The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Heady, Earl O.
(January 25, 1916–August 20, 1987)

–professor and world-renowned agricultural economist—was born near Champion, Nebraska, the sixth of eight children of Orel C. and Jessie (Banks) Heady. He grew up on a farm. His father, schooled only through the fifth grade, encouraged his children's education as something no one could take from them. In 1933 Heady graduated from Chase County High School in Imperial, Nebraska, where he quarterbacked champion football teams for four years.

    Because of the Depression, Heady worked for a year on the family farm before entering the University of Nebraska, where he supported himself by working in the Agronomy Department, at test plots, and at other jobs as well as participating in numerous organizations and winning many honors. After earning a B.S. in agricultural economics and agronomy in 1938 and an M.S. in agricultural economics in 1939, he worked for a year with the Federal Land Bank in Omaha and York, Nebraska. In September 1940 he became an instructor in agricultural economics at Iowa State College. While teaching full time, he began work on a Ph.D. at Iowa State, completing it in 1945. Added to his agenda in 1941 were a term at the University of Chicago and marriage to Marian Ruth Hoppert, with whom he reared three children.

    By the time Heady was appointed full professor in 1949, he had developed a strong research program with many graduate students under his supervision; during his career he supervised 359 scholars from approximately 50 countries. Because he was a hard taskmaster, his graduates were well trained and in high demand all over the world, and because of the reputation thus created, the best students flocked to study with him.

    Heady was even more demanding of himself. Writing in longhand—working until 2 a.m. every night—he produced 26 books and about 800 journal articles, research bulletins, and monographs. Best known was his 1952 textbook, Economics of Agricultural Production and Resource Use, better known as "the Bible of Agricultural Economics," which was translated into languages that spanned the globe.

    As Heady's thinking and endeavors evolved along with changes in technology and social and agricultural conditions, his emphasis shifted from revitalizing Iowa State's farm management and research programs to assisting individual farmer through computerized linear programming and regression analysis models that could measure total inputs and production for cost-benefit evaluation and management. As computers developed from the 1950s, he was able to enlarge his scope from farm production to macroeconomic regional analyses for policy research and development. His book Agricultural Production Functions (1961) became a classic in this field. As nonfarm environmental matters, work safety, and energy impacts on the food and fiber sector were brought into the mix, and as trade issues were incorporated and international interactions increased, three other books marked his evolution: Goals and Values in Agricultural Policies (1961) examined the limits of economic analysis; Agricultural Policy Under Economic Development (1962) was an extensive evaluation of changes in agriculture induced by national and international economic development; and Agricultural Problems and Policies of Developed Countries (1966) anticipated complicated problems in agricultural development and diagnosed causes and cures.

    Life experience enlarged Heady's world. A 1947 trip to England for the Seventh International Conference of Agricultural Economists kindled an enhanced interest in international research and service. Although Heady remained deeply involved with U.S. agriculture and served on a number of presidential and congressional committees, by the 1960s his base in Ames became a mere interlude between trips to developed and developing, capitalist and Communist countries. Eventually, his name was better known in developing countries than in the United States, and he found his work in Eastern Europe to be especially satisfying.

    In 1957 the Iowa state legislature created the Center for Agricultural Adjustment at Iowa State, and Heady was named director. It eventually became the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) in 1971 and gained recognition as one of the premier economic research institutions in the world. CARD became Heady's primary arena for research, and its network of consultation and aid grew to encompass more than 40 countries on six continents.

    Throughout his projects, Heady's humanitarian impulse informed his work. He challenged conventional agricultural economic theory that focused on controlling domestic supply and price supports. He called for a broader policy vision to attack poverty, increase food production, and improve its distribution, both domestically and internationally.

    The lists of Heady's professional activities, memberships, and honors fill several tightly packed pages of fine print, and his name appears in a variety of professional, scientific, and other directories. To cite just a few, he won the first Henry A. Wallace Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture (1978); he was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and his Nebraska alma mater as well as schools in Sweden, Hungary, and Poland awarded him honorary degrees.

    Despite frequent offers from other institutions, Heady chose to remain at Iowa State until a heart attack on December 16, 1983, forced his retirement. A year earlier, a new economics building at ISU was dedicated as Heady Hall, and its bronze plaque proclaimed, "Few have done so much to improve the well-being of so many throughout the world."
Sources Heady's papers are at University Archives, Iowa State University, Ames. See also James Langley, Gary Vocke, and Larry Whiting, eds., Earl O. Heady: His Impact on Agricultural Economics (1994); Don Muhm and Virginia Wadsley, Iowans Who Made a Dif ference (1996); and microfilm and scrapbook clippings from the Des Moines Register at the Des Moines Public Library.
Contributor: Virginia Wadsley