Monday, September 9, 2013

Alumni profile: Steven Beasley

From left, Jenifer McBeath, John Fox, Steven Beasley, Joshua Greenberg at a lecture given by Beasley at UAF this summer.

Steven Beasley, senior international marketing specialist with the Office of Trade Programs, Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA, first came to Alaska in 1974 seeking adventure in the Brooks Range. He joined a three-week expedition in Gates of the Arctic National Park with an outfitter and the principal planner for the park.

“It was quite an adventure,” Beasley said. Hailing from Tennessee, Beasley was so impressed with Alaska that he decided to stay. He enrolled at UAF as a junior to study natural resources management.

“It was an exciting time in Alaska,” Beasley recalled. “It was hard to stay on campus.” Summer jobs took him to the North Slope, where people could “make more money than they ever imagined,” he said.

As a student, Beasley practically lived at the Rasmuson Library. “I learned how to be a good student,” he said. “That gave me focus and drive. I learned how to zone in on a subject area.”

With SNRAS, Beasley said the small student to faculty ratio gave him easy access to professors. “I was in my professors’ offices on a daily basis engaging in dialog. That made for an incredible education that I found second to none.”

In his undergraduate years, he studied forest sciences, outdoor recreation, soils and conservation. “This laid the groundwork for me to understand agriculture, forestry and fisheries,” Beasley said.
He particularly loved natural resources economics. “It had a rigor to it I was looking for,” he said. In 1984 he earned a master’s in natural resources economics, which helped him land the job at FAS. “At that time it was the only path into FAS,” he said.

He admits it was quite an adjustment to move from Fairbanks to Washington, D.C. “It took several years to get used to the faster pace,” he said.

His career has provided amazing opportunities to promote agricultural products in the global marketplace. “This world is increasingly global,” Beasley said. “I always wanted to work internationally.”

The job has taken him to more than 30 countries to work on marketing analysis, international development and help private entities. “I have made so many friends,” Beasley said. “The global aspect has been fascinating.”

He hopes today’s students understand that this is a global economy. “I recommend studying abroad at least a year. “

His goals are to make sure his constituents’ needs are met and that his program has secure funding.
He and his wife, Nancy Williams, a professor at Loyola University in Baltimore, have a daughter Lauren.  The family enjoys hiking, bicycling and kayaking.

Steven Beasley holding up an Agroborealis magazine (Volume 18, Number 1, July 1986), which contained an article he wrote.
Beasley's lecture:

Does Alaska have potential in global agricultural trade? Steven Beasley came to the state in July to try and answer that question. Beasley is senior international marketing specialist in the Office of Trade Programs, Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA.

Beasley is also an alumnus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In addressing an audience at UAF, he said the last time he was in front of UAF professors was when he defended his thesis about preserving farmland in the Mat-Su Valley. “Now I notice the farmlands have shopping centers, condos and espresso bars. What the heck happened?”

In recent years Beasley has worked with the university to open the market for disease-free potato exports to China. “Yours is the only state that can sell potatoes to China,” he said. “There is no reason Alaska couldn’t be part of the mix.” He also mentioned the emerging peony market.

The FAS plays a critical role in supporting agriculture, Beasley said. “It’s a fairly small agency in the U.S. government compared to the Forest Service.” FAS has 1,000 employees stationed in 150 countries. They help U.S. farmers export products and assist with international development.
While exports may not be going gangbusters in Alaska (except for the seafood industry), they are crucial to the U.S. economy, Beasley said. Over 25 percent of farm cash receipts come from exports. For each dollar in exports, another $1.65 is created in supporting economic activity. Agricultural exports support over 1.6 million jobs on and off the farm. The U.S. exports more than it imports.
Exports are important to President Obama, Beasley said, quoting the president’s national export initiative: “We need to export more of our goods around the world. We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support 2 million new jobs in America. To meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports and expand their markets.” (State of the Union Address, Jan. 27, 2010)

Cotton is the country’s most exported agricultural product, followed by almonds.

Beasley said factors that will affect U.S. and global food and agricultural markets over the next decade include global economic growth and the rise of the middle class in developing countries, value of the U.S. dollar, worldwide biofuels production, role of trade and trade liberalization, energy and agricultural input prices, biotech developments and additional crop land.

He predicts that economic growth in emerging markets will remain buoyant. In the U.S., 6 cents of a dollar is spent on food, while in China, India and Vietnam, it is 38 cents of a dollar. As middle classes increase in developing countries Beasley predicts that agricultural imports will continue to increase. Over the past decade, developed country imports have increased 121 percent while in developing countries the number is 399 percent.

According to the Global Trade Atlas, global agricultural trade is projected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2021. Biofuels and biotechnology will be a large part of the increases, Beasley said. “These new technologies are here and farmers are looking for ways to cut prices. Biotechnology is a tool to save costs and reduce chemicals that go into the land. Farmers in growing number of countries are embracing this technology.

“There are a lot of unknowns. We have to wait and see what happens.”

Beasley and Professor Jenifer McBeath toured farms in Delta Junction and Palmer and met with government officials, including the lieutenant governor and officials at the Division of Agriculture.
“You have enormous land resources in Delta and the Mat-Su Valley,” Beasley said. “There is very strong interest in Alaska seed potatoes in China. Alaska farmers need to understand exports can be important. They will have to take risks and have an entrepreneurial spirit to supply a steady product.” He said a steady supply, quality product and fair price are critical if Alaska is going to be successful in a global market. “We can make progress if everybody works in sync.

“I’m encouraged by what I saw but there are challenges.”

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