'No Opportunity Wasted' As Teen Learns About Global Agriculture


"My mom has this acronym NOW, no opportunity wasted."

Shawn McDonald has adopted a saying he picked up from his mom. When he learned he may qualify for a trip to Taiwan, it was something he couldn't pass up.

"Get my name out there, do things I love," he explained.

So with two other Nebraska kids, this December he traveled to see agriculture on a global scale.

He said, "It opened all our eyes to just how big a role Nebraska plays in world's food supply."

Shawn's a student in Aurora, where he plays football and marches in the band. He lives near Phillips where his family feeds about 4,000 head of cattle while farming a thousand acres of corn.

Shawn helps, along with his brothers, parents, uncle and cousins.

"Sorting cattle, planting fields, all of that," he explained.

He credits that upbringing for teaching him the value of hard work.

He said, "A lot of stuff you do on the farm you can use later in life, like hard work experience, being passionate about what you do."

It's his involvement in the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute that allowed him to take this trip of a lifetime.

They spent time at a high school in Taiwan, connecting with kids half a world, and several inches, away.

"Being 6'6" in a foreign country, they loved us there, a lot of pictures, we interrupted classes quite a bit," he said.

He's from a community of 300 but one inspiration is just down the road.

He said, "I'd like to study plant bio and genetics, like Keith Heuermann. That's what I want to do."

Heuermann, also from Phillips, developed his own popcorn varieties and has invested in promoting sustainable agriculture around the world. A gift from the Heuermanns has established the Heuermann Lectures at the University of Nebraska, bringing in internationally-known speakers.

Shawn McDonald would like to make his mark too.

He said,"I really want to do something humanitarian. With 9 billion people expected in the near future, somebody has to feed them and I want to do that."

Shawn uses his farm background in school. This week he defended genetically modified crops for a class project.

As far as the food, he enjoyed the tea in Taiwan, but says he'd rather have Nebraska beef.

Shawn is the youngest of three boys in the John and Susan McDonald family. One brother is studying to become a surgeon, the other wants to get into agribusiness.

The trip was coordinated by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City and is sponsored by the Nebraska Farm Bureau and TECO.