Nov. 2, 2012

Bookmark and Share
around the college

PICS honor

James "Jess" Lowenberg-DeBoer (left) and Larry Murdock display their National Order medals from Burkina Faso after the awards ceremony. (Photo submitted)

2 from Ag receive Burkina Faso's highest
honor for PICS

Purdue University College of Agriculture faculty members Larry Murdock and James "Jess" Lowenberg-DeBoer received the highest honor given by the West African nation of Burkina Faso for their work in improving storage of the staple cowpea crops.

The Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Burkina Faso – equivalent to the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and rarely given to foreigners ‒ was awarded to Murdock and Lowenberg-DeBoer on Oct. 13 during the pair's visit to the country. The word "chevalier" translates to "knight" in English.

"The high-level honor we received is a direct consequence of the priority that the Burkinabés put on food security," Murdock said. "Jess and I are overwhelmed by the honor. To be thought of in such high regard by the Burkinabé people is truly humbling."

Coming Wednesday, Nov. 7:

While the harvest season is winding down, the Purdue student farm just west of campus is still operating full speed ahead. Now in the third year of operation, the student crew that operates the five-acre farm is preparing to host a Christmas dinner hog roast featuring food raised on the farm. Read all about this innovative student operation known as Full Circle Agriculture at Purdue in the next ConnectionsNow!

A profile of the student farm will be featured on the Big Ten Network on Nov. 19 at 9:30 p.m. (EST).

Murdock, a professor of entomology, has been researching pest-management techniques in Africa since 1987. He developed the technology that led to the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage project, a five-year initiative to improve cowpea storage in West and Central Africa. The PICS program is underway in Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo in addition to Burkina Faso.

Lowenberg-DeBoer, an associate dean of the College of Agriculture, director of Purdue's International Programs in Agriculture and a faculty member since 1985, has been working to help solve food problems in Africa since 1988.

"The effectiveness of this simple technology continues to amaze me," Murdock said. "It uses ordinary materials manufactured in Africa to almost completely control the insects in stored grain without chemicals."

With the PICS system, farmers place their cowpeas in a polyethylene bag and seal it. That bag is surrounded by another, identical bag and sealed, and the double-bagged crop is held within a third, woven polypropylene bag. The woven bag gives strength to the unit and allows the bag to be handled without damaging the inner bags. The inner bags deprive the insects of oxygen and the water insects make with that oxygen. The insects eventually die due to desiccation.

The PICS project, which began in 2007, found that hermetic storage of the cowpea, known in America as the black-eyed pea, was practical and profitable for African farmers and ensured a supply of the nutritious legume for many months after harvest. Without the storage, farmers have to sell their cowpeas immediately after harvest when the price is lowest or treat them with sometimes dangerous and costly insecticides.

PICS has conducted cowpea-storage demonstrations in nearly 31,000 West African villages and sold nearly 2 million grain storage bags, which are made throughout West Africa.

"Farmers in these West African nations are eager to buy these bags because they conserve more food for family consumption and help increase farm income," Lowenberg-DeBoer said. "The bags have enabled the Burkinabés to increase their own food security in a nation that has a history of famine and malnutrition."

PICS bag prices vary from country to country but usually are in the range of $2 to $3 (U.S. equivalent), Murdock said. In Burkina Faso, the bags are retailing in rural areas for $2.20.

"With this small investment, farmers can earn $25-$50 per bag of cowpeas stored," he said. "This is important in a country where, according to the United Nations, 45 percent of the population lives on less than $1 per day."

The project is funded by grants of $12 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

While the award honors Murdock and Lowenberg-DeBoer and the program's goal to have 50 percent of cowpeas in West and Central Africa stored using the hermetic method this year, Lowenberg-Deboer said the Burkina Faso government also is honoring a 30-year association with Purdue, starting with Wilford “Bill” Morris of the Department of Agricultural Economics in the mid-1970s.

More information on PICS is available on the project's website at

Allan Gray

    Allan Gray

Gray appointed Agriculture Chair
of Excellence in Engagement

The Purdue University Board of Trustees has ratified the appointment of Allan Gray as the Agriculture Chair of Excellence in Engagement.

