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Ed Schuh and his two daughters.

The University saluted retiring Regents Professor Ed Schuh, shown here with his daughters, with a global symposium May 2 and 3 honoring his pioneering work.

Continuing the work of a lifetime

Retiring Regents Professor Ed Schuh showed agriculture's importance to the global economy

By Mary Jo Pehl

May 8, 2007

You'd never know that Ed Schuh is about to retire. He has barely arrived in his office after teaching a class, and immediately sets about making travel arrangements to China. He settles into a chair, and consults with his assistant for the upcoming trip: He's been invited to give the keynote address at the 100th anniversary celebration of Sichuan Agricultural University. It's all in a day's--or life's--work for Schuh, Regents Professor at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs.

That life's work has entailed looking at the macroeconomics of agriculture--the role it plays in the larger context of the world's economy. "People tend to regard agriculture as an individual sector, but it is integral to the world economy as a whole," he points out. It is this research that has taken him all over the world.

On the occasion of Schuh's retirement, the University of Minnesota sponsored a global symposium May 2 and 3 at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. "Toward a Global Food and Agricultural Policy for an Open International Economy" brought together scholars and policy experts--all former students or close colleagues of Schuh's--to honor his pioneering work of bringing agriculture into a position of importance vis-?-vis the global economy.

Global visions Schuh started young. He grew up on a vegetable farm in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and even then dreamed of far-off places. He recalls being "absolutely enthralled" with Brazil. "I was studying up on the Institute Butanta (a reptile research center) in Sao Paulo, something that not a lot of other kids were doing!" says Schuh.

He received a degree in agricultural education from Purdue University and was on the faculty for almost two decades. He went to Brazil in the winter of 1963 as part of a program to develop what eventually became the Federal University of Vicosa. At the time it was a rural university patterned after a U.S. land grant institution, and it had about 400 students in its agriculture college. The goal was to help establish the first graduate programs in the agricultural sciences in Latin America. Today the university has an enrollment of about 27,000, and over 75 graduate and doctoral programs. Schuh also happened to meet a certain Brazilian graduate student in the program, whom he married a few years later. "It was the easiest decision I ever made--and it's paid off a long time!" he laughs.

Along the way, Schuh received a master of science degree in agricultural economics from Michigan State University, and went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Chicago. Many of the faculty members there have received Nobel Prizes in economics, and Schuh studied under seven of them.

Schuh continued to have one foot firmly planted in Brazil. He helped develop the Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecu?ria (EMBRAPA), a national agricultural research system, whose mission is to provide solutions for the sustainable development of Brazilian agribusiness. EMBRAPA is now one of the strongest systems of its kind in the developing world.

For his work in developing agricultural economics research and teaching institutions in Brazil, Schuh was named the first "Legendary Member" of the Brazilian Society of Rural Economics and Sociology in 2004. He also received Brazil's highest scientific award, the National Order of Scientific Merit, Gra Cruz, the equivalent of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"It was one of the great honors of my life," Schuh says. "The award means as much to me as being named a Regents Professor." Schuh received the U's Regents Professorship in 1998.

Beyond Brazil Schuh was part of the U.S. delegation that negotiated the first trade agreement with China. He was deputy undersecretary of agriculture in the Carter Administration at the time, and the only person in the delegation representing agriculture. Schuh also co-chaired a mission with agricultural scientist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug to North Korea to assess the food situation. Schuh also served as the World Bank's Director of Agriculture and Rural Development and found his tenure at the World Bank a tremendous learning experience, although it was difficult working with so many different ethnic groups, each of which had a different agenda. "I wouldn't trade it for a million dollars--but wouldn't give you a penny for another day of it," says Schuh.

After three years, he returned to the University of Minnesota and served as dean of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs from 1987 to 1997. As dean, he found its multidisciplinary scholars often as difficult to pull together as the various groups at the World Bank. "The fact that I continued as dean at the Humphrey Institute 10 years shows how stubborn I am," Schuh says.

More recently, Schuh's work addresses international trade problems. He is collaborating with colleagues at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil on problems associated with the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. In addition, he is working on a book that addresses the global problems of world agriculture.

Schuh shows no signs of slowing down. He is working on a paper on global policy on food and agriculture and cites new initiatives to examine health issues as they relate to agriculture, like diseases and parasites associated with water in the tropics and ills associated with the use of pesticides and herbicides. Until recently, agricultural scientists and students of agricultural development have largely ignored these issues.

For Schuh, looking at his busy schedule and future work, the only difference retirement will make to his life is that he "won't get a paycheck at the end of the month."