News Service


William Meyers, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, (515) 294-6237
Stan Johnson, Vice Provost for Extension, (515) 294-6192
Judith Pim, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, (515) 294-6257
Steve Jones, News Service, (515) 294-4778


AMES, Iowa -- What started four decades ago as a small research effort to help Iowa farmers now plays a major role in agricultural policy decisions throughout the world.

Iowa State's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development is celebrating 40 years of helping people -- from local farmers to world agricultural leaders -- to make informed decisions. CARD became well-known for applying quantitative analytical modeling systems to answer questions and solve problems about agriculture, food, the environment and rural development.

"CARD was the first public policy research center at a land-grant university that focused on agricultural, rural development and natural resources issues," said Stanley Johnson, vice provost for extension and director of CARD from 1985 to 1996.

Johnson said CARD is the nation's largest public policy center of its kind. The center's reputation, however, wasn't built on size. Strong faculty leadership, innovative thinking and success in attracting funds helped make CARD the prototypical agricultural public policy center in the United States.

The idea for CARD was born in the 1950s. America was enjoying economic prosperity, but farm income was down. The situation prompted 15 prominent Iowa businessmen and farm leaders in 1956 to write ISU president James Hilton and agriculture dean Floyd Andre.

The men requested university programs to define the farm problems and find solutions. The resulting work included a recommendation to establish a center to study the changes facing agriculture. The Center for Agricultural Adjustment began operation July 1, 1958. Agricultural economist Earl O. Heady was named the center's first director.

In the following years, Heady's impact on the field of agricultural economics was enormous. Initially CARD focused on the topic of agricultural adjustment -- adapting to technological and economic changes in farming. Work at the center, which saw several name changes before becoming CARD in 1971, eventually broadened to regional, national and global commodities and agricultural policies.

Heady was ingenious for his use of economic modeling, which allowed agricultural decision making to become much more scientific. Traditionally, farmers and others relied on experience and observations to make important decisions, such as buying and selling commodities. Modeling made it possible for analysts to evaluate many interrelated factors that affect farm income and performance, said William Meyers, CARD's interim director.

Heady was among the first to apply linear programming models and related economic theory to quantitative agricultural research. A simple model, for example, could incorporate a farmer's resources (cash, debt, fertilizer use, acreage, herd size, etc.) to determine the best way to maximize profits.

"Earl Heady had a huge impact on modeling," added Johnson. "He was very innovative and was always trying new approaches. He was among the first to use the tools of statistics, economics and modern computation for policy analysis."

The early models were rather simple when compared to current ones. For example, when CARD economists join University of Missouri researchers on an annual 10-year outlook of U.S. and world agricultural markets, they use models that can have thousands of variables and hundreds of equations. CARD staff also do many special analyses to evaluate U.S. farm legislation and programs such as GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). The results are in high demand by businesses, farm organizations, and U.S. and foreign governments.

A trademark of CARD the past 40 years has been its outstanding domestic and international students and post-doctoral researchers, said Meyers. Many international students returned to their native countries and later assumed high positions within their governments. Several ministers of agriculture (akin to the U.S. secretary of agriculture) are CARD alumni.

So many international scholars studied at CARD, that people say Heady or Johnson could arrive at just about any airport in the world and be welcomed by at least one of their former graduate students.

Heady retired in 1984 and died in 1987. Johnson, the new director, added research programs with more emphasis on natural resources and environmental policy, food and nutrition policy and international agriculture policy.

In 1988, Johnson and CARD established a formal research exchange with the Soviet Union's All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences. It was the first such agreement between the giant U.S.S.R. institution and an American university. The pact opened even more international doors and led to several new CARD projects in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, CARD continued work with several of the newly independent states.

"CARD's expertise aided several nations to restructure their agricultural economies to fit into world markets, deal with food security issues, protect the environment and support rural development," Johnson added.

Over the past 40 years, CARD has won many awards and accolades. Perhaps its biggest honor is the fact that now virtually all major public policy decisions are made using a quantitative approach to analysis.

"In modern policy contexts," Johnson said, "it would be unthinkable to undertake major reform without systematically and quantitatively evaluating its implications."


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