The Matador Institute of Leadership Engagement Program at Texas Tech University completed a week-long agriculture tour in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, April 11-14. The tour is one of several regional agriculture tours the program will make as part of an initiative to expose students to the diverse issues affecting local, state and federal agriculture.
Lindsay Kennedy, Ph.D., program director for MILE, said the trip to the Rio Grande Valley was not only an important learning experience for the MILE students but was also an opportunity for the Davis College and Texas Tech to develop new relationships in the state.
“The Rio Grande Valley is such a unique and fascinating agricultural production region, especially when you compare it to the southern plains, which is what a lot of our students are familiar with,” Kennedy said. “I think our college and our university really benefit by taking some of our best and brightest students to network with the industry professionals and producers in that part of the state. It opens up a whole new world for everyone involved.”
While in the RGV, the MILE students met with industry professionals representing livestock, fruits and vegetables, advocacy organizations, sugar, cotton, grain, shrimp, and irrigation. Engaging with 15 agricultural organizations and agribusiness representatives in just five days, students were able to take full advantage of their time in the region.
Bella Yoder, an animal science major from Lindale, Texas, said the trip will not only influence the rest of her MILE experience, but it will also continue to encourage her as an agriculturist and community member for the rest of her life.
“Throughout the entirety of the trip, I was in awe of the production across the Rio Grande Valley and was fortunate to have an inside look into key components of the integrated food chain system in Texas,” Yoder said.
Students met groups representing a wide range of industries within the region, including Texas Citrus Mutual, Hidalgo County Farm Bureau, Texas International Produce Association, RGV Sugar Mill, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2F Akaushi Beef, England Farms and Cattle, Texas Shrimp Association, TexasPack, Green Gold Farms, Cotton and Grain Producers of the RGV, and RGV Gin, and Beckwith Produce, and J&D Produce.
John Owen, a senior agricultural and applied economics major from Sealy, Texas, said the trip was a transformative experience.
“Getting to spend an entire week down there, meeting with industry professionals, learning about the culture, and getting even closer with my fellow cohort members was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a memory I will cherish forever,” Owen said.
Kennedy Wood, a junior animal science major from Levelland, Texas, said she was mesmerized by the region and its people from the first stop.
“Going forward in the rest of my MILE experience I will always keep what I learned and saw in the Valley at the front of my mind,” Wood said. “It very much opened my eyes to a completely new side of agriculture. This experience is something that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life.”
Nelda Barrera, a field representative for the Texas Department of Agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley, played an instrumental role in the planning of the trip’s tours and meetings. She said the MILE students represented Texas Tech and the Davis College well in the RGV.
“It was a great opportunity to host the MILE students in the RGV,” Barrera said. “Our area is so diverse from farming to ranching to immigration issues. I think the students gained a new perspective on how agriculture impacts our daily lives in this part of the state. It was an inspiration for me to have met these students who have an intense passion for agriculture.”
The MILE Program is a three-semester professional development and leadership certificate program in the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources focused on using experiential learning and industry networking to help students gain a big picture understanding of agriculture and its key issues.
The third cohort will continue its MILE experience in fall 2022 with trips, including Washington, D.C., and the South Plains agriculture tour. The cohort will graduate from MILE in spring 2023.