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Agriculture and the Pharmaceutical Industry; Not so Distant Relatives

Posted by Eric Brenner on August 9th, 2010

Well, I am finally done with my summer internship in Costa Rica. I came back to Texas about a week ago, and I am ready to jump back on the saddle to tackle my last semester as a graduate student. Even though it was hard to come back, I am ready to be back into the routine, and I am looking forward to graduate this December. This also means that I need to jump on the bandwagon and start looking for a job very soon.

If you have not been following my blogs, I spent my summer break working as an intern with the Ministry of Agriculture in Costa Rica. I was incorporated with DSOREA (Dirección Superior de Operaciones Regionales y de Extensión). This is the department inside the ministry of agriculture that manages, oversees, and implements the extension services in all the Costa Rican territory.

Up to this point, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences throughout the course of my master’s degree. Working with the ministry gave the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds like extension service specialists, agencies, universities, producers and farmers. But without a doubt, the best part was the opportunity to travel all around the country in order to analyze the extension service system, and evaluate the implementation process throughout the different regions around the country.

Many of these places I had the opportunity to visit are prominently known all around the world for its biodiversity and beauty. These National Reserves are sanctuaries for a wide array of ecosystems that support a rich variety of flora and fauna. Walking through the dense vegetation of rain forest, I found myself surrounded by the soothing sound nature, which helped me understand better how unique our planet is and how important is for us to take care of these ecosystems. I learned a great deal about the rain forests and other protected areas through specialists from the ministry, and how these specilists are actively implementing agricultural practices that are environmentally friendly. Overall, this experience helped me realize how agriculture is intrinsically related to many aspects of our lives that transcend beyond the production aspect, but we somehow fail to understand.

Irazu Volcano’s Crater

Coati at Irazu National Park

For instance, many people might not realize how closely agriculture, pharmaceutical, and the health industries are associated to each other. Many medical products like ointments, latex gloves, x-ray film, gelatin for capsules and heart valves come from the agriculture industry. In fact, the rain-forest supports millions of plant, animal, and insect species that supply some of the components that help create products like muscle relaxants, steroids and cancer drugs. More important is the fact that there are new drugs still awaiting to be discovered that have the potential to cure AIDS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses.

This is one of the greatest examples on how many agriculture careers permeate into other fields, and how industries outside the agriculture arena greatly depend on agriculture professionals for their operations. The World needs more agriculture professionals in fields like horticulture, zoology, entomology, and other similar degrees that can help find the cure for diseases that could be encapsulated in plants, insects, animals, and other kinds of wild life. We also need ecosystem, wildlife and fisheries science professionals that will help educate people how to protect and conserve our natural resources.

This tiny beetle was the size of my hand

Another pretty big bug

Experts estimate that around 137 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every single day due to rain-forest deforestation. This equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rain-forest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases.

Presently, hundreds of prescription drugs currently sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rain-forest ingredients. However, less than 1% of the tropical trees and plants in the rain-forests have actually been tested by scientists.

On my way to Tortuguero National Park

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, scientists have identified over 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells, and 70% of these plants are found in the rain-forest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rain-forest.

Not only agriculture has a broad array of career opportunities throughout many industries, it also is an indispensable component that feeds the world and has the potential to find the cures for life threatening diseases. So, next time somebody tells you that agriculture is a dead-end career, think again.

About the Author: Eric Brenner is a graduate student at Texas A&M University and recently returned from a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica, his home-country.

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Is Help On The Way?

Posted by Edward Romero on July 28th, 2010

Well, it has been a few weeks since I last posted a blog on this site.  Mr. Eric Brenner, graduate student from Costa Rica, posted some of his internship experiences on this blog while abroad. From time-to-time, he will continue to post on here as well.  I guess it is fair to say that he and I will tag-team the blog as we perfect our craft of blogging.   I am a student of this craft and still trying to sort out how to write effective blogs that are of interest, but most importantly, provide content that is relevant to the diverse group of readers we have. Please be patient, but also do not be shy in giving us feedback.

I am amazed at how much feedback and interest I have been receiving since my last blog about the need to recruit more students into agriculture. We have been receiving a steady stream of emails and phone calls regarding our site, as well as our social media efforts.  It is amazing to me, although I should not be surprised, how many people are truly interested and understand some of the challenges facing the industry, as it relates to recruiting challenges we face in agriculture.  We are unlike any other discipline, such as engineering, business, or education, for instance, when it comes to recruiting.

Why, you ask?

