Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 14, 2005
by WLJ

Willard R. Sparks
Willard R. Sparks, a leading professional agricultural economist, successful businessman and commodities trader, died Jan. 30 of throat cancer at his home in Memphis, TN. He was 68.
Sparks was widely known for starting the agricultural consulting firm Sparks Cos. Inc., now known as Informa Economics, whose customers included multinationals such as Cargill, General Mills, Quaker and Ralston Purina.
His company's daily commodity briefings, market analyses and research studies were among the industry's most widely read. He sold the company to Informa Economics in December 2003.
Thomas M. Shuff, an independent broker at the Chicago Board of Trade who worked with Sparks for 27 years, said Sparks was one of the first to use mathematical models and computers to predict commodity prices.
"He was a true pioneer and innovator in the field of agricultural commodity analysis," Shuff said. "He was one of the first people to see the need for risk management in ag business and in agriculture."
Sparks also played the dominant role in coordinating the first large sale of soybeans and some of the largest U.S. grain sales to the Soviet Union in the 1970s, Shuff said.
Sparks was an early shareholder of Refco, Inc., one of the world's largest futures-commission merchants, said Phillip Bennett, president and CEO of Refco Group Limited, LLC, in New York.
"He was regarded as a leader in the ag economics advisory world and had a unique relationship with food companies in North America," Bennett said.
Sparks was an important partner and share holder of the futures-derivatives business developed by the Refco Group over the last 30 years, Bennett said, and was a significant contributor to Refco's global franchise.
Sparks held memberships at the Chicago Board of Trade, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Kansas City Board of Trade and the New York Cotton Exchange, where he served on the board of managers for several years..
He actively supported the arts and education. He served on the boards of the Memphis Arts Council, Tennessee Arts Commission, International Brangus Breeders Association and the Tiger Club at the University of Memphis.
He once served as chairman of the Board of Visitors at the University of Memphis. Upon his resignation from that position, the university renamed its Bureau of Business and Economic Research in his honor..
Prior to starting Sparks Cos., he had been the president and the director of research and trading at Cool Industry, a major grain and cotton exporter.
Sparks was born in Dibble, OK, and spent much of his boyhood working on his family's grain and livestock farm. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in agricultural economics from Oklahoma State University and his Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Michigan State University.

Dr. Keith E. Gregory
Cattle reproduction pioneer Dr. Keith E. Gregory passed away on Sunday, Feb. 6, at the age of 80. Keith had a tremendous influence on beef cattle breeding during the last half of the 20th century including breed and heterosis evaluation, crossbreeding and composite populations, selection for twinning, and multidisciplinary approaches.
Keith was honored for his lifetime contributions to animal breeding and genetics by being named to the USDA/ARS Hall of Fame in September 2004.
The following is part of the news release about the induction: "After a 43-year career with ARS, Gregory is being recognized for his contributions to beef cattle genetics and breeding. His research has helped shape the selection procedures and breeding systems used to capitalize on the benefits of crossbreeding in the U.S. beef cattle industry.
“Gregory was the first director of ARS' Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska. Through his leadership and vision, a multidisciplinary research program was established that is now internationally recognized. As a collaborator, Gregory continues to offer guidance on a research project that is investigating the selection of specific cattle for breeding purposes based on those animals' increased likelihood of giving birth to multiple calves."
Condolences can be sent to his wife at their home: Mrs. Wanda Gregory, 1834 Home Street Hastings, NE 68901.