IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Fruit co-op leader Baum oldest ever
By William Harms,
to earn University of Chicago Ph.D.
Editor's note"In the spotlight" recognizes
the accomplishments of cooperative leaders
and members. To suggest someone to be
featured, send e-mail to: dan.campbell@
wdc.usda.gov, or call (202) 720-6483.
fter a long and fruitful career as leader of one of the nation's leading berry co-ops, 79-year-old Herbert Baum earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in August, making him the oldest person ever to be awarded a doctorate by the University. Baum, who also worked as a federal government ag economist early in his career, clearly knows strawberries from the inside out.
Early in his career, Baum worked at Blue Goose Inc., based in Anaheim, Calif., a nationwide grower and shipper of fruits and vegetables. He helped develop the relatively new strawberry industry there, which Blue Goose was pioneering. Baum joined Naturipe Berry Growers in San Jose, Calif., in 1958, where he became vice president of the cooperative, retiring in 1991 after being twice-elected chariman of the California Strawberry Commission.
Baum's ability to understand the free market was particularly crucial to the success of the berry industry, because the federal government does not support the price of strawberries and other fresh fruit by buying excess production. Baum also was a firm backer of marketing and advertising, which increased the nation's demand for strawberries and compensated for the problem of over production.
When he left the University of Chicago in 1951 to become an agricultural economist in Washington, D.C., Baum had a master's degree and was just short of writing his dissertation to earn a doctorate. His dissertation contributes to agricultural economics by examining how to measure the impact of fees charged producers for commodity promotion and research.
The thesis, based on a case study of the Strawberry industry in California, developed a model for researchers to understand the long-term value of the fees assessed growers. The models shows how the policies of the state strawberry commission, which supported research into improved varieties, improved production per acre and aided grower profitability.
James Heckman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2000, said of Baum's work, "Herb Baum's Ph.D. thesis is well-executed study of an industry partially monopolized by government authority. His application of basic price theory to understand the consequences of this policy is in the best tradition of empirical price theory at Chicago. He combines theory with evidence in a convincing way in a serious piece of reseach on a major agricultural industry."
"I went into the produce business because, as a boy growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind., that was the business my family was in," explains Baum.
The strawberry business was in its infancy when Baum went to California. Fresh strawberries at the time were only available from local producers and the season was short. Most strawberries grown in california were frozen and shipped while the fresh ones were consumed in the state. New varieties, improved growing techniques, and better marketing and transporation revolutionized the industry.
By the 1990's, strawberries were grown up and down the coastal valleys of California and shipped around the country nearly year-around. The industry also developed a thriving export market in Japan. Fresh strawberry consumption in the United States grew per capital from 1.6 pounds in 1962 to 5.23 pounds in 2005.