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NMSU graduate student one of 10 selected for USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum

New Mexico State University student Hector Hernandez is one of just 10 graduate students nationwide selected for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program.

Portrait of Hector Hernandez standing next to a tree
New Mexico State University graduate student Hector Hernandez, who is set to earn his master's degree in agricultural economics in May, was one of just 10 graduate students and 20 undergraduate students selected to attend the USDA's 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum Feb. 20-21 in Arlington, Va., as part of the forum's student diversity program. (NMSU photo by Amanda Bradford)

Hernandez, who is set to earn his master's degree in agricultural economics in May, was among 10 graduate and 20 undergraduate students selected to attend the forum, titled "The Changing Face of Agriculture," to be held Feb. 20 and 21 in Arlington, Va. He was chosen based on his essay response to "The Greatest Challenge Facing Agriculture over the Next Five Years." Hernandez wrote about food security in Africa - which is also the topic of his master's thesis.

"There's a lot of poverty there," he said. "Social justice and economic development work really interest me."

Poverty and food security in Africa are topics close to Hernandez's heart after he and his wife spent time in Mauritania from 2003-2005, where he served as a small enterprise development volunteer with the Peace Corps, and later in Rwanda, where Hernandez was a fellow with International Justice Mission, a non-profit human rights organization.

In his essay, Hernandez explored not only the challenges posed by food insecurity on the continent, but also the opportunities for global economic growth that could come from investing in the agricultural economies of African nations.

At the conference, Hernandez said he's looking forward to learning about the agricultural forecast and trends worldwide, but he's also eager to take advantage of the networking opportunities the forum presents.

"There's a lot to learn there about agriculture and the things that are happening here and overseas," he said. "There's a great mix of USDA folks, academics, people in private business - it's an opportunity to meet with economists and learn more about career possibilities with the USDA."

Hernandez plans to pursue a doctorate after he completes his master's degree. A Las Cruces native who graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1996, Hernandez holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago. He and his wife hope to have another chance to work in Africa through an aid organization or nonprofit.

In a news release announcing the selections, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack praised the leadership potential demonstrated by the chosen students.

"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," Vilsack said in the 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."

USDA's 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. The students are from land-grant, Hispanic-serving, and non land-grant agricultural and renewable resources universities.

Hernandez said he was grateful for the help of NMSU Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business Professor Rhonda Skaggs, who encouraged him to apply to attend the forum.

"Hector is a very good student," Skaggs said. "It was a pleasure to recommend someone so well-qualified and with so much potential for the Ag Outlook Forum."

Read Hernandez's winning essay online at www.usda.gov/oce/forum/diversity/papers/2014/Hernandez.pdf. For more information on the forum, visit www.usda.gov/oce/forum/index.htm.