The History of Agricultural Economics


Links Across Time, Around the World – Purdue’s Agricultural Economics since 1920

These links across time and around the world are indicative of over 80 years of achievement.

Seven Department Heads in over 80 years

Orson Lloyd 1920-1946
Earl Butz 1946-1954
Lowell Hardin 1954-1966
Charles French 1966-1973
Paul Farris 1973-1982
Bill Dobson 1982-1988
Wally Tyner 1988-2002
Sarahelen Thompson 2002-2008
Ken Foster 2008 -

Marking Milestones, Recalling our Roots

The First Decade:
We started as the Department of Farm Management in 1920, offering courses in farm organization, farm tenancy and credit, marketing and advanced farm management. The department awarded its first master’s degrees in 1922, published its first research bulletins in 1923, and taught its first short courses in 1924.

In the beginning, we studied beef production costs and farm power and organization. By 1924, we were at work on another six research projects.

We published our first large-scale Farm Outlook report in 1929, a key agribusiness service we continue today.

Mathematical procedure in research was extremely simple. Two calculators of the automatic type and two or three of the plunger type were the only type of calculating machines in the Department for several years after it was established. Records from research samples were hand tabulated.

A 1940’s agricultural economics seminar with J. Carroll Bottum.

The first farm account books were distributed in 1916. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, instruction in accounting was given to 7th and 8th grade pupils in many rural schools as part of the arithmetic class using two bulletins prepared by the Department. By 1939-40, over 12,000 books were in use in Indiana public schools. Today, they are used in vocational agriculture classes.

Growing and Expanding: 1930, ‘40s, and ‘50s
We tackled our first marketing research project in 1930 and awarded our first PhD in 1937, to Earl Butz.

In 1942, we chose a name more descriptive of our evolving mission and became the Department of Agricultural Economics. By the decade’s end, we had embraced the computer age and were tabulating research using punch-card machines.

During the 1940s, we also began international work, expanded our extension activities to include public policy, and introduced a traveling training facility for food distribution managers, a forerunner of today’s food distribution program.

We received our first National Science Foundation research funds in 1955.

Extension program with Joseph Uhl and Henry Courtney.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Department continued to embrace computers, especially for farm records, business and farm management simulation models and comprehensive outlook reports. Looking on is Michael Boehlje.

Faculty Photo in front of Agricultural Administration

Paul L. Farris teaching a graduate level course in the ‘new’ Krannert building.

Four individuals whose contributions distinguished the profession - Russ Mawby, Earl Butz, Richard Kohls, and Edson Potsch Magalhaes

New Building, New Technologies: 1960s and /70s
Our multi-site campus offices came together for the first time in 1965, when we moved to 150 rooms on several floors of the just-built Krannert Building.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, we continued to embrace computers, especially for farm records, business and farm management simulations models, and comprehensive outlook reports.

We first offered the still-popular Top Farmer Workshop in 1967. In 1970, we introduced international course work to our undergraduate curriculum.

During the 1970s, much of our research focused on farm and business management, marketing and prices, production economics and policy, and research methods.

Our multi-site campus offices came together in 1965, when AGEC moved into the just-built Krannert Building.

Building on Our Strengths: 1980s and ‘90s
In the mid-1980s, we established several centers designed to concentrate, simulate, and better coordinate work in specific areas.

The Center for Agricultural Business provides a significant fraction of the continuing education available for U.S. agribusiness today. The Center for Rural Development helps rural communities take charge of their future.

Blast From the Past
Professor Emeritus Paul Farris recently shared this photo of a group of distinguished past members of the department taken on the occasion of the Ag Econ Department’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1995. Among this group are former Department Heads and Deans at Purdue, Secretaries of Agriculture at USDA, and an Interim President of Purdue University. This level of service to the university and society challenges us all to get involved and be engaged in important work for agriculture and communities.



  The following are the names:  Front row – Carroll Bottum and Paul Farris,
Back Row – Lowell Hardin, Don Paarlberg, John Hicks, Richard Kohls, and Earl Butz.