By MATTHEW WEAVER
MOSCOW, Idaho -- Students in the University of Idaho's advanced agribusiness management class have been helping the region's agricultural businesses solve their toughest problems.
UI seniors Mark Goddard, Hannah Hallock, Shelbie Lincoln and Kenneth Pete recently discussed their work with Harvest Ridge Organics of Lewiston, Idaho.
The company began producing about 100 acres of organic wheat last year, said Harvest Ridge co-owner Art McIntosh.
"We were looking for a little bit of a niche market," McIntosh said.
Student recommendations for the business included increasing prices on some products and reducing some costs by using different packaging.
They also recommended doubling wheat acreage, noting the increasing interest in local and organic products.
Instructor Aaron Johnson has taught the course for roughly five years. The intent is to have the students put their education into practice with a semester-long project.
Johnson recruits companies around the region. Johnson said the company must have a management or economics-based question.
"The company has to have a challenge or a problem they're wrestling with, that there's not an answer they have immediately in their back pocket," he said. "And it's important to them, it's something that really will impact them."
There's no cost to the company, although Johnson accepts contributions to help with expenses.
Companies must make resources available to the students, including an employee who regularly meets with them.
Johnson said the class works with companies if it has concerns about opening financial records.
"But we've also had some companies come in and say, 'Here it is. We're an open book anyway,'" he said.
Past participants include the McGregor Co. and Simplot.
McIntosh said his company participated as a way to promote its business and take advantage of the presence of UI and Washington State University, both within 40 miles of the operation.
"It just seemed like the right thing to do to bring in the educational community, to get them involved in what we're doing," he said.
McIntosh said his company had already implemented some of the suggestions.
"We will take any of the things they said and, at the very least, talk about them," he said.
McIntosh advised other businesses to be candid when working with the students.
"We're tapping into an age bracket that's going to be the consumers of the future," he said. "To find out what (they) are thinking is important for us, too. That way we can be a little more proactive."
University of Idaho agribusiness program: http://www.uidaho.edu/cals/aers/agribusiness