Conor McCabe ’18, promoted federal funding for agricultural research and land-grant universities in Washington D.C from March 4th to 7th as the first-ever student selected to serve as a delegate for the Association of Public Land Grant Universities’ Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching.
In an interview with The Sun, McCabe talked about the importance of having a current student’s perspective when making funding decisions relating to education and research.
“Many of the individuals who previously served on [CARET] were at the end of their careers, but there had never been a point of view of someone who was currently experiencing the land-grant system as a student,” McCabe said. “I had such a unique story to tell that would show the power of the land-grant university system and how my life has been directly impacted by it.”
The motivation behind McCabe’s involvement in D.C. stemmed not only from his academic background, but also from his personal history. The kinds of agricultural programs for which he advocated in D.C. were similar to those from which he had benefited from in his childhood.
“4-H programs were a large part of my youth and was the organization I raised pigs through and showed them at the county [and] state fairs,” McCabe said. 4-H programs are federally funded and are implemented to promote empowerment and development among children.
He further explained the importance of federal support for agricultural programs and land-grant universities, describing how increased funding could generate sweeping improvements.
“[Although] the land-grant system is mainly meant to support the local area and state … by tailoring their offerings to the needs of the community,” said McCabe, those benefits can spark improvements extending beyond regional confines.
“If farmers are able to produce more of a crop [or] good in one county… they can ship it to urban centers or other parts of the world to feed consumers outside their community,” McCabe said. “The research dollars that come from the government in the form of Hatch/Agriculture and Food Research Initiative can lead to breakthroughs that further animal production, human health, and ultimately improved livelihoods for those living around the world.”
While much of McCabe’s academic expertise in the agricultural sciences has developed at Cornell, his interest in agriculture has grown throughout his life, rooted in a childhood spent on his family’s small farm in Oregon. Growing up among Christmas trees, pumpkins, pigs, and his grandfather’s beef cattle and excelling in biology and chemistry courses in high school cultivated his interest in livestock and the sciences, leading him to pursue the animal sciences major.
During his time at Cornell, McCabe has been involved in the Dairy Science Club, helped establish the Engaged Cornell’s Certificate in Engaged Leadership and also serve as the President of Block & Bridle, an agricultural club at Cornell. Additionally, this past semester, he received the Richard A. Church CALS Senior Service Award, which is awarded to two seniors in CALS in recognition of their service and leadership contributions.
McCabe’s influence extends beyond campus to national and international stages, as well. He has served as president of the student affiliate division of the American Dairy Science Association and received the Forward Scholarship from Lallemand Animal Nutrition, a Canadian company specializing in the development, production and marketing of yeasts and bacteria according to its website.
McCabe has also spent his vacations learning about other cultures across the globe.
“I have been lucky enough to have international experiences during the winter breaks while at Cornell. Some experiences I’ve had include studying the dairy industry of Italy, experiencing climate change in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, and preserving indigenous knowledge of the Penan people in Malaysian Borneo,” McCabe said.
After finishing up his last semester at Cornell, McCabe will be joining AgriCorps after graduation and will be spending time in Liberia to promote agricultural education.
“I hope to gain a perspective about the challenges communities in Liberia face from an agriculture point of view,” said McCabe. “I hope what I have learned throughout my career on my home farm and at Cornell can be used to make an impact for youth in the community I will be working with.”
McCabe explained how careers in agriculture can often be viewed disparagingly and how he hopes to show middle and high school students the “power of agriculture as a business” and make them “desire to pursue careers in agriculture to meet the demands of future generations.”
“In the future there will be much more pressure on the agriculture and food sectors to produce enough to feed the estimated 9.6 billion people by 2050. However, we currently see around 2.5 billion whom are malnourished and 900 million who are undernourished,” explained McCabe.
In order for improvement to be feasible, sustained support for agricultural research and programs is vital. “However, public support for American agriculture research has continued to decline within the last [decade] and has since been passed by China and more recently by Brazil and Argentina in terms of total public dollars devoted to agricultural research,” McCabe said.
Looking farther into the future, McCabe hopes to apply his experience to generating improvement in the global food supply. “Because at the end of the day,” he said, “every person in the U.S. participates in this system three times a day.”