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A Tribute to Luther Tweeten

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Luther Tweeten this week. He was truly a giant in the field of agricultural economics. Luther was a global authority on agricultural policy for decades. He published over 500 scholarly articles during his long career, including more than I can count in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the flagship journal of our profession. His magnum opus was the textbook Foundations of Agricultural Policy, which was used in agricultural policy classes nearly everywhere. He also received about every professional award that one could imagine.

I was privileged to work with and get to know Luther after he joined the ag econ department at Ohio State in 1988. I was just barely out of graduate school when he arrived and more than a little intimidated about working with someone of his towering reputation. My fears were completely unfounded as I quickly discovered Luther was very down to earth, had a great sense of humor, and loved to converse on just about any topic you could imagine. Perhaps we hit it off because we were both just Iowa farm boys deep down.

What always impressed me the most about Luther was his willingness to engage with the public on a wide range of agricultural policy topics. He could have rested on his laurels when he came to Ohio State after his long and incredibly distinguished career at Oklahoma State. Instead, it seemed like he never turned down an invitation to speak at extension or industry meetings around the state. His energy level was truly something to behold.

I had a front-row seat to Luther in action at an extension meeting in Findley, Ohio shortly after he arrived in 1988. I don’t remember the occasion, but Luther spoke first on farm programs, and I was up second on the grain market outlook. The Q&A after Luther’s talk got very heated as several farmers in the audience challenged his arguments about crop acreage contracting as prices declined. For most of Luther’s career, he battled with those who favored government control of agricultural supply. The questioners turned out to be members of the National Farmers Organization (NFO), who were among to most radical in their demands for agricultural supply control. My talk was much less controversial, but I made some comments about corn and soybean acreage in the future and the same farmers were upset by it.

By the time Luther and I got home, I was off to other things and did not give the meeting a second thought. Well, the next morning I got a call that the Dean of the College of Ag wanted to see Luther and me in his office pronto. It turns out that the NFO folks in the audience were so incensed by our talks that they were pressuring the Dean to fire both of us for misleading people about the nature of agricultural supply. I never forgot how Luther reacted as if this was just another day in the office, and it probably was for him. I admit to being more than a little nervous. Thankfully the Dean supported us and that was the end of the matter.

Rest in peace, my friend Luther Tweeten.

Laurence J. Norton Chair of Agricultural Marketing
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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