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Our Thoughts On Agriculture Today.

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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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!

11 Comments »

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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