Anybody who knows me well knows that my Badger pride bleeds through – I can safely say that one of the best decisions I ever made was to make my way from the Iowa County metropolis of Cobb (population 426) to UW-Madison, where there are more people than that in one dorm alone. While there are days that this farm kid yearns for a little less concrete, it’s good to know that I’ve better prepared myself to impact an industry by spending a few years here.
My time at UW has been eye-opening, to say the least. Another one of those eye-opening reminders came last week when meeting with some student leaders in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).
While I was reassured to hear them express that CALS had provided them a great experience, including better advising and career services, as well as smaller classes than they would find elsewhere on campus, I was also a little bit troubled to hear what they had to say about agriculture.
Several of them expressed that prior to finding CALS, they didn’t have a good understanding of what opportunities existed in our nation’s largest industry. Some admitted that they didn’t have a good understanding of that part of our university’s heritage. Others went as far to say that the word “agricultural” in our college’s name was a turn off. Ouch.
If you’re thinking I sound surprised, I wasn’t. Shifting demographics within the ag school at our state’s land grant university have been well documented. Today, CALS reports that its enrollment is increasingly female, non-rural and without direct ties to production agriculture. It’s a reflection of fewer “traditional ag” students to go around. To be clear: That’s okay. With the average U.S. farmer entering their late 50’s and many allied industry sectors in desperate need of human capital, our industry is in need of young people. The numbers dictate that many of these future agriculturists won’t have had the fortunate opportunity to have grown up on the farm as I did.
That sentiment was echoed by a group of agriculture leaders who met last November for the Agriculture Human Capital Dialogue organized by the non-profit organization Agriculture Future of America. Those influencers concluded that agriculture faces the huge challenge of transferring knowledge from one generation to the next in coming years, and that career opportunities in agriculture need rebranding, among many other recommendations.
On the local level, these trends are more incentive than ever to continue our industry’s investment in the next generation through scholarships, internships and mentoring opportunities. It’s also a reminder of the importance of maintaining strong agricultural education programs at the secondary and post-secondary levels. It’s clear that there’s something everyone in agriculture can do to address this problem. As for me, it looks like that will start right here on campus.
So what things are you doing to support developing the next generation of farmers, scientists and leaders in agriculture? Tweet me @taylorfritsch and copy @WIFarmBureau. I’d love to see what you have to say.
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