Evan McKay, a master’s student in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was recently accepted into the Farm Foundation’s Agricultural Scholars program.

During the yearlong experiential learning experience, McKay will attend roundtable meetings, develop working relationships with key U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service senior analysts (ERS), receive additional career mentoring from industry stakeholders, attend the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association annual meeting, and possibly serve on graduate committees. He will make a capstone research presentation at the end of the experience.

McKay said he is incredibly grateful for his acceptance into the program.

“This program has provided me with insight into the many career opportunities available within agricultural economics and keeps me grounded in the industry, which is important as an economist,” he said.

Having peers from other land-grant universities provides the cohort with opportunities to network and discuss similar classes. McKay said it has been very helpful to him to be able to ask each other questions and compare notes.

The Farm Foundation selected McKay and 14 other students from an applicant pool of more than 40 nationwide, in partnership with ERS.

The Farm Foundation works to address conservation and sustainability, digital agriculture, farmers’ health, and market development and access. To help achieve solutions, the foundation developed a “full suite of next-generation programs.” These programs provide opportunities for various stakeholders across food and agriculture to come together, from students to early-career professionals to Congressional staff members and agriculture economists.

As part of the nonprofit’s "full suite" to engage select graduate students, the program is designed to inspire and train the next generation of agricultural economists interested in agricultural policy, commodity market analysis, agricultural finance, and other applied fields of economics.

“These students are doing amazing research that will change agriculture,” said Jenna Wicks, the program manager. “The foundation was formed in February 1933, and 90 years later, we continue the same work to move agriculture forward.” 

The 2023 Agricultural Scholars. Photo courtesy of Farm Foundation.

2023 agricultural scholars. Photo courtesy of Farm Foundation.
The 2023 Agricultural Scholars. Photo courtesy of Farm Foundation.

McKay’s family heritage in farming in Virginia dates back to the 1600s.

“My love for agriculture is part of who I am. I grew up around dairy cattle,” he said. “Especially during COVID, I spent most of my free time on tractors, and it reawakened my passion for all aspects of the industry.”

He has applied his love for agriculture to his research at Virginia Tech alongside Bradford Mills, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. McKay’s research is a joint effort with the University of Georgia and the U.S. Agency for International Development studying index-based crop insurance adoption in Senegal.

“Evan is exploring the costs that climate change is generating for rural farmers in Senegal. As well as the possibility to generate rainfall-index-based insurance products to lower those costs,” Mills said.  

McKay is also working with CALS Global in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on data modeling for the Global Agricultural Productivity Report. This initiative will create opportunities for faculty members and students to engage global agricultural policy and food security community leaders. In his spare time, his research continues with Commodity Investing by Students at Virginia Tech, also known as COINS, on quantitative analysis of commodity markets.

“Students who want to pursue agriculture will find that they can learn important skills such as data analysis, coding, or even flying drones to look at crop density. Many of my peers don’t have those tools. So here I am in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and my skills are more marketable and lucrative than those that took a more conventional path,” McKay said.

Growing up, McKay visited the campus often for 4-H and robotics competitions. As a third-generation Hokie, McKay said he comes from a long line of Virginia Tech alumni, including his grandfather — whose class photo hangs in Smyth Hall — as well as his father, uncles, aunts, cousins, and brother.

McKay will intern at StoneX, a Fortune 100 commodities broker in New York City this summer.

After graduating from Virginia Tech, he hopes to pursue a career in international commodities markets and one day return to the family’s Virginia farm in the Shenandoah Valley.

Share this story