Because of perception! Unfortunately, a negative perception about agriculture and the lack of opportunities is a major reason why many students do not consider agriculture as a viable career path. Unfortunately, not only students view agriculture that way, but research says so do parents, counselors, teachers, and many others not directly involved in contemporary agriculture. We need to work on changing that negative perception.

There is no silver bullet. It is a collective approach.  I think that is why I get so excited when people call me and share their ideas and thoughts about how to recruit more students into agriculture.  People are thinking about it. That is the first step.

For instance, just last week I had a very interesting conversation with a faculty member at Washington State University who shared the same philosophy of trying to recruit students into agriculture using a very innovative approach.  After a 60-minute phone call, we surmised the need to continue to find ways of working together to bring some of our ideas to fruition.  I am excited about the opportunity.

Coast to coast, the interest is strong of trying to recruit more students into agriculture. Over the last month, I have been fortunate to “sit-in” on several phone conferences regarding a NASA proposal and grant in developing some formal learning modules (experiences) in the classroom in Florida using extra-celestial agriculture and lunar habitation. Very interesting and cool ideas and suggestions were discussed during several phone conversations with a group of very talented and creative individuals.  I wish them much success with their proposal and hope they are funded to carryout their project. Students will be excited to take part in some of those activities mentioned if the program is funded.

Another topic on peoples minds are along the same lines of recruiting students, but focusing their efforts on targeting students from underrepresented groups, which is sorely needed in agriculture.  I had an opportunity to learn of how a land grant university in the Southwestern United States is innovatively planning to reach out to students from underrepresented groups.  Their proposal will include recruitment, curriculum and instructional approaches, some cool experiential experiences, and a mentoring component.  Their plan is to develop a conduit to developing a pipeline of students into the agricultural teaching profession by allowing students in their cohort group to experience some professional development opportunities as well as critical thinking and service learning partnerships while in their program.  I wish them luck with their proposal and look forward to learning more as the federal funding cycle quickly approaches.

In addition, to universities and academia interested in recruiting more students into agriculture, the federal government is also very interested in this effort. The USDA, for years, has been working on building a pipeline of students into the agricultural profession as well.  One can argue both ways whether they have been successful.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been visiting with a USDA agency in Kansas City, Missouri about exploring ways to recruit diverse candidates, who have agricultural backgrounds, into their agency.  Within the next few years, many agencies in the federal government, USDA specifically in this case (others are affected as well), will be losing employees due to baby boomers retiring.

Guess what? They need to fill those positions as well, in addition to the many other positions in industry, corporate America, and academia.  Currently, the demand is far greater than the supply.

You have probably heard me say this before, but it is worth repeating. In 2008, there were 16 million UNDERGRADUATE students studying in the United States – all disciplines, all colleges and universities included. However, according to the Food and Agricultural Education Information System, only 251,000 students were studying agriculture or a related field. More information can be found here.

That is a measly 1.5% of the undergraduate student population in the agricultural pipeline.  To make matters worse, that is not the final tally. Why, you might ask. Well, we are only talking ATTENDING College we are not talking GRADUATION.  Our educational system loses students for a variety of reasons that never complete their academic programs. Graduation numbers are always lower due to a variety of retention issues. Therefore, rest assured, the number is less then 1.5% of undergraduate students in the agricultural pipeline.

How much lower?  Not sure.  I wanted to get a peaceful nights rest in order to continue tackling this problem in the morning!

Seriously, we need help. We need YOUR help. We would like to hear your thoughts on this issue. How can you make a difference?

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Coffeelicious

Posted by Eric Brenner on July 12th, 2010

It has been a week and half since I last posted the article “Stepping out of your comfort zone.” Our blog is slowly but surely gaining some followers which is pretty exciting. I have been pretty busy visiting many wonderful parts of Costa Rica and meeting a lot of wonderful people.

Last week, I went to a coffee region called Tarrazu. The coffee produced in this area is rated among the best in the World. I had the opportunity to visit two “Microbenficios” or small coffee mills in Tarrazu along with other people from the ministry and some really nice extension service agents and professors from the University of Nebraska. These really friendly guys from UNL were visiting the country to research the extension services that are implemented in Costa Rica by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Friends from the University of Nebraska, and the Ministry of Agriculture.

So far, this has been one of my favorite experiences from the whole trip because I had the opportunity to interact with the farmers and small producers. It was a very humbling experience to listen to the nice fellows from Nebraska interact and exchange information with these small farmers. In my opinion, this kind of interaction is the true essence in agriculture development because it creates an opportunity to work closely together with farmers and to truly listen to what they have to say.

University of Nebraska Entomologist with Farmer and Ministry Agent

The trips to these areas gave me an opportunity to learn how coffee is produced. More importantly, I discovered that there is a wide array of employment opportunities between all the links of the agriculture chain that begin with the producers and end with the consumers.

