Agriculture has run in Elizabeth Riley's blood since she was born. Raised on a sheep and goat farm in Hopkinsville, Kentucky by her mother who is a 4-H agent, she knew her path always involved agriculture. She just wasn't sure how.
After receiving her bachelor's degree in Animal Science from the University of Kentucky and her master's degree in Ruminant Nutrition from Virginia Tech University, she landed herself at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an International Trade Specialist in Washington, D.C.
Riley's interest wasn't originally in international agriculture, however, during college she became curious about it but never pursued it seriously.
Once complete with her master's degree, she gave international life a try.
"I decided to serve in the Peace Corps, and that cemented my love of this particular side of agriculture," explained Riley during our conversation.
Every day at the USDA is a different one according to Riley, and there is hardly ever a dull moment.
"FAS employs Foreign Service Officers in over 90 embassies all over the world, and a big part of our job in DC is coordinating their work from a policy perspective and understanding what's happening with their counterparts in the host country government. In my program area, we do a lot of policy analysis, trade negotiation, comment on foreign measures, liaise with industry cooperators, and brief administrators and political appointees on issues that could impact exports of American agricultural products."
Throughout her experience with the USDA she has recognized the importance of flexibility and the willingness to learn and grow.
"[You need] strong analytical and technical writing skills," explained Riley. “Being able to articulate policy positions, even highly technical ones, is something I've picked up along the way and it's incredibly useful.”
When asked what advice she would give to anyone interested in this field, she wanted to make sure students knew the value of an agricultural education.
"Lean in to your agriculture background. Though I didn't start with the trade and economics knowledge, that aspect can be learned. The built-in knowledge of how agriculture works in the U.S. is invaluable."
For Riley this job has given her several opportunities and some experiences she will never forget.
"It's a great opportunity to influence policy and advocate for American agriculture on an international stage. I've gotten to travel a bit and be at the table for a number of meetings and negotiations. Representing USDA in such a capacity is a huge honor.”
Carilynn Coombs, #TeachKyAg
Kentucky ag exports remained stable in 2016
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment
Kentucky agricultural exports remained relatively stable in 2016 at $2.1 billion, nearly 40% of the state’s ag cash receipts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in October 2017. Soybeans and related byproducts (e.g. meal/oil) remained the state’s top ag exports representing nearly 1/3 of Kentucky’s ag exports, followed by live animals, primarily horses (18%), and tobacco (11%).