Can we talk about the meaning of the word ‘agriculture’?


A few years ago I started a project called Beyond the Farm with the goal of educating students about careers in agriculture. It has given me the opportunity to discuss the agriculture industry with thousands of high school students. I often find myself asking them the same question: “What do you think of when you hear the word agriculture?”

The top five responses are easy: Farms, farmers, cows, crops, and hard work. Is this really reflective of agriculture? Sometimes, in a very general way, sure. But a vast majority of the time? No way! There is so much more to ag than that .

This is why we need ag education.

In the past few years, there has been a huge lack of ag education both in and outside of schools. And because of that, fewer students are choosing agricultural careers.

Purdue University estimates that 40 percent of new ag jobs go unfilled each year! This is a problem because in the foreseeable future, agriculture will continue to be one of the most vital industries. We need to find ways to increase our food production while decreasing our environmental impact — and I believe agricultural innovation will be a major solution to these problems.

In 2019, I attended the National 4-H Youth Summit of Agri-Science. There, I heard a speech from the Undersecretary of Agriculture in Trade and Foreign Affairs, Ted McKinney. McKinney’s speech was interesting because he emphasized that one of the most pressing problems facing the next generation is finding a way to go from feeding more than 7 billion people currently, to feeding 9 billion people in 2050. He referred to this as going from the 7 to the 9, and it will require the next generation to be educated about agriculture, and hopefully, go into ag careers.

One more reason we need ag education is because many people aren’t aware of agricultural careers or even where their food comes from! One example is a 2017 study that discovered 7 percent of American adults think that chocolate milk comes from a brown cow. This is not true and shows that there is a lack of ag literacy!

Image courtesy of Sydney Mitchell

We need to fix our ag education problem soon, or we will have to face the consequences. Without ag education, we will have more agricultural careers go unfilled, creating more problems. Without people to fill ag careers, we could have a food shortage, a lack of manpower to operate farms, and even less ag education in the future. We will also have a greater disconnect between the farm and the fork, meaning that even fewer people will know that their food started on a farm. Fewer people will know about agriculture’s role in sustainability, instead potentially leading to poor management of pasture land, cropland, and waterways.

You might be wondering how we can fix this problem. First, we can start by increasing ag education in schools! It may seem obvious and straight-forward, but this is probably the single biggest and best solution to this problem. The truth, though, is that this isn’t simple, since available and experienced teachers, along with school funding, aren’t always available. But we need to work to make it available.

In the presentation I give, I spend 15 minutes with high school students, telling them about the most in-demand Ag careers, the variety of Ag career pathways, and the huge variety in career type, location, education, and salary within agriculture. There is no way that I can tell these students everything in 15 minutes, but I can open the door to agriculture.

Doing some semi-formal surveying, I found out that after talking with these students, I have increased their interest in an agricultural career by 23 percent. Twenty-three percent! And just imagine, if I can increase a student’s interest in an ag career by 23 percent in 15 minutes, what could agricultural education in all schools do?

We can also do our best to promote agriculture on social media and in our personal lives. If you are involved in ag, share your story! If you want to learn more, go follow some ag-vocates on social media! I think that social media is one of the best ways to talk about agriculture, both now and in the future.

Another solution is encouraging kids to join organizations like 4-H and FFA. There’s some added benefits to this one. I promise, anyone who joins these organizations learns about more than just agriculture!

Lastly, we need to find ways to make ag more exciting! Whether this is through social media, videos, activities, presentations, or tours, we need to find ways to make ag exciting so people want to learn about it! As the ag industry, we need to find ways to get agriculture mentioned. We just need to start talking and include ag in the conversation.

And I think that we need to re-define the word agriculture.

By its dictionary definition, agriculture is “farming; the science, art, or occupation concerned with cultivating land, raising crops, and feeding, breeding, and raising livestock.” Since only 1.3 percent of American jobs are farming, and 10.9 percent of American jobs are agriculture and its related industries, I think it’s time we change the definition of the word “agriculture.”
Instead of having people that associate farms, cows, crops, and hard work with agriculture, wouldn’t it be awesome to have people that associate food, technology, science, education, social media, business, finance, and so much more with the word agriculture?

That’s why I started this project, Beyond the Farm — to increase and change the meaning of agriculture beyond farming!

So how can you get involved? The answer is simple. Start promoting agriculture! Talk about ag with your friends and family, and do your best to promote it in schools. Share your ag story and do your best to support young people who are getting involved in ag. Together, if we can increase our ag education, we can help prepare the next generation for careers in agriculture, create more agriculturally literate adults, and help to reach the goal of 7 to 9!

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