I am definitely not an expert, but after visiting a couple of coffee plantations I learned enough to determine what makes a good coffee. There is something about the aroma that I just love. Unlike my wife, who needs coffee to function properly throughout the day, I seldom have a cup of joe. I don’t really enjoy bitter flavors, so coffee is something I rarely drink. But like many things, coffee is an acquired flavor. And Like wine, which I truly enjoy, the art of coffee tasting could be as complex and delightful as wine tasting.

Even though I’m not an avid coffee drinker, the process that takes the bright red coffee cherry all the way to the freshly brewed cup is something all coffee drinkers should understand. Not only because it is very interesting, but it will also help you discern between a good and a bad cup of java.

Where did it all begin?

According to the story, around the year 800 A.D an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats acting pretty strange after they were grazing on the red berries from a coffee shrub. Perplexed by this discovery, he took the berries to a local monastery, where monks brewed a concoction that kept them alert throughout the night.

Coffee later made its way across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula Around A.D 1000. Based on the legend, Muslims were the first to roast and brew the coffee beans into the drink that is known today. Coffee later migrated to North Africa, Mediterranean, and India. It eventually reached Venice and the expanded to Europe around 1615. During the 18th century, a young French naval officer took some clippings from the coffee trees in the Botanical Gardens in Paris and took them to Martinique, a French Colony in the Caribbean. From Martinique, coffee later expanded to the American continent -South and Central America mostly – where it became one of the most important crops for the Latin American Colonies.

From the bean to the cup.

It takes around four years – from planting to harvesting – for a coffee plant to produce good quality berries. Coffee plants or shrubs depend on many factors to produce high quality beans that will result in great tasting coffee. These factors include the type of soil, elevation, plant variety, water, etc.

There are two main species of coffee that are cultivated for commercial consumption: Arabica and Robusta. In Costa Rica, 100% of the coffee cultivated is Arabica. According to the ICAFE, the Coffee Institute from Costa Rica, the Arabica specie produces a better bean with higher quality and aroma. The shrubs are cultivated in fertile soils of volcanic origins with low acidity; ideal conditions for the coffee plant. More than 80% of the coffee in Costa Rica is located in areas between 2700 ft to 5300 ft above sea level with temperatures ranging from 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and 78 and 118 inches of annual precipitation.

Harvesting time in Costa Rica depends on the region, but usually it takes place from October through March. Costa Rican coffee is rated among the best coffees in the World. This is a result of carefully choosing the best bean by only selecting ripened cherries, which is done by hand throughout thousands and thousands of hectares of cafetales (coffee plantations).

Green Coffee Cherries

Inside a Coffee Plantation

After harvesting, the cherries are then moved through a machine that depulps the coffee beans from the cherries. The beans then are washed and move to outside beds where they are then sun dried. It takes around five days to fully dry the coffee beans. The beans are usually turned every thirty minutes to allow for a uniform dry to avoid fermentation. After the beans are dried, they are bagged and sent to an oven for roasting and final processing.

Coffee Bean After Depulping

Depulper Machine

If you want to know more about how coffee is produced, there are many websites on the Internet where you can find tons of information. This link is a great way to get started. As my internship approaches to the end, I will try to keep you updated every week with my progress. I have a lot of info I want to share and pictures to show you. Also, keep the comments coming, they really help us out. If you have suggestions, please let us know.

Until then, have a great a week.

About the Author: Eric Brenner is a graduate student at Texas A&M University and currently on a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica, his home-country.

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Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

Posted by Eric Brenner on June 25th, 2010

An opportunity to expand beyond your comfort zone

Study abroad programs and internship opportunities should be in every college student’s “to do” list. Many times students are so engulfed into the college routine that they forget that college not only teaches academics, but also has the potential to provide lifetime lessons that can be far more rewarding than any class.

Every person that has shared with me their study abroad or internship experience has said they would do it again in a heartbeat if they had the chance.  Just imagine an opportunity to learn about another culture and language while you earn college credits.  Even better, you get to learn about a country from a local rather than a tourist perspective. Believe me, but there is a big difference.

Besides, as the world becomes more globalized, more and more employers are looking for potential employees with some kind of international experience and different language skills. There is a broad array of organizations all over the world that offer great internship opportunities for undergrads and graduate students.

It is true that finding the right study abroad or internship program can be a painstaking process, and many students feel intimidated by the possibility of getting out of their comfort zone. Fear of the unknown usually deters students to take a blind step into something that has the potential to be one of the best experiences of their lives.  I have heard my fair share of excuses – which don’t get me wrong some are very well founded – however, they could be easily resolved if some effort is put into it.

