Zach Jacobs knows all about agriculture and national security.

What the Virginia Tech student studying those topics didn’t know is how interrelated they could be or the level of significance they will have on the future of the global economy —but that changed when he stepped into a private meeting with embassy representatives from Germany, Australia, and Ireland.

Jacobs was among the 25 Virginia Tech students who attended the ninth annual Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade last week in Richmond, Virginia. During the conference, Jacobs had the opportunity to draw on his academic knowledge of agriculture and national security, as well as learn about shifting trends in globalization and trade.

“It was great to have that time to ask direct questions to international representatives and get their perspectives on current issues,” said Jacobs, a sophomore from Swoope, Virginia. “We asked a lot of questions and could have kept going if we had more time.”

Topics discussed included Brexit and its implications for Europe and the United Kingdom, job creation and career development in the trade sector, and agricultural organizations and their operations.

The conference, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is designed to inform and promote conversations about current agricultural trade issues and patterns, as well as to learn new perspectives on trade agreements and renegotiations. Over the past nine years, governors, ambassadors, producers, and agribusinesses leaders at the conference have created a forum that has benefited the commonwealth’s number one economy — agriculture and forestry products. Richard Crowder, who holds the Thornhill Professorship for Agricultural Trade at Virginia Tech, helped get the conference started.  

For many graduate and undergraduate students who attend the event, it is an opportunity to connect textbook knowledge to real-world issues. 

“Every year the conference provides a unique opportunity for students to meet and network with ranking government officials and commercial agribusiness executives from Virginia, Washington, D.C., and beyond,” said Jason Grant, director of the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s Center for Agricultural Trade.

The Center for Agricultural Trade sponsored this year’s student attendees and held a debriefing after the closing comments, made by Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Basil Gooden. 

Several students from the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics were second- or third-time attendees, returning to gain insights into current agricultural trade issues, many of which have been at the forefront of political debate over the past year.

The first panel, which discussed benefits and opportunities for the North American Free Trade Agreement, set the tone for the remainder of the conference, which was about partnering with other nations for the benefit of all.

“I think the point about carefully negotiating and renegotiating trade agreements is very important today. Developing bilateral trade agreements is costly but can have major economic benefits for trade partners,” said graduate student Xin Ning, of Fuyang, China, whose focus is on international development and trade. 

Students interested in trade policy, commodity markets, and Extension all had outlets to share and learn from industry and government leaders in each and all of these sectors as they are all interconnected in the global marketplace.

The governor’s conference is unique from other academic or field-specific conferences because it allows students to connect and share ideas with a diverse array of individuals – all invested in Virginia agriculture and forestry. Attendees can connect with agribusiness exporters, investors, lobbyists, government officials, and a number of other businesses and organizations who work within agriculture, forestry, or trade.

Written by Jillian Broadwell

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