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Vanvig award winner Menkhaus remains humble despite numerous accolades

Laramie – Don’t expect this year’s Andrew Vanvig Lifetime Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award recipient to walk willingly into the limelight.

Agricultural economics professor Dale Menkhaus has long met supply with demand from both academia and students and that long list of accomplishments could probably choke a printer.

Don’t let his usual blue jeans and ball cap deceive.

“His unassuming nature and quiet leadership have garnered him the lasting respect of countless students, administrators and colleagues within the university and the agricultural economics discipline,” says colleague, department head and Associate Professor Roger Coupal in nominating Menkhaus.

“There are few teachers in a student’s life who have a profound impact and ultimately change a student’s path because of his devotion as an educator,” says Jody Levin, former student and now professional. “For me, Dr. Menkhaus is that person, and I credit my success as a graduate student and as a professional to his influence.”

Rich research

Research? He’s only a handful of agricultural economists at land-grant universities to have articles in the American Economic Review, which has an acceptance rate of 10 percent, notes Coupal. 

“Moreover, Ph.D. agricultural economists statistically average less than one publication in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics (AJAE) during their careers,” he says. “Only five percent of Ph.D. agricultural economists ever author or coauthor five articles in the AJAE – Dale will publish his ninth article in that journal this year.”

Menkhaus received his Ph.D. from Purdue University and accepted an assistant professor position in the Department of Agricultural Economics at UW in October 1973.

Forty years later, he’s published 80 refereed journal articles, been cited 847 times in literature, received nearly $1.5 million in extramural funding as principal investigator (PI) or co-PI, mentored 27 graduate students as committee chair, served on an additional 61 Ph.D. and master’s student committees, received numerous teaching awards, been selected as Fulbright Scholar and received national and regional awards for outreach and scholarship and has been recognized for his contributions to the Wyoming economy

Driving force in success

Levin’s abysmal score on her first exam took her to find help from Menkhaus. 

“I believe he recognized in me a sincere desire not to fail and embarked upon hours of one-on-one instruction to help me grasp the course material,” she says. “After discovering that I enjoyed economics, Dr. Menkhaus did the unthinkable and encouraged me to pursue graduate school in agricultural economics.”

He often builds the road that leads to success and nudges students to take that first steps, says Levin, who did attend graduate school, obtained her master’s and later became owner of a small business. Menkhaus was the first person she asked to be on her committee when receiving her master’s.

Twenty years later, she reflects on how her career as a student and how her studies may have been different if Menkhaus had not opened the door when asked for help.

“In many respects, the experience is similar to a domino where one small action causes a series of actions to take place. His one small gesture of taking additional time to teach a student changed everything about my course in life,” she says. “I am fortunate to have had him as an instructor and delighted to still call him a mentor and friend.”

Cutting-edge research

 

Dale Menkhaus specializes primarily in market economics and agricultural price analysis in the livestock and beef sectors.

In one of his first journal articles in 1976, with a coauthor, he used regression techniques to analyze the impact of breed, sex, lot size and weight on feeder calf prices.

“This work was the precursor to countless hedonic studies, which reduce items being researched into their characteristics then estimates the value of each, and now published in literature that estimates premiums and discounts associated with various cattle attributes, such as breed and weight and associated with production practices, such as vaccination programs and third party certifications,” says Associate Professor Roger Coupal, head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

He was a mentor to Kalyn Coatney, a graduate student, whose thesis dealt with the interdependencies of cattle characteristics on price in a hedonic system. Published in 1996, it was most recently cited in the literature in 2012 in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Another graduate student he mentored investigated the impact of the beef packer concentration on cattle prices. The thesis also resulted in a journal article. 

“That article was one of the first to address industrial organization issues in the beef sector and has been cited 35 times, most recently in a 2001 book chapter discussing the implications of industrial organization and food processing,” says Coupal.

In the mid-1980s, Menkhaus and others in the College of Agriculture addressed depressed cattle prices brought on by a declining demand for beef due to health concerns. They developed and tested grass-fed beef, later branded as Wyoming Lean Beef. 

“How do you determine a product’s acceptance and market price when such products are not on the market and there is no data for analysis?” asks Coupal. “Dale was one of the first in the agricultural economics discipline to use laboratory test market techniques to answer this important question.”

Menkhaus and other members of the group, which included Associate Dean and Director of UW Extension Glen Whipple, studied the potential value and consumer acceptance of beef offered in a vacuum skin package.

They used experimental auction techniques in several major U.S. cities to elicit values from beef consumers for this new type of packaging, says Coupal.

“This was the first study of its kind to use experimental economics to value food attributes or products, and this study firmly planted Dale as a leader in the agricultural economics discipline using experimental economic methods,” noted Coupal.

Another mentoring of a graduate student drew the attention of a Russian delegation interested in learning about markets and pricing when Eastern Europe was moving from centrally planned economies to market-based economies.

The USDA Economic Research Service used his expertise to use experimental economics to assess the impacts of alternative policy mechanisms on market outcomes.

“This work investigates how the structure of various subsidy mechanisms impact commodity and related factor markets,” says Coupal.

This article is courtesy of the University of Wyoming.