Costs and expenses are among the most common issues, but there are several mechanisms to help fund cost and expenses.  For instance, students in study abroad programs can get funding through scholarships, grants, federal and state financial aid, and other similar programs. Most universities have a study abroad department that has information available for students. Even for internships, many organizations pay the interns and even cover some, if not all expenses, and for organizations that do not offer paid internships, some of them offer room and board. There are several options that if well planned and researched could offer a great opportunity for students.

Right now, I am in Costa Rica working on my internship with the ministry of agriculture with the department of regional operations and extension services. Even though I am from here, this internship has allowed me to discover and see my country in a different way. Since I am part of the extension services, I have had the opportunity to visit remote areas of the country that I have never been before, or I would have never visited in a normal situation because they are not “touristy” or are too far away. However, it has been an amazing experience to discover areas that have not been spoiled by progress. People in these areas have a different perception of the world, and the feeling of community is so strong that they can make any stranger feel right at home.

In the agriculture development arena, there are many necessary components for the expansion of the agriculture industry, especially in developing nations. It includes the farmers, local producers, extension service agents, distributors, private sector, government officials, NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations), international entities, banks and financial institutions; talk about different career opportunities in agriculture. Even though these are small communities, visiting these places has been a great opportunity to understand agriculture development process from a macro dimension. All the different sectors work through a dynamic chain of components that serve as a platform that drives the agriculture industry. Without the collective efforts of all these entities, agriculture development would not be possible.

Internships and study abroad programs are great ways to get connected into your major. It gives you the opportunity to discover and have a better understanding of your career. Most importantly, it allows for you to better plan your future since it gives you a broader spectrum of possibilities.

During the next couple of weeks, I will keep you posted on how my internship progresses. I will be posting some pictures of the places that I will visit around the country during my stay.

Until then, have a great week.

About the Author: Eric Brenner is a graduate student at Texas A&M University and currently on a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica, his home-country.

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Rethinking Agriculture

Posted by Eric Brenner on June 14th, 2010

Back when I was in high school, like many other students, I did not really know what career to pursue. My parents did not really care what I majored in, as long as I went to college; not going was simply not an option. But figuring out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life when I was 16 years old was not an easy endeavor.

But looking back, I was seriously struggling trying to find a career option that I felt passionate about. I looked for school counselors for guidance to help me figure out a career path. However, those options were limited and did not spark the smallest bit of interest. Counselors, teachers, friends, and even my parents always talked about majors like engineering or business management because that is all they knew.

Agriculture was never in the picture or even suggested as an available option because their perception of this field was distorted and limited. Almost 13 years later, with a bachelor’s in Agricultural Systems Management, and a master’s in International Agricultural Development, I can honestly say that I have been blessed and even lucky to have fond my true calling in the agriculture field.

Back then, my knowledge about agriculture was restricted to the production part; raising livestock and crops or farming. I did not know that the agricultural sector had such a colossal amount of majors and careers available. However, my parents nor my school counselors told me about it, because like me, they did not have a clue either. We were all ignorant about the great career opportunities that can be found in this field.

Even for students who had some interest in agriculture, many did not major in this field because there was the perception that in order to be successful, your family had to be directly involved in this field through a business or had land for agriculture activities.

All the wrongful perceptions deterred many students to major in agriculture, and this is a problem that is still latent today. It was not until I came to the U.S. to pursue my college career that I had the opportunity to be exposed to agriculture, and I was able to find my real passion for this field. But even in the U.S, agriculture was misunderstood and wrongfully perceived. By the time I was done with my bachelor’s degree, I came to two very important conclusions: agriculture played a vital role in our daily lives, and that most people were oblivious to this fact.

In developing countries like Costa Rica, the development and expansion of the agricultural sector can create more stable economies and economic growth. There is a need to increase the amount of agriculture professionals in the job market and students into agricultural careers. The problem is how to attract more people into agriculture, when there is a lack of understanding and information for this field.

For those of us involved in this field, we have not been very successful capturing potential students into ag majors. Agriculture has a stigma that it is a dead-end career with low wages, and few opportunities. It is time to rethink how we recruit more students, including minorities, and show them that agriculture is a dynamic, innovative, exciting, and vibrant field full of opportunities that go beyond the production sector.  And even for the production sector, which is a fundamental component of agriculture, we can show how it is perpetually changing by the introduction of new technologies to solve more complex challenges.

Even though production represents only 2% of the employment opportunities in agriculture, we have to find better ways to keep feeding a fast growing World.

