Ag student wins national discussion contest

Ryan O'Reilly (center, right), the 2017 American Farm Bureau national collegiate discussion contest winner, surrounded by the other finalists in the competition.

There is no question that pressing issues in agriculture are leading to hotly contested debates and animated discussions across the United States and around the world. Each year, the American Farm Bureau sponsors a national collegiate discussion contest featuring many of these topics, and this year’s winner was Ryan O’Reilly, a senior at Colorado State University who is majoring in environmental and natural resource economics.

Ryan O’Reilly receives the championship award from American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall.

O’Reilly competed against 53 other students representing states across the country, each of whom took part in the discussion, which differs from a debate in several ways. The competition was held in February in Pittsburgh.

Developing solutions to problems

“This wasn’t about breaking down other people’s arguments,” said O’Reilly. “We focused on developing solutions to problems and doing so through an interactive and collaborative discussion.”

Each competitor offered a 30-second opening statement, participated in a 25-minute discussion and then made a one-minute closing statement. The topics discussed included the management of natural resources, tax reform, immigration reform, intellectual property rights and the ways in which markets can manipulate consumers.

According to the Colorado Farm Bureau, “The Discussion Meet is designed to replicate a committee meeting where discussion and active participation are expected from each collegiate participant. Participants are judged on their ability to exchange ideas and information on an agricultural topic and find answers or solutions related to it.”

After finishing second at the Colorado Collegiate Discussion Meet in November at the Colorado Farm Bureau Annual Meeting, O’Reilly qualified for the national event. His championship at the national level earned him a $2,500 scholarship from competitive event sponsor John Deere.

Dedication and enthusiasm

Dale Manning, an assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at CSU, has seen O’Reilly’s dedication and enthusiasm by working with him in the classroom.

“Ryan is a very proactive student who not only participated actively in class but decided to use his energy, quantitative skills and economic intuition to undertake independent research on the impact of rural to urban water transfers on Colorado’s rural economies,” said Manning. “This interest and initiative leads me to believe he will be successful after college, whether that includes grad school or work in the public or private sector.”

O’Reilly, who is also president of the student organization AgriBusiness Association, will graduate in May and plans to travel to Ecuador to work for a nonprofit that empowers women through agriculture. He is also a member of the CSU Collegiate Farm Bureau. He hopes this experience, along with his time at CSU, will prepare him to pursue a graduate degree focused on developmental economics.