I would like to think I’ve been grateful for farmers ever since my first taste of Beech-Nut strained peaches, though that’s probably a stretch. But if the late 1940s and the early 1950s were not the start of my gratitude and respect, 1974 was a high mark, as that’s when I arrived at the University of Minnesota.
Refining matters, that’s when I arrived at one of the nation’s great land-grant universities. Which is to say an institution where no field of research and study was more central to its founding in 1851 than agriculture, or had a wider and more vital reach in the century-plus afterward.
What might be done to help Minnesota kids learn more about what agriculture is all about and what people in its remarkable variety of jobs do?
A good answer is to have hundreds of third graders spend a good portion of their day with Judy Burka and others of AgCentric at the Fairgrounds in St. Paul earlier this week, as my American Experiment colleague Catrin Thorman and I also did. Getting up close with sheep, goats, and hogs, but also learning how drones, for example, are playing an increasingly important role in farming.
AgCentric is a Staples-based program, in association with the Minnesota State college system, that in 2017 reached more than 8,000 students through its Career Pathways Events, and which had more than 4,600 “Technology Trailer” connections with students. Think a big trailer carrying not only drones but other sophisticated electronic devices used to make farming more productive and efficient.
AgCentric points out that agriculture students comprise only one percent of students in postsecondary education, but there are twice as many job opportunities in the field as there are qualified graduates to fill them. For students in two-year programs—among the kind showcased by American Experiment in our “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” project—the big three majors are horticulture, ag business, and ag production/operations.
For some reason, it’s easy to overlook agriculture when thinking about areas that fall under the “Great Jobs” umbrella, as first thoughts seem to focus on construction, precision manufacturing, health care, and information technology, rather than the dozens of fields and subfields that make a prosperous agricultural sector possible. But it’s a mistake to do so for a host of reasons, one of which it’s unfair to young and not-so-young men and women searching for good jobs and great careers that also make essential contributions.