One of the goals in AgForLife is to keep up with rapid changing times where younger generations of students are becoming more technologically savvy. The integration of these technologies are not only necessary to attract more students, but also to improve agricultural processes. Our vision is to change the perceptions of agriculture through education, technology, and innovation. You can be part of a concept that will change how people perceive agriculture. Now, the question is if you are going to join us in pursuing this quest?

Until next time, have a great week.

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Contemporary Agriculture: What is it?

Posted by Edward Romero on June 10th, 2010

Literature is littered with research about how students perceive agriculture to be limiting and with few career opportunities outside of production agriculture leading a successful life.  There is a critical need to better convey the vast array of opportunities in agriculture, food, and life sciences by identifying systems, industries, and careers in or associated with the agricultural industry in order to help the general population better understand the impact of agriculture in our society.  One part of the AgForLife website is to help people better understand the broad definition of agriculture and the many opportunities related to the industry.

Agriculture:  The need for a new definition.

As evidenced by the dwindling acres of farm land in production in the United States, fewer and fewer people are considering careers in contemporary agriculture due to the misconception of limited opportunities in agriculture.  Today, many people still perceive that agriculture refers only to production agriculture—the raising of livestock and crops or farming and rarely, if ever, know about the many different segments of industry that are linked to contemporary agriculture, such as natural resources and the environment or know the many service industries that help our agriculturists in financial planning, lending, insurance, commodity trading, or agricultural communications to name a few.  In addition, people have little knowledge about how equipment systems and chemical and pharmaceutical systems are part of the agricultural industry.  While people have a sense of how the animal and plant related system is part of agriculture, the population at large rarely understands the implications of how life sciences, sales and distribution services, research and development, and marketing and manufacturing play a role in agriculture.

Old Perception, New Reality

The perception of agriculture by the general public is largely still visualized as primarily farming and ranching or linked primarily to production agriculture.  Allowing the public, parents, teachers, and students to continue to have a misconceived notion or negative perception about the true meaning of contemporary agriculture is detrimental to our industry and is inaccurate at best.

Agriculture is defined by the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2000) as “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products: Farming.”  While the above definition of agriculture is true, contemporary agriculture is also inclusive of other practices and systems that more broadly define what the new agricultural industries represent.  Stated broadly, plants and animals, including soil cultivation, livestock and crop management, and the activities of processing and marketing, include a range of technologies associated with their production and by-products.  One term to convey the technologies that interconnect the inputs and outputs of the farming sector is agribusiness.  To this degree, agriculture can include the wide range of activities in manufacturing and distribution used in farming that is closely associated with industrial inputs.  In addition, farm production (crops, animals, animal products and by-products which are provided to the consumer) is all part of the agriculture cycle. 

The National Research Council’s definition of agriculture is broader than Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary in order to include a more accurate representation of contemporary agriculture due to technological and structural changes.  The National Research Council (1988) defines “agriculture” broadly as to:

…encompass the production of agricultural commodities, including food, fiber, wood products, horticultural crops, and other plant and animals products.  The terms also include the financing, processing, marketing, and distribution of agricultural products; farm production supply and service industries; health, nutrition, and food consumption; the use and conservation of land and water resources; development and maintenance of recreational resources; and related economic, sociological, political, environmental, and cultural characteristics of the food and fiber system.

Despite the differences in definitions, one thing is certain, there is a vast array of systems, industries, and careers that agriculture touches or impacts on a daily basis and many opportunities are available to us due to the large economic impact of agriculture. While traditional agricultural production is still very much at the core of agriculture, over the last several decades, agriculture has continued to expand it’s influence in our daily lives.

For more information, read about it on the AgForLife website. We welcome your comments and thoughts on this topic.

Until next week.

Adios!

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Hoofing it up Hallaway Hill

Posted by Edward Romero on June 2nd, 2010

I hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. For those of you who had a three-day weekend, lucky you!

Some of you may have wondered why I was MIA the last week but I was one of those lucky ones who was able to enjoy a long weekend with friends and family. Needless to say, this has caused us to be a little late with posting our weekly blog.

I was able to make my way up to Minnesota for the first time and enjoyed spending a few days fishing and being on the lake with new found friends and family. I also enjoyed driving the countryside and seeing many beautiful small farms along the way to and from the airport. I could not help but wonder how many of those farms were growing crops or feed we would eventually consume. It was interesting to see how different the farms were from where I now live in Texas, but also in some ways, how similar they are.

