Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Preparing Young People to Feed a Growing World

Submitted by Nancy Barcus, Agriculture Future of America (AFA)
I’ve read thousands of essays written by young people articulating why they are pursuing a career in agriculture.  Words like “strength,” “passion,” “vital,” “constant” and “innovation” echo from the pages of scholarship and leader development applications. There are few differences from those raised on a farm versus those that found their interest in agriculture in some other way. These same men and women embrace that agriculture is more than what Grant Wood’s American Gothic represents; after all, it was painted 80 years ago.
Although there are currently more job openings in the agriculture sector than there are college graduates in related degrees each year (which won’t likely get better as baby boomers exit the workplace), those preparing for a career in agriculture can’t afford to just grab a job. If predictions are true and we need to feed 9-10 billion people annually 35 years from now, agricultural professionals need to be agile, innovative, collaborative and efficient to meet such goals while protecting natural resources and producing food safely.  Communicators will need to understand science to share with non-agricultural consumers. Scientists will need to translate the value of innovation beyond yield enhancement or an animal’s rate of gain.
There is no doubt technology is and will play a huge role. Discipline by discipline, this next generation will need to understand how technology can use data to make better decisions while science can reduce strain on the environment as well as transpose geography where crops can be grown. 
They also have an opportunity to rebrand agriculture for the world. Machinery technicians must be computer savvy. Successful farmers are businessmen and women first. Agriculture is a global industry with more and more global career opportunities. Young people can prepare through global exposure, seeking out experiences that help them find the right career path for their interests and strengths and being ready to work in teams across generations and geography. 
The future of agriculture holds exciting opportunities for those who choose to pursue them.