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Agricultural education is life education

In this issue, we take the time to look at agricultural education in a broad perspective. On page 30, you will read about Ag Education on the Move, a classroom initiative. Explaining agriculture to non-farming youth doesn’t mean that every child will instantly understand the challenges of farming or want to join in the ranks of agricultural employment. It does introduce at least a chance that students will learn fundamental facts about our business—and your way of life. These are the building blocks agriculture needs in a society that continues drift from a basic understanding of what it takes to farm.

Teaching agriculture in the classroom also introduces students to the reality that farming isn’t just the quaint red barns and bucolic pastures delivered through Old MacDonald children’s books. And, frankly, that’s a lesson many adults need, too. On page 6 you will read about how farmers are interacting with consumers to explain how genetically-modified crops fit into modern agriculture.

For too many years, those of us who try to explain farming to non-farmers depended on quoting dry and cold scientific facts. It didn’t work. Groups like Missouri Farmers Care and Common Ground acknowledge earlier failures and seek to engage the non-farming public by answering concerns, not just reciting facts. Of course, these groups don’t shy away from research and science to back up their message. It’s the delivery that has changed. It is grass-roots, mom-to-mom conversations. It is farmers talking about what they do on the farm and why certain technologies or practices are important and help sustain agriculture and the environment.

Sustainability is critical for agriculture. Page 20 proves it. There you will see the 2016 MFA Foundation scholarship winners. Today’s Farmer features these scholarships not just to show that MFA invests in the future of rural communities and agriculture, but to show you the bright faces that will eventually lead your industry. And agriculture needs them. On page 18 we write about the strong demand agriculture has for new employees.

In a report issued last year, USDA delivered welcome news for students pursuing a degree in agriculture.

The report estimated that between 2015 and 2020, there will be about 58,000 job openings per year for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees food, agriculture, renewable natural resources or the environment. Of those projected jobs, about half will be in management and business. A third will be in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Jobs in food and biomaterials production should make up about 15 percent of available positions and the balance, about 12 percent, are projected to be in education, communication and governmental services.

According to the report, we should expect the strongest job market for plant scientists, food scientists, sustainable biomaterials specialists, water resources scientists and engineers, precision agriculture specialists, and farm-animal veterinarians.

The demand for such graduates will be accentuated by the supply.

According to USDA, between now and 2020, an annual average of 35,000 new graduates with degrees in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources or the environment are expected to fill just 61 percent those 58,000 annual openings. Thus, there will be poaching from other industries and degree programs.

From the report: “Most employers prefer to hire graduates with this expertise. However, because we anticipate more annual job openings than can be filled by these graduates, employers will need to look to other areas such as biology, business administration, engineering, education, communication and consumer sciences to fill the remaining 39 percent of openings.”

It may be hard to believe in the current economic conditions on the farm and in the halls of agribusiness that the future could be so bright. But the world is betting long on agriculture. You have seen world population projections. Food and fiber demand won’t shrink soon. That’s why employment projections for the agricultural and food sector stay bright. With success at teaching our children and communicating agriculture with our non-farming contemporaries, we can make them that much brighter.

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