Gray has been at Purdue since 1998 and is director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business and the MS-MBA in food and agricultural business program. He also is a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics.

Under Gray’s leadership, the innovative engagement activities of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business have contributed immensely to the industries through professional development programs, the MS-MBA in food and agribusiness, and applied research, said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture.

“Dr. Gray is highly deserving of this appointment,” Akridge said. “He has a distinguished career and is a key leader in the agribusiness community locally, nationally and internationally.”

Ken Foster, agricultural economics department head, called Gray the “ideal engagement professor.”

“Dr. Gray’s efforts build on synergies between the research, engagement and teaching enterprises of Purdue University,” Foster said. “He listens to stakeholders whose needs influence his research and very effectively delivers the knowledge he creates to both business executives and students.”

Gray has written 36 journal articles and has 31 Extension-related publications. He has received the Distinguished Extension/Outreach Program Award and the Extension Group Award from the American Agricultural & Applied Economics Association, the Purdue agriculture dean's TEAM Award and the United States Distance Learning Association's Excellence in Distance Teaching Award.

Mike Boehlje, a distinguished professor of agricultural economics, said Gray has “the classic land-grant mission at the heart of his work – a focus on discovery to provide insight for engagement and education activities.

“He is creative in informing his outreach/engagement programs with well-documented research/discovery initiatives and in blending the latest in distance delivery techniques with traditional discussion/dialogue to communicate with his audiences,” Boehlje said.

AgriMarketing innovators honored for service

AgriMarketing honorees, Gray, Funk, Downey, & Akridge

 From left are Allan Gray, director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business at Purdue; honorees Tom Funk and Dave Downey; and Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture. (Photo submitted)

The Center for Food and Agricultural Business has honored Dave Downey and Tom Funk, faculty members and agricultural marketing innovators who developed the center’s Strategic AgriMarketing program and have taught it for the past 27 years.

Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture, and Allan Gray, center director and Agriculture Chair of Excellence in Engagement, spoke about the pair’s achievements and presented them with plaques honoring their years of service during a recent presentation.

Downey, the center’s executive director, established the center in 1986. Today, the center is recognized as one of the leaders in continuing education for agribusiness managers and executives. More than 850 agribusiness managers participate annually in programs the center develops and delivers.

Downey’s work also extends to the undergraduate classroom. At Purdue, he was instrumental in developing a curriculum in which students can earn a bachelor’s degree in agri-sales and marketing – the first such program in the United States.

Because of his outstanding efforts within his profession, Downey has received several recognitions, including four major teaching awards from Purdue University and two national awards from the American Agricultural Economics Association, now the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association.

Funk has had great impact as a teacher and in the agri-marketing industry. Having written almost 100 case studies on agri-marketing issues, he is regarded as one of North America’s premier case writers and presenters. He founded the MBA in agriculture at the University of Guelph, and it grew to be the university’s largest graduate program.

In 1980, Funk started Agri Studies Inc., which works with agribusiness companies throughout North America to develop and execute sophisticated agricultural marketing research. He was recognized as the Canadian Agri-Marketing Association Agri-Marketer of the Year in 2008. He was given the Outstanding Direct Marketing Campaign Award from the association in 1999.

In addition to developing the Strategic AgriMarketing program in 1984, Downey and Funk worked together in 1993 to create the first Large Commercial Producer Survey. It has now been conducted five times in the United States, twice in Canada and once in Argentina. It is considered the benchmark for understanding buyer behavior in agriculture and forms the basis for the marketing strategies of many North American agribusinesses.

This year, Downey’s son, Purdue faculty member Scott Downey, and Funk’s son, Justin Funk, managing partner of Agri Studies Inc., have stepped up to take teaching positions in the Strategic AgriMarketing program, continuing the legacy of their fathers.

More information about the Strategic AgriMarketing program and the Center for Food and Agricultural Business is available at

ConnectionsNOW! provides the latest news for students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends of Purdue Agriculture. Find out more -->