ASU agribusiness professor named 2021 fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association


September 7, 2021

Tim Richards, a professor and the Marvin and June Morrison Endowed Chair in the Morrison School of Agribusiness at the W. P. Carey School of Business, was recognized in August as a 2021 Fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, AAEA’s most prestigious honor.

Richards, who began his academic career at Arizona State University in 1994, was nominated as a 2021 AAEA fellow for his past and continuous contributions to the advancement of agricultural and applied economics in research and teaching. Timothy Richards Tim Richards is the Marvin and June Morrison Endowed Chair in the Morrison School of Agribusiness at ASU. Download Full Image

“There are few scholars in agricultural and applied economics today who are as productive, accomplished, well-rounded, respected and liked as Tim Richards,” said Mark Manfredo, former chair and professor of agribusiness.

“This means everything in my professional world, as I have looked up to the senior people in my field for over 25 years, respected them, emulated them and have tried to earn their respect,” Richards said. “In that regard, being fellow is something of a validation. It is particularly gratifying to be in this club, because I am different from them: I have never had anything to do with a land-grant college, where most of my colleagues are, as I went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver for my undergrad, Stanford for graduate school, and have been at ASU since graduation — and I now teach in the only agribusiness program in the world that is part of a top 30 business school. It is good to be different.” 

To date, his body of scholarly works include more than 120 published journal articles written over a period of 28 years appearing in 35 different journals. Richards and his co-authors have been awarded a total of 14 best paper awards over an array of topics, including the 2019 American Journal of Agricultural Economics (AJAE) Outstanding Article Award.

Richards’ most prolific stream of research focuses on developing a greater understanding of the food marketing system, in particular the behavior of food retailers and consumers. He is also a leading expert in the efficacy of generic commodity promotion, food safety and nutrition, private label marketing, the role of social networks and, most recently, food waste mitigation. 

So far, 85 of Richards’ career journal articles focus on these and related food marketing topics, with 18 appearing in the AJAE.

“Tim is our profession’s single greatest repository of knowledge concerning food marketing and particularly for understanding the food retail sector, which drives business practices and policy postures throughout the entire farm-to-fork chain,” said Brian Roe, the Van Buren Professor at Ohio State University and a former AJAE editor.

“Tim’s research has contributed to a rich understanding of the breadth of complexities of the food marketing system, both in the agricultural and applied economics community and beyond,” said Steve Hamilton, one of Richards’ frequent co-authors, from the Orfalea College of Business, Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California.

Richards’ recent lines of research focus on food waste and farm labor. His 2018 paper, “Food Waste in the Sharing Economy,” co-authored with Hamilton and published in Food Policy, examined models of sharing economy firms (commercial peer-to-peer mutualization systems) for the exchange of surplus food.

Their findings from a two-sided network-demand model demonstrated that the demand for platform use from both growers and consumers rises in the number of users on each side of the platform, suggesting that policy tools designed at fostering such transactions in sharing markets could significantly reduce food waste. This paper received the Elsevier Atlas Award for research that can impact the world. From this work, Richards received a grant from the Department of Agriculture to study how to develop businesses that have emerged to help bruised yet otherwise good food get to market.

Regardless of the economic problem at hand, Richards brings together innovative ideas, state-of-the-art methods and the right data to make impactful contributions to the agricultural and applied economics field. He has long been at the forefront of research examining contemporary topics affecting the food and agricultural marketing system, including the COVID-19 pandemic. He has already co-authored three special-issue journal articles on COVID-19 impacts (accepted in the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural Systems, and Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy), participated in webinars on the topic and contributed to several news stories.

Over the past six years, Richards has contributed his expertise to 84 unique news stories that were distributed to 677 online media outlets including USAToday.com, CNN.com, Bloomberg.com, Fortune.com, CNBC.com, CBS News and others.

“Tim is also is an outstanding mentor to graduate students and young faculty alike,” Manfredo said. “He has helped lots of young scholars in the profession.”

To date, seven of Richards’ PhD advisees are in academic positions, and 25 of his career papers are co-authored with his advisees.

“Tim is eager to disseminate his work to others and greatly interested in the ideas of other scholars, whether written or orally expressed,” Hamilton said.

Richards’ most distinguished professional service has been serving as an editor for the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the flagship journal of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. Before he completes his five-year term with the AJAE in 2022, he’ll begin a term as an editor with the European Review of Agricultural Economics this month.

Communications assistant, W. P. Carey School of Business

Virus-bearing scorpions wander the Southwest

In new research, ASU scientists identify the viruses that are circulating in Arizona arachnids


September 7, 2021

In the hot, arid environment of Phoenix and surrounding Sonoran Desert, ancient creatures flourish. Bark scorpions are among Earth’s oldest terrestrial animals. Their earliest fossil ancestors are believed to have made the transition from sea to land some 450 million years ago.

In new research, Arvind Varsani and colleagues in the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics and Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, describe bark scorpions collected around the Phoenix area. Arvind Varsani is a virologist and researcher in the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution and ASU's School of Life Sciences. Download Full Image

The venomous predators appear to play host to various polyomaviruses which, like the scorpions themselves, have ancient origins. The work was part of Kara Schmidlin’s MSc thesis with Varsani’s research group.

“A simple question emerged in the research group — what viruses are circulating in Arizona arachnids?,” Varsani says. “Soon, we were collecting scorpions in our backyards to address this question, and we identified these unique polyomaviruses.”  

The findings appear in the current issue of the journal Virology.

There are nearly 2,200 species of scorpion, belonging to the class Arachnida. Nocturnal creatures, they are generalist predators, feeding on a wide variety of insects, spiders, centipedes and even other scorpions. They are found across an impressive range of ecosystems, including deserts, grasslands, savannahs, deciduous forests, pine forests, intertidal zones, rainforests and caves.

The animal’s simple body plan consists of two primary segments, a cephalothorax — which includes four pairs of legs and pincer-bearing pedipalps — and an abdomen, which carries the tail and stinger. The pedipalps are used to capture prey, for defense, in courtship and in burrow excavation.

In the current study, four bark scorpions were collected from the Phoenix area. Three of these were found to carry polyomaviruses in their gut or liver, though the viruses produced no obvious ill effects in the scorpions. 

Polyomaviruses have circular, double-stranded DNA genomes. They were first isolated in the 1950s and given their name due to their ability to produce multiple tumors in their host organisms. Although polyomaviruses were initially identified in mammals (including humans), they have since been detected in birds and several fish species, though their diversity among arthropods has been a matter of speculation.

Careful techniques must be used to ensure an arthropod, like a scorpion, has truly been infected by a virus, as opposed to simply ingesting them from the environment or carrying them on their bodies within ectoparasites. The identification of the scorpion polyomaviruses hence remains tentative, though it is believed the viral host is either a scorpion or another arthropod.

The use of high-throughput sequencing along with traditional molecular techniques allowed the researchers to determine the genome sequences of eight novel polyomaviruses, belonging to three distinct putative virus species in the Phoenix scorpions. The study’s genomic analysis suggests that polyomaviruses and their scorpion hosts both underwent divergent evolution.

The findings are important as they suggest at least one ancestral species of polyomavirus existed among the ancient common ancestors of arthropods and Chordates — the phylum that includes humans and all other vertebrates.

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU

480-727-0378