Career connections

AGRICULTURE STUDENTS LEARNED ABOUT a “world of opportunity” in the industry at MFA’s Ag Life conference Dec. 7 at the Civic Center in Jackson, Mo. More than 180 sophomores, juniors and seniors from 11 area schools participated in the event, which featured nine different educational sessions.

The idea was to connect with the community and invest in local students, said Tony Lucius, MFA director of retail strategy, who led efforts to organize the event.

“I think there’s a common perception that farming is all about driving a tractor. Those of us involved in ag know that’s not an accurate perception, but sometimes perception is reality,” Lucius said. “We’re trying to bust that myth, so to speak, and educate stu­dents on what agriculture really is in a changing environment. This event is designed to provide a quick snapshot of the real world of agriculture across many different categories.”

The interactive conference was a follow-up to a similar event held in 2019 at MFA in Piggott, Ark. This time, Lucius said the idea was to open it up to a wider audience and “ramp up” the offerings.

“We wanted to test the water to see if the schools in this area wanted to be a part of something like this and if there was a need for this type of educational event,” he said. “By the great turnout today, we can see that they’re embracing it and want more of it. We’ve had positive comments from all the teachers.”

More than 30 volunteers helped put the activities together, from MFA employees to vendors and community partners. Sessions included agronomy, precision technology, drones in agricul­ture, application equipment, fertilizer’s global connections, career building and resumes, veteri­nary science, and range and pasture management. Speakers also took time to discuss their career path with the participating students.

In his opening address, Scott Mink, sales trainer with Syngen­ta, told the group that he had begun his college education with the intention of becoming a physical therapist. He said his first eye-opening day in anatomy and physiology class changed his mind, and he returned to his agricultural roots.

“What I realized is that the agricultural community is special, and it’s the best industry to work in,” Mink said. “And it’s an industry that’s constantly looking for good, young talent—not just on the farm. No matter what your interest or skill, I can promise you there’s something in agriculture that can get you to where you want to be in your career. That’s what I want you to focus on today as you go through your sessions.”

One of the attendees, sophomore Trae Yamintz of Meadow Heights FFA, said the event gave him and fellow classmates a chance to experience some of the latest technologies and learn more about real-world agricultural jobs from people who are working in the field.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the new equipment and learning about things in agriculture that I didn’t know before,” said Yamintz as he inspected the controls of a new John Deere 600R fertilizer spreader. “I didn’t realize there were so many branches through­out agriculture and all the different jobs.”

Agriculture instructors Abby Burke and Jamie Miller of Perryville High School brought 15 students to the Ag Life confer­ence. They said they appreciated the diver­sity of career opportunities on display as well as the chance to have the young men and women learn from a variety of industry professionals.

“We didn’t really know what to expect coming into this event, but we love MFA as an organization and knew anything that they put on would be great,” Burke said. “Here in the southeast part of the state, our opportunities can sometimes get a little far away, so having something so close has been really rewarding and easy on us and our school system.”

An essay contest was also held prior to the event. Andrew Nix of Chaffee High School was named as the winner.

Lucius said plans are to repeat the conference in another two or three years with a new crop of 10th-12th graders. He’d also like to see the Ag Life conference expand into other areas.

“At the end of the day, we hope that these students really do see a world of opportunities, whether they’re into science, math, FFA, or whatever,” Lucius said. “What we’re doing here today can expose them to information and opportunities in ag that might become a fulfilling career later in life.”

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