World of opportunity
Matthew Cheshire gets a view from the cab of a sprayer during the Ag Life symposium hosted by MFA Agri Services in Piggott, Ark. The Piggott High School student was among some 100 attendees from five area schools at the inaugural event.
The multi-faceted operation offered a broad look at careers available in the agricultural industry, from livestock nutrition and fertilizer application to grain merchandising and precision agriculture. Stops on the tour also addressed sales, seed genetics and crop protection.
Students were allowed to climb aboard fertilizer spreaders to see the high-tech controls that allow efficient plant nutrient applications.
David Blackmon teaches a group of students about his job as a custom applicator.
Feed science and animal health protocols were covered at this session led by MFA livestock specialists.
Jeremy McClelland, right, discusses grain handling at a tour stop by the Piggott location’s corn pod, which can hold half a million bushels.
On a typical work day, MFA personnel are dispersed into a variety of duties: spraying fields, applying fertilizer, making recommendations, delivering feed, sampling soil, waiting on customers, handling grain or managing the business.
On Sept. 5, however, employees at MFA Agri Services Midsouth in Piggott, Ark., all had the same responsibility: teach.
More than 100 sophomores, juniors and seniors from five area high schools in northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri attended MFA’s inaugural “Ag Life” symposium, featuring educational sessions, facility tours and equipment demonstrations at the Piggott location. Topics included precision technology, seed genetics, crop nutrition, livestock science, agricultural careers and much more.
The idea was to connect with the community and invest in local students, said Tony Lucius, MFA District 11 manager, who helped organize the event. He said the symposium’s tagline, “A World of Opportunity,” was purposeful.
“As we go around to the different stops, we’re not only educating the students but also showcasing career opportunities,” Lucius said. “A lot of students think that farming is just driving a tractor, but there’s so much more to it nowadays. We want to broaden their image of what agriculture is and the world of opportunity it represents.”
Indeed, MFA’s multi-faceted operation gave the young people a varied look at agriculture in action, said Casey Simpson, instructor and FFA advisor at Piggott High School, who brought 40 students to the event.
“We talk about it in class and we show videos, but most of these students never experience these things in person,” Simpson said. “Here, they get to see every sector. There’s the ag business side of things, plant science, animal science, grain merchandising, fertilization—all of it. This is hands-on learning at its best. I wish we had more opportunities like this.”
One of his students, senior FFA member Catie Hill, said the event gave her and fellow classmates a chance to learn more about real-world agricultural jobs from people who were currently working in those fields.
“Each mentor or speaker was kind and very informative, open to all questions and did their best to tell us everything they knew and offer insight into their jobs,” Hill said. “The field day was very much worth the heat we stood in, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity it presented me.”
Teaching high-schoolers may have been outside the comfort zone for many of the MFA employees, Lucius said, but it challenged them to “think differently about what they do.”
“We had a cross-section of MFA employees involved, from specialists and sales people to managers and truck drivers, and there’s value in having them be part of this process,” Lucius said. “It helps them to teach others what they’re doing. Plus, they’re sharing knowledge from a first-hand perspective and making these students more aware of what really goes on in the agricultural industry. That’s important, because misinformation is everywhere.”
Even in the mostly rural communities served by the MFA Agri Services Midsouth group, accurate depictions of modern-day agriculture are needed, said Brad Tullos, instructor and FFA advisor at Campbell High School in Campbell, Mo. Many of his students aren’t directly connected to farming, said Tullos, who brought his crop science class to the symposium.
“Traditionally, 40 years ago, many of those students would have been off the farm, but we don’t have much of that anymore,” he said. “If they want to be involved in agriculture, it’s going to be somewhere like MFA. I’m pleased that we were invited to participate in an event like this, especially locally. We don’t have the time or resources to travel very far.”
Based on the positive feedback MFA received from the inaugural Ag Life event, Lucius said he hopes to plan another one in four years to reach a new crop of students.
“We opened the opportunity up for 10th through 12th grade, and we don’t want to repeat anything,” he explained. “So we’ll wait until all these students have graduated, and then do it again. And we want to make it bigger and better. We could have easily hosted 400 to 500 students, but we needed to test the water. I think it’s been a success, and I think it will help connect us closer with the community. After all, MFA is a relationship company.”
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