Agriculture is a booming business. A recent Associated Press report says careers related to agriculture are growing nationwide with tens of thousands of jobs opening up each year in the “broader” agriculture field. Many of the jobs have nothing to do with “cows and plows.”
High school ag programs give students a head start for further study and jobs in fields like urban forestry, natural resources or genetic engineering of crops.
In other words, ag studies are no longer only for those students who want to farm. Many do study to farm, but opportunities exist for those looking to branch into other fields of ag study.
Credit local ag officials for recognizing and acting upon the trend. For example:
• Kiel High School used funds from a $6.5 million referendum to construct a new Agricultural Research Center wing, which will drastically improve agricultural education in the school district. It includes state-of-the-art technology that provides hands-on learning in plant and animal sciences not available previously.
• A capital campaign was launched recently to build a new Food Science and Agriculture Center at Plymouth High School.
It is expected to open in the Fall of 2015 and include a 5,100-square-foot building, comprised of a 30- by 90-foot greenhouse attached to a 30- by 80-foot classroom. Students are already learning new advanced ag techniques such as aquaponics, raising fish that provide nutrients to grow plants hydroponically. A greenhouse at the school, built in the 1970s, is inadequate for the number of students interested in learning about food production.
• Planning continues for an Agricultural Education Center in Manitowoc County. It would, according to organizers, create a fun and educational discovery center where non-farm visitors can learn what farming and agriculture are really about. It could further spur interest in non-farm ag careers.
• As the number of farms dwindles, membership in Future Farmers of America continues to grow. Nationally, FFA has about 580,000 members, nearly double the total of the 1980s, even though there are 4 percent fewer farms today than in 2007. The report suggests even FFA members are becoming increasingly interested in non-farm ag careers.
Rural high schools in Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties have strong FFA programs.
Norval Dvorak, a longtime champion of agriculture in Manitowoc County, recently visited Mishicot High School and left with students lists of 24 major areas of study related to agriculture, along with another list of more than 100 companies seeking workers in those fields. Many of the careers are off-farm.
Dvorak told students that at least three jobs openings exist for each student graduating from the Wisconsin College of Agriculture, at an average salary of $41,000. Many of our local high schools can provide a jump-start to these careers through the agricultural and related programs they provide.
Experts predict the need to feed a a growing world population, along with technological advances in plant, animal and genetic science, will keep agriculture — on and off the farm — a going concern for decades to come.
It won’t be your father’s agriculture, but the need for workers will continue to be great in the brave new world of husbandry.
Investments made in ag education locally will continue to reap dividends as opportunities grow.