I was able to tour Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids. As I was hiking up to Hallaway Hill with friends, Ron and Alex at the park, I could not help but reminisce about our forefathers and all they had to endure when that park was once a working farm prior to the 1960’s when it became a State Park. The park has rolling hills with some wooded acreage and some open prairie and as we meandered down Hallaway Hill, Ron, my German tour guide and native Minnesotan proceeded to share his story of when he grew up on his small Minnesota farm as a young boy. He told me how many of the farms where he grew up were dairy farms and included some swine farms as well. Actually, the farms around where he grew up raised just about anything you could think of such as pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, etc. He proceeded to tell me that now there are less dairies but the few that are left, are milking more cows. Those kinds of stories are priceless, and in some ways sad, but nonetheless, should be captured by those fortunate to learn from experienced and seasoned friends.

During our trek up and down Hallaway Hill, he shared his rangeland expertise as well, which is something I am lacking at this point. I remember studying the different types of grass when in high school and some classes in college, but that was a long time ago. He pointed out the different types of grass such as June Grass, Quack Grass, Wild Oats, and even legumes such as alfalfa. We even spotted some red clover. I am sure those were only a small sampling of what can actually be found on the 9,200 acre park, but it was enough to appreciate his knowledge and history of the place.

I almost forgot to mention…for the first time in my life, I actually saw a Bald Eagle in free flight out in its natural habitat. Had I been prepared, I could have snapped a picture, but true to form, they are stealth fliers. He gracefully approached us from behind and before I knew it, all I would have been able to capture would have been his white tail feathers. Instead, I just appreciated the beauty of our National Symbol in flight. It was awesome how close he flew above us.

Being a horse lover and avid roper, I appreciated Ron showing me the park’s horse trails. I had never seen nicer facilities at a state park, but as we were leaving the park, there were horse trailer after horse trailer going into the park. It was a clear sign that the park was a big supporter of the equine method of mobility and the facilities are used quite extensively.

As we were driving away from the park, I could not help but think about the many careers that are involved in running such a place like a State Park like Maplewood. I imagine it takes quite a bit of different people with a variety of degrees. I would assume many of the positions at the park would involve people who have received their degrees from colleges of agriculture or natural resources. There are many careers and majors that come to mind such as range science, rangeland management, equine science, animal science, natural resource management, wildlife, fisheries sciences, agronomy, soil science, crop science, recreation park and tourism sciences, ecology, bioenvironmental sciences, ecological restoration, environmental studies, and horticulture, to name a few.

Next time you have an opportunity to tour a park, farm, or ranch, keep in mind the many majors that can be studied to carryout an effective business in agriculture or ventures tied to agriculture such as the State Park I toured that once was a working farm, but is now used for our enjoyment. There are many career opportunities and usually not enough students to fill the vacancies.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot one more career or major that can be added to the list above. A tour guide!

Until next week.

Adios!

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Meet Edward Romero, Founder of AgForLife, LLC

Posted by Edward Romero on May 24th, 2010

Since our inaugural blog last week as well as the launch of the AgForLife website, I received several emails inquiring more about the company and those behind the scenes so I figured it would be something I could write about in this week’s blog to help you learn a little more about me, my background and AgForLife, LLC. Below are several questions that were asked and in turn, may give you more insight as to who we are and why we do, what we do.

How did you get your start?

As a boy growing up in agriculture all my young life, I was exposed to many things related to production agriculture. My father raised cattle (and still does), quarter horses, sheep, goats, pigs, and just about any other form of livestock you can imagine. As a young boy living in rural New Mexico, sometimes living so far from town with so many chores waiting for me when I got home from school, I can honestly say it was a tough life. Not because I had to chop wood when I arrived home from my 45-mile jaunt from school nor the time it took for me to fill the kerosene lamps so that I could do my homework after chores via a flickering lamp because we were so isolated, but because it was hard work.

Our family lived on the leased ranch until I was about 15 years old. Later we then moved to a small farming community in Eastern New Mexico. There, I was able to enjoy the amenities just like every other teenager in high school and enjoyed playing sports and becoming involved in 4-H and FFA.  Just being exposed to 4-H and FFA allowed me to experience many of the fun things students experience in these organizations today. Those two organizations had a strong influence on what I would study later in college.

Being the first from my family to graduate from college, I was unsure what I was going to study when I went off to college. Not really knowing any better, I stayed with what I knew. I started in agriculture at the junior college I attended in the Texas Panhandle with the intentions of switching majors later – when I found something better – I thought.  Three degrees later, they are all in agriculture!  My undergraduate degree is in Agricultural Economics/Agricultural Business with a minor in finance. My Master of Arts is in Agricultural and Extension Education, both from New Mexico State University. My PhD is from Texas A&M University focusing on agricultural literacy and outreach.

