Two students from Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will attend the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum, "The Changing Face of Agriculture" to be held Feb. 20-21, in Arlington, Va. 

The students are attending the forum as part of the USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program. 

"The future of agriculture and rural America depends on the upcoming generation of leaders in farming, ranching and conservation, and the students selected to attend the Agricultural Outlook Forum are among the best young leaders our country has to offer," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release. "Participating in the Agricultural Outlook Forum will expose these students to a variety of perspectives on this country's most pressing agricultural challenges and lay the groundwork for bright futures in food, fiber, and forestry."

The Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program is designed to introduce students to contemporary agribusiness, future trends, scientific research, and agricultural policy in today's real world environment. Twenty university juniors and seniors were chosen on the basis of their essays on "Agriculture as a Career," and 10 graduate students were selected for their response to "The Greatest Challenge Facing Agriculture over the Next Five Years."

Students attending in the forum will receive tours of USDA facilities, and have the chance to participate in break-out sessions where the most timely topics affecting the industry will be discussed.

Moonyoung Choi of Vienna, Va., a graduate student in food science and technology, wrote an essay on the challenges of increasing water scarcity and agriculture in order to be considered for the forum. Choi currently conducts microbiology research with aquaculture to evaluate the effects of probiotics on shrimp.

“I would like to do some sort of regulatory work,” said Choi. “My concern is water scarcity and that’s why I applied to attend the forum, because there is no national policy regulating the use of water. States are fighting over how best to manage it. It’s hard to determine the allocation of those kinds of resources.”

Lester Schonberger of Alexandria, Va., a junior majoring in food science and technology, says he applied to the forum because he was also interested in the intersection of agriculture and politics.

“I want to better understand the industry I am going to be entering as a young professional and also network with other students who will be facing the same challenges that I am," said Schonberger. "I think getting youth involved in agriculture is necessary to deal with the coming food security challenges.”

Schonberger cites the increasingly rapid rate of iterative change in technology that affects agriculture and the need to stay abreast of those changes as a challenge for the industry. Another food security challenge Schonberger sees coming down the pike for the agriculture sector is the double whammy of the increased demand for human consumption of food and the simultaneous struggle with combating new diseases and pests that decimate crops.

“It’s sink or swim time,” he said. “If we don’t understand agriculture and how to make policies to benefit the industry in a sustainable way, we won’t survive.”



Written by Amy Loeffler.
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