Oklahoma State University has new ag dean

Jayson Lusk entering new era at school

As Oklahoma State University begins another academic year, Dr. Jayson Lusk is settling into his new role as vice president and dean of OSU Agriculture.

Lusk is a professor, researcher, food economist and author who will write the next chapter of OSU ExtensionAg Research and the Ferguson College of Agriculture. He previously served as head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, home to the No. 4 agricultural economics program in the world, according to the 2022 Center for World University Rankings.

Lusk was a faculty member in the OSU Department of Agricultural Economics from 2005 through 2017 and served as an assistant professor at Mississippi State University for three years prior to that. He also completed a year as a visiting researcher at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.

Oklahoma roots

Returning to Stillwater feels right for both his career and family, Lusk said. His paternal grandmother was born in Rosedale, Oklahoma, to a family of 13 children who moved to Texas by covered wagon. Lusk grew up in a small farming community in the Texas panhandle, participating in 4-H and FFA activities and showing livestock.

“We were in football, basketball, track, one-act plays—if there was something going on at school, chances are we were probably doing it,” he said.

As a child, Lusk and his three siblings spent a lot of time learning about food and competing in 4-H cooking contests. While in FFA, he participated in cheese identification and milk-tasting competitions, which led him to complete a bachelor’s degree in food technology at Texas Tech University.

“My classmates and I were pretty good at those dairy science contests,” Lusk said. “We went to Texas Tech for regional competition and made it to state at Texas A&M. I got to know a lot of food science professors, and when I was offered a scholarship, I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Once at Texas Tech, Lusk took on a second, albeit brief, venture of which he has no regrets: He tried out for the basketball team.

“After about three weeks, they told me my services were no longer needed, but I got to learn what it was like to play a Division 1, high-level sport,” he said. “I thought I was good, but I wasn’t that good.”

Lusk’s college experience also included a summer internships at food processing plants in Dallas, which taught him key business principles of the food industry beyond science.

With the advice of mentors and advisors, Lusk next took on an economics doctorate fellowship in food and agriculture at Kansas State University.

“It was a good fit for me. My parents were teachers, and I thought I didn’t want to teach, but when I got to grad school, I realized a professor does a lot more than just teach,” he said. “There’s research, outreach and engagement.”

Lusk received his education in food science and technology at a time when consumers were developing a keen interest in food policy. Many shoppers were beginning to seek out out local food sources and ask where their food came from.

“I was in a good place at the right time where the kinds of projects I was working on were in the public eye and captured a lot of attention,” Lusk said.

Receiving a doctorate at K-State also marked a milestone in his personal life; he met his wife, Christy, in graduate school. A native of Topeka, Kansas, she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in agricultural economics.

The couple has two sons: their oldest is a junior studying agricultural economics at Purdue, and the youngest is a freshman at OSU. In his free time, Lusk enjoys golfing, cooking and spending time with his family at Table Rock Lake.

A leader in food economics

To date, the food and agricultural economist has penned five books and published many research papers related to food and agricultural innovation and technology. He is a respected media source on the economics of food and agriculture, but his message does not paint the doom-and-gloom industry image that many news outlets often portray.

“I want to promote the important role science, technology and entrepreneurship can have in agriculture and at places like OSU Agriculture,” Lusk said. “It’s important to tell that side of the story, too. If we want to make progress in solving a lot of these problems, we’re going to need science, innovation and a diverse group of producers.”

His latest book, “Unnaturally Delicious,” is a positive, forward-looking take on agriculture and features several expert interviews from Ferguson College faculty. Lusk describes himself as a curious person with a dedication to food and agriculture who wants his research to benefit both the scientific community and the public.

“In my new role, I get to support several different aspects of agriculture,” he said. “Engaging with alumni, farmers and both rural and urban communities while connecting them with the work we do at OSU is something I really enjoy.”

A scientist to his core, Lusk plans to continue publishing papers to share his research and connect community needs with campus resources and OSU Extension. OSU’s new strategic plan that highlights elevating and amplifying the mission of Extension appeals to Lusk. He said the university’s declaration to focus on agriculture and align itself with many OSU Agriculture priorities will heighten OSU’s presence on a global stage.

“When you read through the strategic plan, it’s clear that agriculture and the Ferguson College are critical to the success of OSU,” he said. “That’s not true everywhere—even places that have good ag colleges aren’t necessarily central to their universities’ well-being and identity. To see that in OSU’s plan signals an opportunity to learn, listen and carve out priority areas where we can make a name for ourselves.”

The future of OSU agriculture

State leaders, such as Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur, said it’s imperative that the vice president and dean of OSU Agriculture understand changing geopolitical dynamics and foster a culture of innovation within the industry.

“The agricultural community relies on OSU to provide essential research and effective Extension programs that ultimately increase the profitability of farmers and ranchers,” Arthur said. “It’s a pivotal time for production agriculture in the United States and the world. Demand exists to increase productivity to feed a growing world population while efficiently utilizing the natural resources available.”

Rodd Moesel, president of Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said Lusk’s leadership will make a positive impact on agriculture students, Extension programs, Oklahoma 4-H and OSU Ag Research projects.

“The opportunity for ag programs to grow on the research side is very significant,” Moesel said. “Research defines the future of ag commodities and helps identify new crops and processing methods. We already have more patents and royalty income for OSU than from any other college, but there’s still room to grow.”

Finishing construction of the New Frontiers Agricultural Hall on campus also tops Lusk’s to-do list for the coming year. Students, faculty and staff are expected to begin the fall 2024 semester in the new, state-of-the-art facility, and Lusk is determined to make the move a seamless transition.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure New Frontiers is an effective environment for research, teaching and Extension,” he said. “I want to create a vibrant community in that building just like we’ve come to experience here in Ag Hall.”

Other priorities as vice president and dean include upgrading and improving research facilities on and off campus, preparing students for today’s job markets and ensuring OSU Extension can effectively recruit and retain talented employees.

“I want to build the support to provide necessary capital, raise the visibility of this division and highlight the great work that goes on here,” he said. “OSU is well known. It’s got a great brand, but I want to do more.”

After 12 years as a Ferguson College faculty member and acquiring a wealth of knowledge at other institutions nationwide, Lusk is ready to lead OSU Agriculture into a new era.

 

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