Immediately after the completion of my Master’s degree, I was a recruiter for the College of Agriculture at New Mexico State University for three years. I worked hard at recruiting more students into agriculture.  Later, I started an insurance agency with Farm Bureau Insurance, where I provided financial and insurance products to farmers and ranchers for six years in the Northeastern part of New Mexico, in the little town of Las Vegas, NM. Yes, there is another Las Vegas, but not the gambling kind. Population is 15,000 and dominated by ranch land and agriculture.

As a small business owner in Las Vegas, NM I started volunteering at the local high school and helping the local FFA chapter and decided I wanted to work again in higher education. I was fortunate to find employment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University in 2000. There, I held several positions but my focus was always around helping students succeed in agriculture.  My academic roles varied, but primarily were in administration, minority student recruiting, retention, student development, academic advising, and extra-curricular advising. Today, I work in Human Resources, which provides services for several agricultural related agencies for the Texas A&M University System by day, and by night and weekends, work at creating a fledgling start-up called AgForLife, LLC that I started in 2009. We launched the website on May 17, 2010.

It’s a company based on the AgForLife framework and concept. You can find out more information “about us” here.  In short, I am trying to bring awareness to the lack of student enrollment in agriculture. Of the more than 16 million undergraduate students in college in 2008, only 251,000 students were studying some form of agriculture. That translates to approximately 1.5% of the total undergraduate college population studying agriculture. In my opinion, that number is excessively low. Those numbers will never allow us to establish a substantial pool of applicants to fill the many agricultural positions available today, nor in the future. We must act now.

Most of my research and experience has been dealing in this area and studying the affects for more than 10 years. Historically, the negative issues the agriculture industry has been dealing with is over 20+ years. This issue was around when I was graduating from high school.  A more effective effort must be garnered in order to better fulfill today and tomorrow’s agricultural employment demand.  Our company was solely created to help address this problem through a number of ways. Our company’s vision is to change the perceptions of agriculture through education, technology, and innovation. I am optimistic we can make progress but it will take a collective effort. I would be happy to elaborate further if you are interested in knowing more. Just shoot me an email or connect with me on several social media outlets. You can also follow us on Twitter or join our Facebook Page.

Why do you love being a part of the agriculture community?

I love agriculture and I love education. I combined the two to form AgForLife, LLC.  I have always been involved with agriculture all of my life and I was the first from my family to graduate from college, so education is important to me for many reasons.  My professional work has not all been on the agricultural production side, but as we all know, less than 2% of our employment in agriculture is on the production side. With AgForLife, I would like to highlight more of the non-production areas affiliated with agriculture because I think opportunities outside of agriculture, but directly influenced by agriculture often times slips through the cracks and are stories never told. In short, agriculture has to deal with negative consequences by people who do not understand it. I believe it is our job, collectively, to help educate people about the many career opportunities available in agriculture from the farm to fork, and all in-between. There are so many opportunities for us to share our story.  Especially, to first-generation college students who are not familiar with the many possibilities available to them, which we could mentor into our industry.  I believe agricultural awareness and agricultural literacy are important to helping people become better consumer and advocates of agriculture as well.

What are you and your family doing now in agriculture?

My roots are still in agriculture, as I live on a small 12 acres ranchette about 15 miles from the city of Bryan/College Station, TX. I have several horses, one lonely heifer (long story), cats and a dog.  Just this week, I am acquiring my first tractor.  I am excited, because now I can mow my own pastures, disc my riding area where I ride my horses, drill postholes for some new cross fencing I want to install (not looking forward to building fence), and so many other uses. Today, I may not live on a large ranch like the one I grew up on, but I will always yearn to live the rural lifestyle and agriculture will always be a part of my life, whether I am helping dad brand or helping young people find their calling in agriculture.

If you believe we are in need of improving the number of students enrolling in agricultural majors, support our cause, or believe in our mission, please feel free to share this blog, our website or send people to become members of our Facebook Page. Maybe we will even cross paths via tweets on Twitter. Nonetheless, if you have more questions, need more information, or would like to share your thoughts, please drop us a note. We’d love to hear from  you.

Until next week,

Adios!

PS: I almost forgot to mention. In the coming weeks you will also be hearing from our friend Eric Brenner, originally from Costa Rica and now a graduate student at Texas A&M University. He is also involved with AgForLife and will also be blogging about his experiences on this site as well.  For more information about Eric, go here to learn more about him.

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AgForLife, LLC Established to Address Agricultural Student Recruiting Woes

Posted by Edward Romero on May 17th, 2010

Agriculture.

What is it about agriculture that is so intriguing for some people and not even considered by others? After all, agriculture is the lifeblood of our society.  It is because of agriculture that we are able to enjoy many of the joys of life.  Just about everything we touch and definitely everything we eat comes from agriculture.

