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Blog: The First of (Hopefully) Many Trips to the AES Annual Conference

The First of (Hopefully) Many Trips to the AES Annual Conference

Author: Matthew Melchor

Bio: Matthew is currently a second-year master’s student at Kansas State University in the United States studying agricultural economics. He was also selected as a 2024 Farm Foundation Agricultural Scholar.

Blog Post:

March 2024 signified two concurrent brilliant new experiences: attending the 98th annual conference of the Agricultural Economics Society and visiting Edinburgh (and indeed Europe!) This visit was part of the 2024 Farm Foundation Agricultural Scholars group and was filled with presentations, farm tours, and tourism. The Farm Foundation Ag Scholars are a group of 20 nationally selected graduate students from universities in the United States in agriculture or related fields who engage in a year-long series of conferences and learning experiences, and we felt incredibly thankful to be able to expand our experiences this year to outside the United States. This was my first time traveling internationally, so I was excited to experience another culture and see what differences I would feel between the United States and the United Kingdom. 

The AES meeting was a great international conference experience for both networking and presentations by academics from Europe and beyond. The topics covered at the conference ranged across all fields of agriculture: from production agriculture and artificial intelligence to consumer preferences and food insecurity. The symposiums and plenary sessions offered insights into publishing in journals, informing policy, and solutions to the current issues in the food system, with energetic question-and-answer sessions after each presentation to dive deeper into the topics with the selected presenters. Having solely researched production livestock economics in the United States, learning of issues in other sectors within Agricultural Economics, through presentations of analysis completed by academics, introduced me to new modeling systems and varying perspectives on global issues. Listening to this research has already influenced how I view the work I do in livestock economics going forward and on whom my work impacts.

In addition to the conference, we had the opportunity to have dinner with Dr. Spiro Stefanou, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, and David Swales and Sarah Baker, both from the UK's Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. It was a pleasure meeting them, hearing the challenges and issues they face with regards to the context of the United Kingdom and how government handles them: clearly very different to the United States. As part of the conference schedule, we also had a traditional Scottish dinner with haggis served as one of the courses during the meal. We ended the evening by learning some traditional Scottish dances from a Ceilidh band. 

After the conference, we had the opportunity to visit two separate livestock farms in Scotland. First, we traveled south to see Upper Nisbet Farm and met Robert Neill. As a livestock economist, seeing the cow-calf operation and the technology they employ to more efficiently weigh, vaccinate, and treat animals was impressive. Mr. Neill took the time to answer any questions we had about livestock production in general, particularly the differences between the United Kingdom and the United States. I thoroughly enjoyed the access he provided to see first-hand how ranchers operate in the UK. Then we returned to Edinburgh to visit Scotland Rural College’s (SRUC) Easter Howgate Beef and Sheep Research Center. This research farm focuses on collecting, measuring, and upcycling methane emissions in cattle, using the latest technology available to only a few farms in the world. I enjoyed seeing first-hand the state-of-the-art facilities and the equipment that SRUC has access to and the ongoing research they are working on.

In addition to our conference participation and farm tours, we made sure to make time to see some of the amazing museums and historical sites in Edinburgh. We finished the conference on Wednesday at the lunch time which provided us the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Scotland, where we went to see ‘Dolly the Sheep’ the first cloned mammal from an adult cell, in addition to seeing other exhibits such as the Lewis chess pieces and a replica of the tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots. On Friday a group of us visited Edinburgh Castle - an impressive historical and architectural building, dating back to the 11th century. As a history nerd, visiting the castle was one of the highlights of the entire trip. The displays within the castle told the story of who controlled the castle, the wars and battles it had been through, and the royalty who once called the castle home. After that, we visited the historic St. Giles’ Cathedral (built in the 12th century) and the Old College of the University of Edinburgh (built in the 18th century). Aside from the history each building possessed, this was a treat as some of the oldest buildings in the state of Kansas (my home state) are from the mid-to-late 19th century!

The 2024 Agricultural Economics Society meeting was an incredible experience. I could not have been more impressed with the hospitality we were shown and the connections we were able to make, especially since this was my first international trip. Some of the experiences we had were not directly related to the conference agenda, but they are a direct result of our attendance at this conference and the wonderful kindness of the hosts: the Agricultural Economics Society, the Scottish people, and all other attendees of the conference. I look forward to attending future AES conferences and would like to thank the Agricultural Economics Society for hosting us!

Websites referenced in this article

Upper Nisbet Farm

Easter Howgate Beef and Sheep Research Center


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