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Association leader drives research that supports ag economy

Portrait photo of Randy Fortenbery in his office,
Randy Fortenbery, professor and endowed chair in the School of Economic Sciences, is the 2017-18 president of the Western Agricultural Economics Association (Scott Weybright-WSU photo).

Studying the market forces that influence food, fuel and fiber, agricultural economists are the unsung heroes of the economy, protecting our food supply and safeguarding our natural resources.

Sharing this critical work with the world, Randy Fortenbery is the current volunteer president of the Western Agricultural Economics Association.

Leading a professional society of more than 400 economists from 19 western states, from Hawaii to Kansas, and four Canadian provinces, Fortenbery, the Thomas B. Mick Endowed Chair in the School of Economic Sciences, knows how important a vibrant, meaningful professional organization is to the future of his discipline.

“Associations spur new ideas and show how the work we do affects everyone,” Fortenbery said. “That’s because ag economics touches so much of our society—the crops we grow, the fuel in our cars, and the vitality of our western economy.”

At WSU, Fortenbery works closely with Northwest grain farmers and commissions, helping them understand domestic and international markets, and how market dynamics can affect their bottom line. Northwest farmers directly fund his work, including the Washington Grain Commission’s funding of the Thomas B. Mick Chair.

As advisory council chair for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, he is the sole academic researcher on the council, working with CEOs of railroads, grain companies and cattle feeding operations to advise presidentially appointed commission members on how regulations can affect trade and investment.

Now, as 2017-18 WAEA president, he leads colleagues in sharing their work and deliberating the future direction of economic research.

“This is a full, three-year job and it can be time-consuming,” said Fortenbery. “But I’m helping move the profession forward. Senior faculty members like me have a responsibility to accept the challenge. We’re advancing our discipline in ways that help young faculty and build future leaders and ultimately, help our farms, businesses and society.”

Fortenbery isn’t the only CAHNRS researcher making a difference. Karina Gallardo, associate professor in the School of Economic Sciences, was recently elected to the association’s board of directors.

Service gives younger leaders a closer look at research that may be far different than their own areas of focus. A wheat researcher like Fortenbery, for example, can discover the latest ideas in biofuels, sustainability or water resources, and how they affect our economy.

“We gain an appreciation for how broad our field really is,” he said. “We have so much research going on that really matters.”

  • Contact: Randy Fortenbery, Professor, Thomas B. Mick Endowed Chair, School of Economic Sciences, (509) 335-7637,