A small number of today’s undergraduate students in college are studying agriculture. Only 1.5% of the undergraduate college students are studying some form of agriculture in the United States.

Why?

Well, it is for a number of reasons.  Based on a 2005 national study to evaluate the different factors affecting admission and matriculation of high school students in the United States into college programs related to agriculture sciences, 41% of the students had a misconception or image about agricultural sciences; 33% lacked knowledge about employment opportunities; and 22% lacked knowledge about fields of study.

What are we doing to address this issue?  More importantly, who is doing something about it?

There are pockets of people, organizations, companies and a sprinkling of universities trying to address this problem, but we really are not making the strides we should be making given our growing population and changing demographics. Even more so, given the diverse career opportunities in agriculture, students are not enrolling into agricultural majors in the numbers you would think.

Companies are looking for larger pools of applicants in college. They are also looking for more students from underrepresented groups, but they are having a hard time finding large minority applicant student-pools to choose from in universities and colleges across the country studying agriculture.

Universities are constantly challenged in trying to recruit more students into their schools but they too are struggling in recruiting more minority students, especially Hispanics, and students in general into their agricultural programs. The issue of recruiting more students into agriculture – especially minority students – has been a long-standing issue. When I graduated from high school this was a problem.  Today, almost 25 years later, we are still dealing with this problem and it is not going away any time soon.  Many of the issues we faced 25 years ago, we are still facing today, such as those factors mentioned above from the 2005 national study.  We need to address this issue proactively; otherwise, I believe it is going to hurt the agricultural industry.

Research shows that many Hispanic students (parents and high school counselors included) steer away from agriculture because of the perception that agriculture only equates to a dead-end career where only the negative perceptions of hard work, long hours, stoop labor, low wages, and working in harsh conditions are the norm. Perhaps this is true if you work in the production agricultural sector.  However, less than 2% of our employment opportunities in agriculture are in production agriculture – farming and ranching.

So what are we doing about it?

In 2004, a concept was shared with a group of industry representatives in St. Louis, Missouri to address some of the above concerns.  During the next 18 months, Dr. Edward W. Romero and Pablo Ramirez, a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Agribusiness, developed a framework to address this problem and a unique design and structure was born in what has become known as the AgForLife Map.

  • The AgForLife Map is utilized to help educate the general public about the various opportunities related to, but not limited to, occupational and career opportunities in agriculture, food and life sciences.
  • The AgForLife Map is an innovative process which helps in the recruitment of students interested in the agriculture, food and life sciences.
  • The two-dimensional AgForLife Map aides in the visualization and guiding students into employment opportunities and careers.
  • The Map aids in understanding the integration of multiple systems and the route taken for inputs, such as materials and information to reach the consumer as an output.
  • The AgForLife Map will assist students with knowledge in order to make informed decisions about multiple career paths and opportunities in the agriculture, food, and life sciences.

The AgForLife concept is derived from the belief in which a successful and vibrant agricultural industry relies on human capital. The ‘chain’ starts with well-educated and informed individuals knowledgeable about how agriculture plays a vital role in our daily lives.

In order to address areas such as career and employment opportunities in industry and government as well as student recruitment by agricultural schools, a small start-up company was formed in 2009, called AgForLife, LLC.  It is grounded in the AgForLife concept and framework and was formed to begin to directly address issues facing agriculture by utilizing unique and innovative methods to reach students, primarily high school and college age students.  In short, the company will be working to identify unique, non-traditional approaches using innovation and technology to address problems facing agricultural student recruiting today and within the coming decades, especially given the dramatic demographic shift in certain groups. You can learn more about their vision here.

If you share our concern as well as our vision, we encourage you to become involved. You may already be doing something in this area. Perhaps you have a blog, or you have a Facebook Group or Page advocating agriculture.  As a first step, we encourage you to join our Facebook Group or Page.  You can connect with us through a variety of social media sites found on our website.

In upcoming weekly AgForLife blogs, we will be blogging about a variety of topics dealing with agricultural student recruiting, minority student issues, careers, employment opportunities, and a variety of other agricultural related topics.  If you have ideas or would like to share your comments on future topics, please connect with us. We would enjoy hearing from you.

Until next week, best wishes for a fun and productive week.

Adios!

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Career Opportunities in Agriculture

Posted by badmin on April 20th, 2010

There’s a great article on career opportunities and challenges in the agriculture biotechnology industry. It discusses how the field of agriculture-based biotechnology is evolving each day, offering numerous career options.

Read the full story on ScreamNews.

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