July 25, 2018
Dr. John Newton . serves as Chief Economist for American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farm organization of independent farmers in the United States.
In this role Dr. Newton provides analyses used for the development of and advocacy for Farm Bureau policy. From 2004 to 2014, he was with the United States Department of Agriculture as an agricultural economist, working on issues related to risk management, policy analysis and marketing. While serving in this role Dr. Newton was detailed to both the Senate Agriculture Committee majority staff and the USDA Office of the Chief Economist to provide policy analysis on the 2014 farm bill. Dr. Newton holds a Ph.D. and two Master’s degrees from The Ohio State University in applied and agricultural economics.
WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
I work for the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farm organization of independent farmers in the United States. My job is to provide economic analyses for the organization in order to develop policy and advocate for Farm Bureau policy. The ag world is a competitive environment full of risk. I assess that risk in order to formulate action plans that will support the success of the agricultural community. It is an honor to be trusted to communicate the many complicated issues facing farmers when I speaks to policy makers.
DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO GO DOWN THIS CAREER PATH WHEN YOU WERE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL?
I credit my time as a graduate student in AEDE, working on decision tools to mitigate agricultural’ risk, as the catalyst for my itch to serve the agricultural industry and work on ag policy. While I was working on my masters and PhD, my research and dissertation focused on developing a decision tool that brought forth innovative ideas in dairy risk management. This led to the creation of an award winning decision tool used by extension educators which after graduation, led to a job with the United States Department of Agriculture.
HOW HAS YOUR AEDE EDUCATION PREPARED YOU FOR YOUR CAREER?
The scholarly expertise and advice afforded me by my advisor Dr. Cameron Threan and other AEDE faculty was integral in shaping my career path. Faculty’s unofficial open door policy encouraged me to ask questions and caused me to remain inquisitive and curious. I also had access to experts in the agricultural community through participation in the Farm Science Review (FSR), which is this huge outdoor agricultural education and industry trade show that takes place annually right outside Columbus, Ohio. People come from across the state and the Midwest come to the FSR to learn about new products, equipment and hear from exhibitors and experts in the field. AEDE Faculty and researchers participate in panels and give talks on the latest research. I was able to keep in touch and learn how research and tools affect the end user. This was a formative experience of knowing constituents, their issues and learning how to better answer tough questions.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR CURRENT OR PROSPECTIVE GRADUATE STUDENTS?
Learning to conduct research, econometric research, is important but so is talking to people in the field. Then the research will be much more relevant.
AEDE faculty have a wealth of diverse knowledge and experience in econometrics, agricultural production, markets, the farm bill and trade. Ask questions. That is why you are there. I know from my experience, faculty are happy to answer them and appreciate curiosity. In addition, make sure to attend the Farm Science Review.
AEDE Graduate Kristi Scott Draws on Undergrad Coursework to Navigate Career Path
AEDE graduate Kristi Scott credits herself as a “yes” person; a trait she says has served her well in her life and career. “Wherever possible, say yes,” she says. “You never know the possibilities that can result.”
Being open-minded has served Scott well despite her being a bit of an academic late bloomer. During undergrad, as she worked through the applied economics courses required to complete her degree, she never dreamed that her success in a few key classes would influence her life’s work.
“At OSU, I was an average student,” Scott shares. “I wasn’t really excelling and I didn’t hit my stride until my last year when I took Dr. Sheldon’s public policy class, a price analysis class and a consumer econ class.”
After graduation, she worked as a pricing analyst for a small food company and then as a purchasing manager at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. While working full-time, she also worked towards her MBA. Then in her late 20’s, personal health issues and the unexpected deaths of a handful of young African American acquaintances caused her to take stock.
“People of color were dying really young and at a high rate,” says Scott. “I had read about Japanese culture that boasts the most world citizens over 100 years-old who are healthy and I knew I had to use my skill set to figure out what we are doing differently than other populations and figure out why this was happening in America.”
She inventoried her strengths and her education and determined her niche had to do with those undergrad applied economics courses. At the age of 30, she quit her job, moved from Chicago to Athens, Georgia and spent the next four years researching what drives consumer choices and how decisions affect health outcomes. She also said yes to an unpaid internship.
“An internship at the CDC working on in the Obesity Prevention and Control Branch molded my research and dissertation which focused on subjective measures of food access and outcomes,” shares Scott.
Today Scott is completing her second year as a Health Economics Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) furthering her work and building a body of evidence that she believes will contribute sound evidence to influence health policy and contribute to effective public health programs.
“There is a saying ‘when you know better you do better’ but my work shows that isn’t true,” says Scott. “What you do is not based on what you know, but what you WANT. “
She gives this example: If you are trying to decide what to order from a restaurant and you crave a burger but you are also considering a kale salad, chances are most people are going to order the burger if that is what they really want to eat at that moment. She further explains that in the moment, most people go with personal preference and do not consider the longer-term health impacts or other negative impacts like slow digestion rate or heartburn when they choose the burger over the salad. Scott is poised to continue to research the psychology behind human behavior to further understand consumer choices and offer sound evidence on ways to more positively affect consumer choice in the moment.
“Figuring out how to influence people to pick the Kale salad over the burger is the hard part,” shares Scott. “I’ve spent years trying to make strides towards the goal that I had initially set for myself – to use my skill set to make a contribution to better health outcomes for all Americans.”