Ag Research Spotlight:

María Marshall

“I find family businesses fascinating. They're about people, not about the dollar. Most of them want to work with family and keep a heritage alive.” –María Marshall

The Ag Research Spotlight shines each month on an individual whose work reflects our commitment to the six strategic themes that guide Agricultural Research at Purdue. Our spotlight for November 2014 underscores the theme, “Facilitating informed decision making to improve economic and social well-being.”


María Marshall grew up in two vastly different environments as her father’s military career took the family from Madrid, Spain, to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska when she was 13. Although her Spanish mother’s grandparents farmed, agriculture wasn’t on María’s radar; her dual degree from the University of Nebraska was in Black Studies and Spanish. When ConAgra’s corporate headquarters in Omaha called the university’s Spanish department looking for a bilingual merchandising assistant, Marshall signed on. “I learned there’s a whole range of stuff in agriculture that doesn’t involve farming, and my mentor encouraged me to look at economics,” she says. She relocated to Kansas City to become a grain export manager, and earned a master’s degree in economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, followed by a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from Kansas State University. Her position at Purdue, she says, has continued to evolve since she joined the faculty in January 2003.


Marshall conducts applied research and Extension programs in small business development and family business management. “I’m interested in the exchange of resources between the family and the business,” she explains. “Farms are mostly family businesses: How do they manage family concerns that affect the business, and manage business issues that affect the family?” Her Extension program offers research-based decision-making tools to entrepreneurs and small business development practitioners to increase economic development. Another facet of her research is rural economic development, in which she focuses specifically on disaster recovery.


Marshall applies her interest in how family businesses remain sustainable in the long term to helping the current generation prepare to turn their farming operation over to the next. “They have to be careful about how they look at their assets and how they’ll pass them along,” she says. Her in-depth research on succession planning for small and medium-sized farms has led to new software, informative publications and workshops for producers. One of their biggest challenges, she observes, is involving the next generation in management before the actual transition occurs. Another is careful financial planning: “If there’s no financial planning, there can’t be a succession plan.”


Marshall likes helping businesses get started, then assisting them in their marketing efforts. About 15 percent of the attendees to her statewide workshop, Introduction to Starting a Specialty Food Business in Indiana – co-sponsored by the Departments of Agricultural Economics and Food Science – continue in the process of starting their food business. But it’s not only the entrepreneurs who benefit, she adds: “It’s good for me to bring Extension stories back into the classroom.”


Marshall returned to her research and Extension duties at the end of this summer following a leave in which she and her agronomist husband welcomed their son Liam, now five months old.​​

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