K-Staters Earn 2nd, 4th Places in AAEA Grad Student Case Study Competition

From left: Brady Brewer, Brian Lauer and Cooper Morris won second place in the 2011 AAEA Graduate Student Case Study Competition. Elizabeth Canales (not pictured), also a K-State agricultural economics graduate student, competed on the fourth-place team with students from the University of Minnesota.

Kansas State University agricultural economics graduate students recently earned second and fourth places in the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association’s Graduate Student Case Study Competition. The national competition took place during the AAEA’s annual meeting July 24-26 in Pittsburg, PA, and is presented by the Agribusiness Economics and Management section of AAEA.

The competition allows graduate students to test their communication skills and apply their knowledge of agricultural economics and agribusiness subjects to practical situations. Teams received a copy of the case study two weeks prior to the annual meeting and prepared a 15-minute oral summary of their solution to the case. Teams also answered questions from a panel during two rounds of judging.

Nine teams competed, including California Polytechnic State University, Texas A&M University, University of Kentucky, Oklahoma State University, University of Arkansas and two teams from the University of Georgia. The second-place team included K-State agricultural economics graduate students Brady Brewer, Cooper Morris and Brian Lauer. In addition, Elizabeth Canales, also a K-State agricultural economics graduate student, competed on the fourth-place team with students from the University of Minnesota, advised by Michael Boland, former professor of agricultural economics at K-State.

The case study topic was a producer-owned cooperative based in Indiana.

“The challenge was to position the cooperative to respond to the biofuels industry,” said Brewer. “We had to research the ethanol industry and produce a solution that kept the cooperative balanced among its four divisions to ensure the long term viability of the cooperative and that it added value to the member owners products, the first objective of a producer owned cooperative.”

The team created a broad business plan, enabling the cooperative to prepare its owners to plant more corn, increase their access to storage space, utilize dried distiller grains to mitigate increasing feed costs, and use technology to increase the quality of services, Morris said.

“It was important for teams to recognize a cooperative’s commitment to their owners and understand how new ethanol plants consuming 78 million bushels of corn annually would change the structure of the local agricultural economy,” Lauer said.

The team of Brewer, Morris and Lauer experienced an additional twist in the competition. After their flight from Chicago O’Hare was canceled, the team drove overnight to Pittsburgh, arriving an hour after their scheduled presentation time. Vincent Amanor-Boadu, associate professor of agricultural economics, was instrumental in recruiting judges for two back-to-back presentations, enabling the team to still compete.

“His effort embodied the commitment of our faculty,” Morris said.

Amanor-Boadu and other faculty, including Brian Briggeman, David Barton, Arlo Biere and David Lambert, helped the team prepare for the competition.

“They helped us work through our solutions, making sure they were not only grounded in facts and economic truths, but we presented them effectively to the judges,” Morris said.

The top four teams were invited to the AEM industry dinner, where they were recognized for their success. While Morris said the team felt a sense of disappointment missing out on first place, they felt a concrete confidence that was more important than a trophy or ribbon.

“With the help of faculty, we had confidently worked through a complex analysis, survived a transportation nightmare and gave a great final presentation,” he said. “As a team, we had challenged one another to reach a level of economic and business analysis we had yet to achieve. We were one step closer to being ready to complete our theses, taking another step towards our longer term goals.”

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