Russell Knight
Photo courtesy of Russell Knight.

International trade, agricultural policy, international development, and analysis, are just some of the expertise that Russell Knight has acquired over his more than 20-year career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“I contribute my expertise and skills to what I learned in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics,” said Knight.

As a senior beef economist in the Animal Products and Cost of Production Branch of the Market and Trade Economics division, Knight conducts qualitative and quantitative research to analyze the cattle and beef industry. The data he collects helps him to forecast beef production in USDA’s monthly World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates. He also provides industry analysis in the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report. You can view reports here.

Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: June 2023
Economic Research Service | Situation and Outlook Report for June 2023.

So how did Knight find his passion for agriculture? Growing up in Ohio, he was involved with the agricultural community. His family raised Shorthorn beef cattle and you would often see him showing cattle and hogs as part of 4-H. Knight was also involved in Future Farmers of America and eventually received his American FFA Degree, which is the highest degree achievable in the organization.

After receiving his bachelor of science in agribusiness and applied economics in 2002 from Ohio State University, Knight took a gap year to figure out what he wanted to do next. During this time he worked for an agricultural law firm in Columbus, Ohio, as he thought he might want to get a law degree. He did apply and got accepted into a few, but the cost and the schools didn't seem like the right fit for him.

It was late winter/early spring 2003 that Knight decided to apply for graduate school as he learned that "I didn't really need a law degree to accomplish my career goals."

In 2004, he entered Virginia Tech’s agricultural and applied economics master’s program where he evaluated export taxes on soybeans in Argentina. While in the program, Knight also participated in a summer internship in the DC headquarters of USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

The best part about the paid internship program was that the Foreign Agricultural Service provided free housing. "That is VERY rare in DC with respect to internships." 

The program gives graduate students, like Knight at the time, a chance to gain first-hand experience working on various trade issues and analyzing global trade affecting U.S. agriculture exports.

This was such an opportunity for him, Knight says that everyone should partake in an internship. “They play a crucial role in shaping your interest and driving your career passion,” said Knight. His in particular would be the guiding force to his successful career with USDA.

Fast Facts on Careers in Agriculture
Image courtesy of USDA:

As far as his advice for those considering a graduate degree, “Meet with your advisor as soon as you consider pursuing a graduate degree. I wish I had taken statistics or more math courses to have better prepared me for a degree in agricultural economics. Fortunately, Virginia Tech has excellent faculty to help incoming students prepare for the course work to be successful,” said Knight.

Follow Russell Knight on LinkedIn.

By Melissa Vidmar
July 2023