A distinctive voice, a sense of humor, a blunt personality: emeritus professor of agricultural economics Barry Flinchbaugh made these impressions on students and professionals he worked with. Whether they took his class or traveled to a conference, people said Flinchbaugh always stood out.
Flinchbaugh died on Nov. 2 at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka. He was 78 years old.
He taught at Kansas State for nearly 50 years and is known as one of the leaders in modern agricultural economics and policy.
“He had that kind of reputation which brought notoriety and kind of raised the awareness of the department of agricultural economics at K-State as a place where agricultural policy was really considered one of our strengths,” Ernie Minton, dean of the College of Agriculture, said.
Flinchbaugh taught AGEC410, Agricultural Policy, each fall. The class is currently in session and Allen Featherstone, agricultural economics department head, said many faculty members are stepping up to teach for the remainder of the semester.
“Obviously, it’s going to be stressful on the students as they are coming to the end of the semester and have to adjust gears to a different way of teaching the course as opposed to the way they went through it the whole semester,” Featherstone said. “One of the things that I think is making life a little bit easier is the fact that he had already put his final exam together.”
Alan Hinds, senior in agricultural economics, said Flinchbaugh’s class was his favorite at K-State. He took it in the fall of 2019.
“I’m interested in going into agricultural policy in the future,” Hinds said. “It was really useful. Understanding the history of ag policy in the United States, and understanding what’s currently going on. When I took that class, we were kind of at the height of the trade war and so, seeing how policies were affecting agriculture really was useful.”
Hinds said Flinchbaugh’s personality was “second to none.”
“He always told you what he believed and stood up for what he believed in,” Hinds said. “He didn’t care what anyone had to say — whether it was the right or the left or other people — if he believed it, he was going to tell you and he was always very clear in his assessment.”
Hinds said the one thing he won’t miss is the sound of chalk screeching on a blackboard.
“It wasn’t a necessarily hard class, you had to show up everyday because it was all lecture,” Hinds said. “It was him, the chalkboard and the TAs.”
Minton said many students would rearrange their schedules just to take Flinchbaugh’s class.
“That kind of knowledge perpetuates itself and so students knew about his reputation and his reputation brought notoriety to the department,” Minton said.
Flinchbaugh helped with every farm bill in Congress since 1968 and served as the chairman of the Commission on 21st Century Production Agriculture.
“It’s rare that you have that kind of mix of impact in the classroom that ripples out across the nation to have impact in the halls of the Congress for individuals in particular who are writing the script for a farm bill that impacts ag policy,” Minton said. “That ripple moves from Manhattan, to Washington [D.C] and then back out to the farms and ranches across the United States.”
Featherstone said the wisdom Flinchbaugh brought to the classroom from first-hand experiences will be missed.
“Having someone that actually participated in the policy process, just brings that real world experience to the classroom, which I think it’s always thought highly of by the students,” Featherstone said.
Hinds is interested in agricultural policy as a consultant, but said Flinchbaugh inspired him to teach someday.
“He kind of started giving me different ideas and talking about how he got into the teaching and everything,” Hinds said.
His class filled up a Cardwell Hall lecture room each fall. Students in agricultural economics, political science, animal science and more took the class as Flinchbaugh’s reputation preceded him.
Featherstone said Flinchbaugh always wanted to lighten up lectures — in the classroom and at conferences — with jokes and “diversions.”
“One time there were three of us going to a conference in Missouri … we were taking notes on all the modeling and how they did the modeling and we looked over at his pad of paper and he was taking notes of the jokes,” Featherstone said. “He was such a gregarious and high demand speaker and so he knew the need to put diversions in the speeches when you could be losing people. When you talk about policy sometimes that can get pretty deep in the weeds.”
Flinchbaugh is survived by his wife Cathy in Manhattan.