Alan Cruz is a senior at University of Arizona in Yuma studying agricultural systems management. He was recently named a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Future Leader in Agriculture and will be attending USDA’s 100th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum in Washington, D.C., held February 15-16, 2024.
Cruz was nominated for the Future Leaders program by his professors and advisors, University of Arizona faculty Dr. Baleshka Brenes, a 2023 USDA E. Kika De La Garza Fellow, and Dr. Tanya Hodges. “They have always taken care of me and made sure I stayed on the right path in my career,” Cruz said. When he received the call notifying him that he had been accepted to the program, he was beyond excited. “There really are no words to describe how I felt,” he said. “It’s a great achievement to be accepted.”
USDA Future Leaders in Agriculture are drawn from land-grant universities and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI). The program is aimed at undergraduate and graduate students majoring in agriculture-related subjects, including business, economics, communications, nutrition, food science, and pre-veterinary studies. In addition to their participation in the Agricultural Outlook Forum, program participants engage in USDA briefings and in career development opportunities with USDA leaders.
Cruz is looking forward to learning more about USDA and making vital connections within the agricultural community. He plans to continue working within the agricultural sector after college. “I’ve loved farming since I was little,” Cruz said.
He is proud of his hometown, the winter lettuce capital of the world, where family spans both sides of this border town. “In Yuma, agriculture is big,” he said. “My parents would drive me around and all I could see were fields.”
Cruz wants to stay in Yuma, too. “I want to work here,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities in Yuma. It feels right to be here.”
Cruz wants to stay flexible with his career prospects, ideally working within commercial agriculture. “I love the feeling being out in the field or behind a tractor, not just in an office,” he said. That said, he is eager to learn more about broader agricultural issues during the Agricultural Outlook Forum, including the roles of USDA and other agencies and organizations.
“I want to learn more about the connections between managing a farm and the work of these organizations,” he said. “I want to gain leadership skills in agriculture to bridge them.”