By CASEY MCCARTHY
PULLMAN — In the Agricultural & Food Business Economics Program at Washington State University, students are learning to understand and affect agriculture on a larger scale.
Rebecca Liao-Cance serves as an adviser for the major at WSU. Liao-Cance said the core tapers toward the economic side of the agriculture industry, while teaching students to better understand how the market works as a whole.
“The students are working to put numbers on, let’s say, a piece of corn, and seeing how all the (market) movement, decision-making and what people are deciding affects that,” Liao-Cance said.
An analogy Liao-Cance said she tells prospective students looking to better understand what the major entails involves a wizard and an ant farm. The WSU adviser tells students to imagine themselves as the wizard, observing the ant farm as a flood begins to run through it, studying how the ants respond to the changes.
The student can choose to add a leaf for them to float on, build a new habitat, or anything they feel will help the farm best survive.
“That’s what economics students are doing,” Liao-Cance said. “They’re seeing that highest level, they’re not responding, maybe to what society sees is changing. They’re almost one level above that, and they can see and manipulate that already.”
Graduates have the option to move into agricultural pricing, market forecasting, while also obtaining the hardened skills to work alongside and assist farmers in the field, Liao-Cance said.
This program falls into the university’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Liao-Cance said students are taught how to look at the agriculture system “as a whole” instead of a single component, taking classes across multiple disciplines.
“As the world runs, we don’t run in that one area, or one area of expertise that we’ve studied,” Liao-Cance said. “We always work alongside other people in other expertise.
It’s how everything works, together, instead of only your field.”
Students enter the work force, Liao-Cance said, with a wider perspective in addition to a specific expertise.
The WSU adviser said they’d love to see more students coming in from the Columbia Basin area, an area rich in development and agricultural growth. Liao-Cance said she’d love to see the students come in before returning to improve their community with knowledge they’ve gained.
“The students in this program do come from a lot of different places, and a lot of times what they seek is that additional knowledge,” Liao-Cance said. “They grew up working alongside their parents, their uncle or their aunt. They grew up in that environment and in that culture.”
Liao-Cance said many times what their students seek is an ability to observe the market with a more “academic lens” as opposed to operating “by the gut,” or how it’s always been.