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Iowa State University Extension

Edwards’ goal: Help public understand ag economics issues

William Edwards

More agricultural economists are getting out of their ivory towers and taking economics to the field, thanks to William Edwards, an ISU Extension agricultural economist. That’s part of the legacy Edwards leaves as he steps down as past president of the Extension Section of the American Agricultural Economics Association (AAEA). Edwards wants to help the public understand tough ag economics issues— and to make sure the AAEA shares that goal.

“We have motivated the leadership of the AAEA to pay more attention to outreach responsibilities to the public,” he said. “Our mission is to make sure extension is well represented in the whole agricultural economics profession.”

Edwards has been on the Extension Section board for seven years, serving as secretary, president elect, president and past president – the term that he ended in July. The Extension Section of the AAEA has about 200 members from most U.S. land-grant universities. The majority has academic appointments in agricultural economics, though some work for nonprofit organizations or private industry.

Edwards said the Extension Section also is interested in bringing new people into the fold as extension professionals. It sponsors a competition in which graduate students, mentored by extension ag economists, develop extension programs based on their research, complete with educational materials and instructions for delivering the program to the public.

“The idea is to help groom a new generation of ag economists with an interest in, or at least some familiarity with, how extension programs work,” he said.

Many universities have extension economists on campus, but have few or none in the field. However, Iowa State is an exception, Edwards said. Farm management field specialists “are the backbone of ISU Extension economic programs in the field.”

He added, “I think ISU Extension is envied by a lot of other states. Our strong point is having the field specialist system in ag economics. That makes our system more effective and responsive in delivering information to the public.”

Edwards, an ISU Extension agricultural economist since 1974, also is a professor in Iowa State’s Department of Economics. His ISU Extension work covers farm accounting, business analysis, machinery management and custom rates, farm leasing agreements, and managing risk, farm finances and labor. He teaches farm management, international agriculture and risk management, and has been involved in a number of international programs.

This article appeared in August 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter