to Jewell students
Story by Nathan Weinert ’08
Dr. Gregg Whittaker with the AgStar irrigation device
A device that looks something like a wheel with teeth sits on a shelf in Dr. Gregg Whittaker’s office in the business department at William Jewell. It seems somewhat out of place, next to books, awards and recognitions accumulated during years spent in the worlds of business and academia. At first glance, the device (described in corporate documents as “a molded plastic wheel”) doesn’t look like anything particularly exceptional.
Despite its pedestrian appearance, Dr. Whittaker believes that this device—called the AgStar—has the potential to transform agriculture as we know it.
“In a nutshell, I believe it will transform the paradigms for doing business in agriculture and related industries,” said Dr. Whittaker, who is an associate professor of economics at Jewell. “I believe it will be the reconciling link between competing economic and environmental constituencies.”
The AgStar is a wheel that creates a waffle-like geometric “weir pattern” in the soil. The AgStar is attached to and follows behind farm implements, consolidating the soil into the weir patterns rather than compacting it as current technology does. The AgStar manages water flow, holding the water in place and enables it to better infiltrate the soil.
The AgStar also increases surface area and soil temperature, and can help farmers complete in one pass the cropping work that typically now requires two to four passes. As a result, there is less soil and chemical runoff and increased nitrogen uptake by the plants, requiring less irrigation and less expenditure of time and resources for farmers.
“In field testing, it’s proven to significantly increase yields and reduce input costs,” Dr. Whittaker said. “It mitigates soil erosion and water runoff, and it has the potential to begin recharging our underground aquifers.”
According to Dr. Whittaker’s analysis, widespread AgStar usage could increase U.S. farm incomes by more than $36 billion per year, or about $67,500 per farm. Dr. Whittaker submitted his study to a senior research scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture, who confirmed his analysis.
Dr. Whittaker’s work with AgStar is only one of his many business achievements. Prior to his arrival at Jewell, Dr. Whittaker was Managing Director and Global Head of Credit Derivatives at Chase Manhattan (now JPMorgan Chase), where his group was twice named the top Credit Derivatives group in the world. Since coming to Jewell in 1999, Dr. Whittaker co-founded and served as Vice Chairman of Primus Guarant Ltd., a AAA-rated financial services company which is now publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. He is also a co-founder and director of Ascend Insurance, a AAA-rated, Bermuda-based credit-protection writer.
Dr. Whittaker’s “real-world” experience offers tangible benefits to William Jewell students. Each semester, he selects a few William Jewell business students to assist him on various projects in which they gain practical business experience.
“I don’t bring them on just to make copies for me. They actually participate in whatever it is I’m working on,” Dr. Whittaker said. In the past, students have helped develop marketing materials and completed market research. Two years ago, he took a group of students to Chicago to help him make a presentation to the CEO and CFO of a company. “They not only worked with me to develop the presentation, they helped participate in the presentation itself,” he said.
“I’ve got probably six or eight students out there who honestly can put on their resume ‘helped build a billion-dollar, AAA-rated company,’ ” Dr. Whittaker said. “That’s a truly distinctive experience for a recent college graduate which can help them to stand out in a very competitive job market.”