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Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics


Ian Sheldon reflects on storied career in agricultural economics

July 12, 2021

When surveying his decades-long career as a professor and researcher, Ian Sheldon says he started out his career as an industrial organization economist who paid some attention to the impact of trade on competition. He then shifted to analyzing how industrial organization might affect the outcome of various trade policy choices. Now, as he reaches the end of his career, he is morphing into an international economist concerned with legal issues related to the governance of the global trading system.

Sheldon began his career at The Ohio State University in 1989 and has developed a reputation as the “go-to guy for trade and trade policy.” Yet, his work has been about more than just research. He says “it has also been about being an effective teacher and mentor to students.” 

He recently published a featured article in Applied Economics and Policy where he discusses his many contributions to the field and his diverse portfolio of work. Sheldon did not start out as an agricultural economist. He received broad training in general economics, earning his BSc (Hons.) and PhD from the University of Salford in the United Kingdom. His early research focused on antitrust policy and how industries are structured and the extent that firms exploit their market power. He then became interested in trade and began working on a few papers analyzing the impact of trade on how firms compete in domestic markets. He then moved into the study of economics and the food industry.

“I came across the pond in 1989 to join a joint agricultural research project between Ohio State and Purdue University,” says Sheldon. “I was hired as an ag economist in AEDE in 1990 and began teaching in 1995.”

His deep understanding of market structure and how organizations behave enabled him to embark on research that addressed national and international trade and trade policy outcomes in industries related to agriculture.  

Through his teaching and outreach work, he pushes stakeholders and students to consider the intricacies of trade and global value chains. His work and teaching emphasizes that the interconnected nature of agriculture and food systems make it a very specific value chain.   Sheldon’s teaching and mentorship is widely recognized by students and peers. He has won many of the prizes one can win for teaching at Ohio State. His strong recommendation letters have helped students land jobs and get into graduate school. He goes out of his way to help students, beyond their educational goals. In 2016, he became Andersons Chair of Agricultural Marketing, Trade, and Policy, and through outreach and extension work, became engaged in delivering balanced and research-based information and education to farmers, stakeholders, students, and extension groups across the state. In 2019, Sheldon was elected as an Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) Fellow, a prestigious honor that recognizes his continued contributions to the advancement of agricultural and applied economics in research, teaching, and extension. His recent foray into the study of law is part hobby, part deliberate initiative to improve his understanding law, and how it affects international trade and the development of trade policy.

“My working across disciplines has made me more broad-minded,” says Sheldon. “And more appreciative of what other people bring to the table.”

If you know Sheldon personally or have heard him give an outlook talk, you have probably heard him reference favorite musicians, bands and songs over the years. In his recently published reflection, he signs off with a nod to one of his favorite group of musicians:

“At this juncture, I will finish with the immortal lyrics of the Grateful Dead (1970): “…” Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been…”