on behalf of AAEA to the Secretary of Agriculture and other Congressional leaders articulating, among other things, results from the priorities and solutions project.
  • One of Jill’s goals as AAEA President was to work to better integrate agricultural and applied economics within our broader economics discipline. One manifestation of that effort was closer communication with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) to pursue mutually beneficial opportunities. Thanks to Jean-Paul Chavas who ably serves as the AAEA’s liason to the NBER. As it turned out, the ERS and the Giannini Foundation were thinking along similar lines.  The ERS recently funded a series of studies through NBER focused on the FooDAPS survey, and Colin Carter spearheaded efforts that led to a conference on agricultural productivity growth at NBER in May.  The conference did precisely what one would hope from such efforts – it brought together people within the profession and connected them with work going on in the broader economics field more generally.  We will be on the lookout for additional ways to further facilitate integration.    
  • In a previous newsletter I mentioned ongoing discussions about AAEA’s journal offerings.  We do not yet know what, if any, changes will be made, but these are critically important strategic issues for the future of the association, and we are exercising due diligence in exploring options.  I should note the AAEA Executive Board meets every year in the fall in New York with Oxford University Press and the editors of the AJAE and AEPP to evaluate the past year and plan for the future.  These strategy sessions have led, and are leading to, a number of changes in journal content and in the way we communicate what is published in the journals to a broader audience.
  • When he was AAEA President, Tom Hertel spearheaded an effort to enable AAEA to facilitate smaller, more specialized conferences and symposia.  We have subsequently expanded the types of offerings available to our members to include workshops and AAEA-endorsed events.  This year, Madhu Khanna and others organized a successful AAEA workshop in March in Washington, D.C., on water conservation policy.  The ability to utilize AAEA business office resources to organize symposia and workshops remains, in my opinion, a highly valuable and yet vastly underutilized resource available to our members.    
  • We continue to work on improving and carrying out our new communications strategies (view AAEA Communications Video HERE).  A new Communications Committee was formed a couple years ago, and the committee helps highlight offerings from the meetings and members that we believe will be newsworthy.  AAEA funds a part-time media relations professional and we continue to work, via press releases, social media, and more, to make the important work that our profession does more visible to the public at large. 
  • The 2017 AAEA Annual Meeting in Chicago is just around the corner.  My most recent newsletter mentioned some of the highlights to expect from the meeting.  We continue to experiment and try new things to further improve the value of our annual meetings.  For example, in Chicago, we will have an additional night of reunions on Sunday after the general opening reception.  In an effort to reduce the number of competing sessions in a given time-slot without reducing opportunities to present (who among us hasn’t had the infortune experience of presenting to room consisting an audience slightly higher than the number of presenters?), we have increased the number of lightning sessions.  Use of the AAEA Mobile App has almost entirely reduced the need for paper programs, while at the same time making it easier to figure out what we want to see.

Thank you for the incredible opportunity and privilege to serve as your AAEA president.   

Jayson Lusk
AAEA President