Economics Students Helping Industry
March 08, 2023
Faculty members in the University of Idaho’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology (AERS) and UI Extension educators have historically led development of agricultural enterprise budgets used to guide industry decisions.
This year, however, the department is piloting a new approach — including College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) undergraduate students in much larger enterprise budget-development teams. The approach enhances sustainability of enterprise budget development while also providing students with real-world experiences. By all accounts, the first student-led input cost report, detailing the cost of raising sugar beets in 2022, was carefully crafted and meets industry standards.
AERS also released a broader report on input costs, Idaho Crop Input Price Summary for 2022. CALS students Tyler Hand, a graduate student from Lake Isabella, California, studying applied economics, and Sarah Reisenauer, a senior in agricultural education from Jerome, led work on both reports under the direction of Patrick Hatzenbuehler, an assistant professor, and Norm Ruhoff, clinical assistant professor, both in the AERS department.
The sugar beet budgets were last updated in 2019, and the crop price summary was last updated in 2014.
“I’m viewing it as a pilot effort to try to get students involved, and we as faculty play more of the role of advisors, identifying what kind of information would be needed, what sources there are and how to go about identifying stakeholders,” Hatzenbuehler said. “It will still be a team approach as it has in the past, but encompassing students helps divide the labor even more while providing them with opportunities to learn and gain experience in UI Extension activities.”
The 2022 Sugar Beet Enterprise Budget, posted on the U of I’s Idaho AgBiz website, estimates beet farmers’ production costs and earnings by region. On a hypothetical 550-acre farm in southwestern Idaho, for example, beet earnings were estimated to average $2,206.08 per acre, compared with total production costs of $2,042.73 per acre.
Statewide, gross revenue per acre is estimated as up by 14%. Rising input costs, however, offset the revenue gain. Fuel, for example, increased by 54%, and labor rose by 15%.
The cost of surface water varied dramatically by region, ranging from $65 per acre to water crops in southwest Idaho to $12.50 per acre to irrigate in northeast Idaho.
Hand, a U of I master’s student in applied economics, was still finishing his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics when he started work on the projects last spring. He did the bulk of the economic analysis and number crunching, in addition to data gathering, for the sugar beet budgets.
Hand hopes AERS will involve a larger group of undergraduates in preparing future reports to share the experience more broadly.
“There’s always a difference between just going to your classes and actually getting experience,” Hand said. “Getting some type of internship experience is necessary and it’s great that we’re providing that opportunity.”
Reisenauer is a senior majoring in agricultural education whose primary role in the budget projects was contacting sources and gathering data. Throughout several months, Reisenauer was in regular contact with officials from more than 30 canal and irrigation companies about surface water costs. She had several Zoom meetings with representatives from Idaho Power Co. to develop a table detailing irrigation power costs. She reached out to dealers of farm inputs to track the volatile markets for fertilizer, farm chemicals and other products necessary to raise a crop, and she worked closely with the Idaho Department of Labor Wages to understand the labor market.
“Every input you can think of as a general basis of all crops grown in Idaho, we did our best to find prices and comparisons,” Reisenauer said. “It was a wonderful experience to be in contact with all of the multiple corporations and the different people.”
Amalgamated Sugar’s experts reviewed their budgets and offered feedback, including edits on certain cost estimates. Hatzenbuehler and Ruhoff corroborated their methodology, sources and data.
About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at uidaho.edu