Posted by: usset001 | April 2, 2010

How would I develop a college level course on “Agricultural Futures Markets?”

MGEX trading pit (circa 1985)

In the spring of 1981, I was fresh out of graduate school when I stepped on to the trading floor of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. Close to 100 grain traders roamed around an ornate room nearly three stories high and roughly the size of four basketball courts aligned side-to-side. The futures pit was located on the west end of the trading floor. The eastern half of the floor was dedicated to the cash grain trade, with numerous oversized tables and sample pans displaying the days offering of spring wheat, durum, barley and other grains. In between were several dozen trading booths.

I introduced myself to an experienced trader with a competing grain firm. He asked about my background and I told him about my newly earned M.S. degree from the Applied (Agricultural) Economics Department at the University of Minnesota. “Who was your advisor?” he asked. “Dr. Reynold Dahl,” I answered. “Reese Dahl” he smiled, using the name by which his colleagues and students knew him. Now it was my turn to ask a question. “Did you take Reese’s class on Agricultural Futures Markets?” He put his hand in the air and in a sweeping motion, pointed to the entire trading floor while saying, “Everybody here has taken Reese’s class.”

Dr. Reynold P. (Reese) Dahl passed away last week at the age of 86. Reese developed the University’s first course dedicated to the study of futures markets in the 1960’s. When I took his course in 1980, Reese was offering the course twice; a day course for full-time undergraduate and graduate students, and a night course for ag professional working in the Twin Cities. Both courses were very well attended. It remained the University’s only course on the topic until the early 1990’s, when the Carlson School of Management developed separate courses to deal with a brave new world of financial derivative contracts.

As a teacher, Reese was known for his booming voice and a passion for his subject matter. His approach employed a wonderful blend of academic theory and practical knowledge for how the grain trade worked. He developed strong relationships with leaders in the grain industry and, based on the large number of professionals attending his evening sessions, they respected what he had to teach about futures markets. He also served as a public member of the Board of Directors of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange from 1972 to 1980 – a heady time to be in a leadership position in the grain industry.

A year before he retired in 1994, Reese offered my name as a person who could take over teaching the evening version of his course. At that point, I’d had 12 years of experience in the “real world,” trading futures contracts and hedging positions every day. How would I develop a college level course on “Agricultural Futures Markets?”

I went to my files and pulled out my notes from Reese’s course. His approach to teaching young traders-to-be about the workings of the futures market was rock solid in 1980. It remained fully relevant in 1993 and I continue to teach the course today using the same course structure and outline. This semester, I have 55 students who enjoy the same subject matter outlined and developed by Reese Dahl many years ago.

But they still hate my tests.


  1. Ed,

    Reese was a great example when I started my career in the early 1980s. He was always willing to put up with my uniformed questions and he was very kind in sharing his research and commenting on my own. A truly great and fun person. Sad to hear of his passing.


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