Meet the Researcher, Jay Lillywhite, Assistant Dean, Professor & Co-director, New Mexico State University
By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator
Dr. Jay Lillywhite is a professor for the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, and co-director for the Center of Excellence in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems at New Mexico State University (NMSU). He recently accepted an Assistant Dean position for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Lillywhite’s research focuses primarily on consumer preferences, demand and business feasibility, and economics. Within these fields, Dr. Lillywhite states that keeping agriculture profitable, increasing agricultural productivity while maintaining natural resources, and making economically wise decisions regarding how food and fiber are produced are items of concern. To address these issues, he works closely with stakeholders to find solutions. Lillywhite considers it a great opportunity to work with them directly to identify real-world problems facing agriculture. Through this partnership, he is able to provide stakeholders with pertinent information to assist them in making more informed decisions.
Dr. Lillywhite has collaborated with NM WRRI researchers in the past and is currently a Co-PI on the project, Expanding Organic Systems To Reduce Water Demand And Increase Agricultural Resilience In The Southwest. In this project, Dr. Lillywhite is working with Sam Fernald, Connie Maxwell, and other team members to discover ways to use organic systems to increase agricultural resiliency while reducing water demand. Dr. Lillywhite states his contribution to the team “is to help identify potential crops that can be organically grown, that are efficient water users, and that have significant market potential. To this point in time, we have focused on medicinal herbs. We recently conducted a national survey to understand better consumer use and preferences for these herbs and their willingness to pay for herbs grown in the southwest.”
Dr. Lillywhite earned his BS and MS in Economics from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Utah State University in Logan, respectively. He received his PhD in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Dr. Lillywhite advises eight graduate students in master’s programs, including Master of Science in Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business programs. He is assisting his students in subjects such as understanding consumer views regarding conservation agriculture and the feasibility of on-farm cold storage. Although he has taught courses during the Fall 2022 semester, in his new role as Assistant Dean, he will be undertaking other responsibilities that do not involve a set teaching schedule. According to Dr. Lillywhite, he will be “focusing on economic and rural development opportunities for New Mexico. In the arid southwest, water and economic development are interwoven.”
Although he has not directly conducted water resources research firsthand since he first arrived at NMSU, he has secondarily dealt with many water-related issues through student projects and outside research studies. Currently, he is working on exploring the economics of controlled-environment agriculture in a container farm. While this type of growth has its own associated challenges, plants within these farms require less water than conventional growing methods. Dr. Lillywhite states that his research “feels like a way to solve problems that are part of a large puzzle. How do we most efficiently feed and clothe the world’s population while preserving (and maybe enhancing) our natural resources? My contributions are minimal, but hopefully, when combined with others, will help us solve the puzzle.”
Depending on the urgency of stakeholder requests, Dr. Lillywhite plans to continue his work on conservation agriculture and learn new ways to produce nutritious food to meet consumer demand while being cognizant of the limited resources available. Dr. Lilywhite believes the availability of water and the efficient use of water will continue to grow in significance for the arid southwest and much of the world. “Research that helps identify how we can better use and manage our water resources will likewise continue to grow in significance. Certainly, agriculture is facing challenging times ahead, but they are also exciting times for researchers as our contributions, or potential contributions, will be more important than ever.”