STEM programs are being integrated into kindergarten through 12th grade education across the country.

What is STEM? It is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — studied collectively. The U.S. Department of Education website promotes STEM and stated, “In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information.”

Sounds like agricultural education fits perfectly into any STEM program. In many parts of the country, vocational agriculture (vo-ag) education is available to high school students and sounds a lot like the STEM programs that are being developed. The vo-ag programs consist of classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised occupational experiences, and membership in FFA. This federally supported educational program was created in 1917 when about one-third of the U.S. population lived on farms and agricultural businesses sustained rural communities. Enrollment in vo-ag programs peaked in the late 1970s and is declining 1 to 3% annually.

If you consider that today about 2% of the U.S. population are farmers, one might say that decrease in vo-ag programs is understandable. I disagree. With a fewer number of aging farmers — the average age of a farmer is about 59 — feeding more people than ever, we should be doing more to encourage the next generation of farmers — not only those that want to farm, but also those who will have occupations that directly affect agriculture.

Agricultural degrees open a variety of career options. Having an understanding of agriculture in today’s business and economic world is a huge asset to farmers. Banks and credit agencies need loan officers, credit analysts, appraisers and accountants who understand the industry and the needs of agribusinesses.

There is a demand for agricultural graduates for work in plant science, water management, veterinarians for food animals, nutrition for both humans and animals, ag technology, sustainable agriculture, government programs, conservation programs, education and research. It is amazing to consider how many career opportunities are available that support agriculture.

Engineering is one of the hottest occupations today. Know someone considering pursuing an engineering degree? Check out the possibilities as an agricultural engineer.

So how do we get students excited about these agricultural opportunities? ExploreAg is a summer event offering weeklong camps, weekend camps and one-day experiences for high school students. Students are immersed in hands-on learning exposing them to careers in agriculture, including those careers in STEM. This program, developed by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, keeps growing and changing. This summer’s programs will be held at The Ohio State University- Main and ATI campuses, University of Findlay, Central State University and Hocking College.

Another way is to get teachers excited. Free resources are available to schools and teachers. GrowNextGen is an agricultural education outreach effort funded by the Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio soybean farmers. Another great resource is the Feed the World program offered through the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association.

Incorporating agriculture into STEM programs could change the world. There is a need to understand the importance and complexity of agriculture and what supportive career opportunities are available. As stated by the U.S. Department of Education, “All young people should be prepared to think deeply and to think well so that they have the chance to become innovators, educators, researchers and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and our world, both today and tomorrow.” 

One of the challenges for the future is producing enough food for the projected U.S. population of 458 million and world population of 9.7 billion by 2050. Agriculture education is critical.

Submitted by Mary Smallsreed, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau, who grew up on a family dairy farm in northeast Ohio.


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