Last week, 22 college students were given the opportunity to attend the USDA Outlook Forum to learn about agribusiness, the latest research, future trends, and policy in contemporary agriculture. The students were part of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Diversity Program, which was launched by the Office of the Chief Economist and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in 2007 to help provide students with a unique insight into their agricultural studies. These students represent the diversity of American agriculture.
While at the forum, the students had the opportunity to hear from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other leaders in the agricultural industry who were able to give them a unique opportunity to interact with industry professionals – something that can’t always be gained in the classroom.
Comments from the students about their experience proved just how useful this program is to their college experience and career development:
“The USDA Outlook Forum Diversity Program presents a great opportunity for students to meet important people in the industry of agriculture. The speakers presented great points of where agriculture is headed in this country from the points of view from professionals in the agriculture industry which is valuable advice for students. I enjoyed listening to Ambassador [Ronald] Kirk and Secretary Vilsack’s presentations and all of the opportunities presented to us. It was also great to meet other agriculture students from across the country.”
“[I liked the] fact that there were speakers who challenged the USDA or brought up controversial issues, and that this wasn’t a means to stir tensions but rather to engage open discussions. I liked that I could intelligently speak about these topics with my peers who share similar interests.”
“I’ve gained knowledge of a lot of things that I’ve overlooked in the past. I see now how everything is linked and how important it is to preserve our agriculture, so from a 1 to 10, I would have to give this experience a 100.”
Additionally, the students’ time at the Forum gave them a look at what a future career in agriculture might look like and what road they need to take to work toward their career aspirations.
“I was surprised at how much I took from it, particularly outside of the information I got from the sessions. I was able to talk to representatives of the various agencies at USDA and really get a better feel for what they did and the qualifications needed to get where I want to go.”.
The students are from land-grant universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and American Association of State Colleges of Agriculture and Renewable Resources institutions. This year, sponsoring corporations and USDA agencies include: CHS, Inc.; the Farm Credit System; and USDA's Economic Research Service. This year’s sponsorship of 22 students is the highest level of participation since the program’s inception.