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Where retail meets the farm: ASU hosts Agricultural Retail Association management academy

When you think of retail operations, you probably think of going to the store or shopping online. If you think agricultural retail, you might think of going to Tractor Supply or Big Earl’s Hay and Seed Emporium. But did you know there is an entire business-to-business retail industry that serves farms and agricultural producers?

Agricultural retail industry

Agricultural retail was a $117 billion industry in 2017. Retailers supply farmers and ranchers with products such as seed, fertilizers, crop-protection products and technology, or services such as soil testing, crop scouting or conservation plans.

As with any industry, continuing education is an important part of professional growth, and it was with this in mind that Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business, in conjunction with the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA), developed the ARA Management Academy. This 12-year-old program assists agribusiness leaders in developing decision-making and management skills.

Purdue and ASU

For 2018, Purdue teamed up with Arizona State University’s Morrison School of Agribusiness to jointly host the program at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business in Tempe, Arizona. The decision to work together on the ARA Management Academy came from ongoing discussions between the schools about ways their respective programs in food and agribusiness could work together in the executive-education space.

Running from Jan. 29–Feb. 1, the workshop consisted of lectures, group discussions and break-out sessions and brought together industry peers for learning, networking and idea sharing. Faculty members from both universities presented on topics such as supply chain operations, business strategy, leadership and communications, financial management and consumer perceptions. The program also featured two panel discussions: one covering sustainability and the other on understanding the large grower, which featured two Arizona-based farmers running large agribusiness operations.

Looking to the future

The ARA Management Academy was the first partnership between ASU and Purdue, and bringing together the universities' complementary agribusiness programs worked well. But where does it go from here?

This joint partnership offers both parties the ability to extend the program beyond the domestic market. With Purdue’s College of Agriculture and ASU’s many business disciplines, as well as international expertise via the Thunderbird School of Global Management, the program could theoretically be offered globally: What are the implications of GMO food in Europe? How can international agribusiness increase its capacity to address issues of sustainability? How can companies increase operational excellence? How might sharing of best practices impact growth of a business?

The two universities may find many possibilities for collaboration both in agribusiness and other specialized topics. 

By Tim Weaver, Thunderbird Executive Education