Classes pertaining to agricultural economics were first taught at Oregon Agricultural College early in the 20th century as part of the Agronomy Department. In 1917 that department was divided into four separate ones; the Farm Management Department included the agricultural economics courses. Other classes in the subject area were also taught by Dr. Hector MacPherson in the School of Commerce. With the reorganization of higher education in Oregon in the early 1930s, the Oregon State College School of Agriculture in 1933 was divided into divisions, one of which was Agricultural Economics. E.L. Potter was appointed head of the division, as well as head of the Agricultural Economics Department formed within the division.
In 1949, the division system was abolished and the Farm Management Department was absorbed by the Agricultural Economics Department. Barton DeLoach served as the first chair of the combined department, but resigned shortly thereafter. Grant Blanch served as acting chair until 1951, when G. Burton Wood was appointed department chair. Wood served as department chair until 1966. Emery Castle was chair from 1966 to 1972 and Ludwig Eisgruber served from 1973 to 1981. Other department chairs have included A. Gene Nelson, 1981-1991 and David Ervin, 1991-1994. In 1974, the department name was changed to Agricultural and Resource Economics to reflect its broader role in research and teaching involving new technologies, rural population, income distribution, resource conservation and development, and international trade and development.
The Western Rural Development Center (WRDC) was established at Oregon State University in the 1970s as one of four regional centers funded by the US Department of Agriculture to link the research and extension activities of regional land-grant universities with local decision-makers in addressing rural development issues. The WRDC closed at Oregon State University on June 30, 1999, and was transferred to Utah State University.
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