Owen Wagner ’07, vice president and senior analyst for North American markets at Rabobank, said a future challenge affecting agriculture, which has historically benefitted from biofuel blending in transportation fuels, will be the electrification of ground transportation.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. airlines carried more than 67 million people — domestic and international — in January. Having grown faster in recent decades than road, rail, or shipping, the aviation industry accounts for nearly 3 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration estimates that the U.S. wastes between 30 and 40 percent of all food grown, creating greenhouse gas emissions.

To address this challenge, Wagner is researching sustainable aviation fuel utilizing agricultural
feedstocks, such as oils, corn, and cellulosic biomass, to supplement conventional jet fuel. As a mode of transportation that resists electrification, aviation effectively "extends the runway" for biofuel use in the U.S.

Field of wheat straw
Wheat straws. Photo by Sam Dean for Virginia Tech.

Wagner’s research will advise Rabobank’s wholesale agribusiness and rural clients about risks and opportunities in the biofuel space.

After his research on sustainable aviation fuel, Wagner’s next focus will be on the sustainability of cotton versus polyester textiles.

“In terms of sustainability it’s something of an apples-to-oranges comparison because the fibers perform distinct functions in apparel and have very different environmental impacts across the value chain,” said Wagner, who earned his Master of Science in agricultural and applied economics.

One of the most favorite parts of his job is the thematic research he conducts for his corporate clients and farmers so they can make better strategic decisions. “I get to analyze data to determine the impact on the food and agribusiness industry three to 10 years out.”

While research is a large part of his role, he also analyzes and reports on grains, oil seeds, cotton, and smaller crops such as sugar and rice for his clients.

Before joining Rabobank, Owen served as CEO of the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association.

“This role was a stepping stone for me in my career,” Wagner said. “I wore many hats and learned a lot.”

Before that, he was a senior economist for LMC International. In that role, he worked in support of the United Soybean Board, the United States Soybean Export Council, the National Biodiesel Board, and Qualified State Soybean Boards, where he gained experience with soybean markets and technical developments. 

He also worked in the cranberry industry of southeastern Massachusetts, did a stint in Beijing as an intern with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, and recently won the business case study competition at the Rabobank-sponsored Executive Farm Management Program at North Carolina State University.

Wagner’s career has allowed him to travel and experience different cultures.

“My degree from Virginia Tech provided me with the knowledge to relate to our clients while having a global economics understanding of markets,” he said.

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