Agricultural Communication Student Attends the Agricultural Outlook Forum
The following blog post was written by agricultural communication and journalism student Skylar Christensen. The blog post highlights Christensen’s experiences at the 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum.
The email I tried to delete ended up giving me a front row seat at one of the most important agricultural meetings in the world.
Last fall an email was sent out to all students involved in ag-related majors here at Utah State University and other land-grant universities. The email described the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program, which was designed to expose students to contemporary agribusiness, future trends, scientific research and agricultural policy in today's real world environment. The email encouraged all those interested to write an essay about agriculture as a career. Thirty winners from around the nation would be chosen and invited to attend the 90th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum in Washington, D.C.
“Yeah right,” I thought. “I never win anything.” The email was quickly sent to my trash folder. That evening after thinking about the topic “agriculture as career”, I realized I had a lot to say on the subject. Even if I didn’t win, I wanted to put my thoughts down on paper as a way to always remind myself why I chose the major I did. That night I stayed up late pouring my thoughts into the paper. With a letter of recommendation from Denise Stewardson, one of my biggest influences throughout my academic career, I submitted my essay. Then one morning in January I received a call from the USDA telling me I had won. I was ecstatic.
On February 18, I arrived in Arlington, Virginia and met the rest of my group. I quickly realized that my fellow students were some of brightest, sharpest minds I had ever met. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds and majors, but all shared a common love of agriculture and the natural sciences.
The first day of the Diversity Program consisted of touring the USDA headquarters in D.C. There we had the honor of meeting several leaders including Gerald A. Bange, Chairman of the World Agricultural Outlook Board, and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden. It was a neat experience to sit around a table and have a discussion with these individuals about the current issues, trends and future of agriculture.
On day two, we toured the USDA Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md. This was especially interesting for the students with a scientific emphasis. Later that day we toured the NRCS Plant Materials Center and research farm.
Day three was the first day of the forum. The forum began with an address from Chief Economist Joseph Glauber, followed by a panel discussion moderated by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Some of the major topics included the drought in California, the ever-increasing age of the average U.S. farmer, how to get younger people interested in agriculture and the challenges facing those trying to enter the industry. Later, our group had the opportunity to meet with Vilsack in a special meeting.
For the next day and a half I attended various meetings and forums with topics such as consumer food trends, agricultural census data, water rights issues and even the struggles of the meat packing industry. I was able to network with some very interesting people – scientists, economists, ambassadors, CEOs and yes, even some real farmers.
It’s been over a week since I returned from D.C., but I’m still in awe of everything I experienced. I will never forget my time at the 90th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. The insight I gained and the connections I made were priceless, especially for an agricultural communications and journalism major like me. I would encourage all ag majors to participate in the Student Diversity Program contest this fall for a chance to attend the forum next year.