Q&A - Bryan Lohmar

Bryan Lohmar, department head of the Agribusiness Department, joined Cal Poly in January from his role serving as the China director for the U.S. Grains Council. Prior to that he was the director for economic research for Bunge China and an economist at the USDA’s Economic Research Service. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate degree in agricultural and resource economics from UC Davis. He has more than 25 years of experience working on agricultural and economic issues in the academic, government and the commercial sectors.

Where did your interest in agriculture begin and how has it grown throughout your career?

Growing up in Minnesota and spending a few weeks every summer on my uncle’s farm, I developed an interest in agriculture early on. Many of my early jobs had components that related to the food and agriculture industry. But it wasn’t until I visited China as an undergraduate that I really started to put it together. China is historically an agrarian society and in the 1980s agriculture was the area where China’s initial economic reforms started. As such, it was a natural area for me to pursue if I wanted to learn more about China, so I started studying agricultural economics and never looked back.

What are the three top areas of focus in Cal Poly’s Agribusiness Department?

Cal Poly’s Agribusiness Department is very comprehensive, so it is difficult to determine just three areas of focus. In, general I would say the program focuses on 1) the entire marketing chain, from production to processor/packer, to retailer and consumer; 2) finance and risk management; and 3) providing hands-on experience through multiple venues including internships and various projects. The department also strives to provide strong training to understand and evaluate trade-offs, as well as strong data management and analytical skills.

The department has a strong alumni base in areas such as agricultural sales and marketing, supply chain management and agricultural technology and finance. What role do those direct connections to industry play in the department and how do you plan to continue to grow them?

Yes, we are lucky to have prominent alumni across agriculture and other sectors and these direct connections to industry play an important role in keeping our curriculum relevant to industry needs. We are in the process of expanding our formal Industry Advisory Council, and I plan to take every opportunity I can to meet with alumni and industry stakeholders to learn more about what they are seeking in new employees and how Cal Poly can develop students with those capabilities. Our industry stakeholders also help us identify internship and other opportunities to enhance Learn by Doing for our students.

How will your expertise in China’s agricultural markets enhance the learning experience for Cal Poly students?

The issues facing agricultural producers and marketers are the same in the U.S. and China. While my research and other work has been China-specific, I have addressed a wide variety of topics including land tenure, labor mobility, trade policies, water policies, livestock production practices, and food consumption patterns, among others. These issues mirror the issues U.S. producers and suppliers face, except China does not have reliable market information services nor objective and contestable dispute resolution services, like the courts in the U.S. But that just makes the environment more challenging, and for education purposes, opens a context of “what ifs” that can help students explore how the institutions in the U.S. work and how they support the market outcomes that consumers in the U.S. (and elsewhere) demand.

What national and international areas related to agribusiness do you foresee a critical need in for skilled graduates in the near future?

I think there are two fundamental trends affecting agricultural markets – growing demand for niche products and expanding globalized markets. As incomes expand around the world, more and more people are looking to diversify their diets and are looking for specific quality characteristics, and this generates growing demand for products with smaller markets – or niche products. Simultaneously, markets are increasingly globalized with even smaller agricultural product suppliers looking to develop markets abroad. Together, these forces are generating demand for skilled graduates that can develop smaller markets at home and abroad and manage the complex global supply chains for an increasingly large variety of products.


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