Many students, like Zachary (Zach) Horton ’16, ’17, never thought they could get their master’s degree in five years, but that is just what Zach did.

As a first-generation college student, the idea of this program was attractive because it allowed him to enter the workforce one year earlier. Zach said, “I credit my last year with the reason for my first job at Smithfield Foods. I was provided this connection through the department that I may not have had otherwise.”

He went on to say that his undergraduate degree built the foundation, and his master’s gave him a deeper understanding of economic thinking, how consumers work, and provided a great transition into the workforce.

My experience

It was the experience and knowledge gained that has accelerated Zach through his professional career path.

Olga Isengildina Massa, professor of agribusiness said, “Tracking, analyzing and forecasting commodity markets and prices in real time helps prepare our students for various professional roles that are in high demand in today’s world.”

Because of the professors and Olga in particular, Zach is confidently using what he was taught in her classroom on how commodity prices drive business decisions. He can now track those to look at forecasting and build models that shape P&L (profit and loss) statements.

The memories

What makes Zach smile about his time at Virginia Tech. Without hesitation, “My three years as a resident advisor in Cochrane and Harper.”

Why you ask? It was the direct connections he had with freshmen just starting their college experiences. He provided a sense of community and guidance on goal setting… and most of all, felt he made an impact.

Zach says that Virginia Tech is such a welcoming community that it helped him be the best version of himself, so he wanted to instill that as an advisor.

With a chuckle, Zach remembered his time at Cochrane because he didn’t even need to leave the building to get to a dining hall. So, he walked there in his pajamas from time to time… “Which was both good and bad.”

In addition, one cannot be a student at Virginia Tech and not love the sounds of everyone jumping to Enter Sandman. It’s those memories and his time with the Ag Econ Club that build upon that sense of community that the campus provided.


Growing up on a beef cattle farm is what Zach knew well, so going to into dairy was a bit different.

In June 2021, he began a new career as a Senior Financial Analyst with Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative.

Zach understood the basic principles of how milk was created, but was surprised by the intricacies of the dairy market.

On a daily basis Zach works directly with the ingredient plants producing butter, cream, whole and skim condensed, and whole milk powder where their main focus is on producing fluid milk. Being a co-op, the farmer benefits. Zach prides himself that the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative strives to produce the best return for the farmer members. 

Zach is applying his knowledge... He works to set pricing, oversees two plants in terms of financials, and collaborates as a business partner with sales and marketing to get the best dollar for their products.

Due to current export business and consumer preferences, understanding the market in Thailand, Vietnam, and Mexico and how these countries are dependent on their products is critical. His all-encompassing classroom experiences has allowed him to utilize his skillsets with certainty.

Most recently, Zach was approached to oversee a third plant on the consumer products side. Much like the smile Zach gets when talking about his memories of Virginia Tech, hearing about his, and our alumni successes, puts a smile on ours. 

To learn more about the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, take a tour of our website at

Written by: Melissa Vidmar,

About Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative
Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative is a community of 900 dairy farm families in 13 states passionate about cultivating dairy goodness and bottling fresh Maola brand milk and dairy products. Our farmer-owned cooperative owns five dairy processing plants that process more than three billion pounds of milk annually. Our diverse portfolio of dairy products are then distributed to consumers in the United States and ingredients customers worldwide. Our cooperative is a leader in sustainability, partnering across the supply chain to deliver sustainable solutions to our member farms. We take pride in supporting the educational and nutritional needs of the communities in our milkshed through our MDVA Fund.
About Smithfield Foods
Headquartered in Smithfield, Va. since 1936, Smithfield Foods, Inc. is an American food company with agricultural roots and a global reach. With more than 60,000 jobs globally, we are dedicated to producing "Good food. Responsibly.®" and serve as one of the world's leading vertically integrated protein companies. We have pioneered sustainability standards for more than two decades, including our industry-leading commitments to become carbon negative in our U.S. company-owned operations and reduce GHG emissions 30 percent across our entire U.S. value chain by 2030. We believe in the power of protein to end food insecurity and have donated hundreds of millions of food servings to our communities. Smithfield boasts a portfolio of high-quality iconic brands, such as Smithfield®, Eckrich® and Nathan's Famous®, among many others.