McKenzie Grace Greene, a junior Agribusiness student at Clemson with a minor in adult extension education, was selected for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Future Leaders in Agriculture Program.

Grace Greene with Sonny Perdue

Grace Greene with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at the 96th Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum.
Image Credit: Clemson College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

The program accepts only 20 undergraduate and 10 graduate students annually to give them unique exposure to policymaking at USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum. 

To participate, undergraduates must submit a one-page essay entitled “Agriculture as a Career.” Greene wrote about the importance of policymaking in regulating environmental impacts in the agricultural sector. She sees room for improvement in educational training and described aiding farmers in sustainability as a two-way street: greener production systems benefit the environment, which in turn protects producers from shocks.

“It’s nice to know there are a lot of young people that want to have an impact in agriculture,” Greene said. “There are people that want to make a difference and feel passionate about it just like me.”

Greene witnessed firsthand environmental policymaking at the 96th Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the department’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda, which plans to increase agricultural productivity by 40% and cut the sector’s environmental footprint in half by 2050. The agenda also involves integrating the department’s customer-facing agencies, as well as employing new technologies and practices in its programs. USDA stresses its role in the success of farmers and sees technological innovation as the way forward.

As part of the program, all 30 students were invited to attend the forum, which is USDA’s largest annual meeting that hosts panel discussions, networking lunches, and sessions covering everything from trade to topics in sustainability and food security. The forum, which took place on Feb. 20-21 in Arlington, VA, convenes policymakers, producers, and industry, business, and government leaders to discuss obstacles and solutions in ag.

The USDA Future Leaders in Agriculture Program invites all 30 of its students to attend the forum as part of their weeklong stay in D.C., where they also attend a USDA briefing, tour the nation’s capital, and convene with government leaders, like Perdue, to discuss career opportunities.

Jean Bertrand, the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in CAFLS, nominated Greene for the program after recognizing her ambition and work ethic.

“Grace was very proactive and found the program on her own. She asked me for my support, which of course, I gave her. She seems very interested in the program and I applaud her for being proactive in this,” Bertrand said.

Greene will be interning with USDA’s Farm Service Agency this summer and wants to enter the public sector after she graduates, working either with the Farm Service Agency or USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. She expressed interest in expanding sustainable agriculture and food security to developing countries.

The forum sold her interest in working with USDA after she spoke with employees who had worked their way up from being students in ag. The experience allowed her to build professional contacts with leaders in the sector for her own professional growth.

“I just loved everything that people from USDA had to say,” she said. “It was nice to talk to people who were like me.”

Greene encourages other agribusiness students to consider joining the program in the future.

“It’s a really good way to get contacts and see what [the field is] like,” she said. “And I just had a really fun time. I learned a lot.”

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