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Agriculture opportunities branch into every career field

September 30, 2015 | Filed in Archive
goatAgriculture Education Summit draws 200+ people, and a goat.

SEPT 30, 2015 – There is evidently much more to agriculture than the stereotype of the family farmer, judging from several FFA student leaders and representatives from the New York State Farm Bureau.

Multiple and diverse career pathways are available in agriculture and agribusiness, opportunities often untapped because many schools no longer emphasize agriculture education. However, organizers of the first Agriculture Education Summit intend to change that.

On Tuesday, Sept. 29, more than 160 guests at HFM BOCES, along with more than 75 others participating through video conferencing from Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES in New Hartford, NY, saw and heard testimony of what the future can hold for those willing to lead.

“As members of FFA, we need to be catalysts of conversations in our schools and communities about futures in agriculture,” student speaker Emma Rose Wegner, State Vice President FFA, Schoharie Chapter, said.

Culinary Arts students served delicious hor d’oeuvres at Ag Ed SummitThe event, hosted by the Mohawk-Sacandaga School Boards Association and the Fulton, Montgomery and Schenectady chapters of the NYS Farm Bureau, attracted school board members and school superintendents, teachers, area business owners and advocates for more and better agriculture education in schools.

Steve Ammerman, Manager of Public Affairs and Associate Director of Public Policy, New York Farm Bureau, served as master of ceremonies, explaining how New York’ s 36,000 farms generated $7.5 billion in agricultural sales last year.

Along with Wegner, speakers included Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District Superintendent Martha Group, who spoke glowingly about the characteristics of FFA students in her district.

“When I came to this district, I quickly began to appreciate the value of agriculture education programs for students. These students (pointing to the busload of VVS students who accompanied her to the summit all wearing the distinctive navy fleece FFA member jacket) have demonstrated a commitment to academic achievement along with the development of strong social and interpersonal skills,” Group said. “But what impresses me most is their commitment to service, both in the school and to their FFA organization.”

Dozens of vendor displays showcased student involvement through local FFA chapters, innovative technology from area businesses and educational opportunities at regional colleges. Local students involved in FFA not only provided informative displays but also provided a sample of livestock including a goat and rabbit to liven up the event.

Kait Isaac

Kait Isaac, former OESJ student and FFA District 5 President

Former OESJ student and FFA District 5 President Kait Isaac, now in her first year at SUNY Morrisville, spoke passionately about attending the national FFA conference, and how agriculture education programs helped her define life and career goals.

“If not for agriculture education programs at my school, I would never have the opportunity to speak before a group like this,” Isaac said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly 60,000 highly skilled jobs in agriculture are available every year, but only 35,000 new Ag graduates are available to fill them.

“There is a real interest in Albany right now in increasing agriculture education across the state,” Terry Hughes, NYS Farm Bureau Agricultural Education Recruitment and FFA Career Development Event Specialist, said. “To have the future you want, you have to be willing to do things today others are not willing to do.”

Terry Hughes

Terry R Hughes, Agricultural Education Recruitment and FFA Career Development Event Specialist, Agricultural Education Outreach, NY Farm Bureau

Hughes said agriculture education programs “plant the seeds for the future,” asking the FFA students in the audience to stand up. “We need these young people to be stars in agriculture careers.”

“I cannot think of a single career that doesn’t have an application in agriculture,” Hughes, said.

HFM BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel said the opportunity exists to correct the recent path away from agriculture education programs in schools due to budget cuts.

“The nature of agriculture and agribusiness is changing, influenced by waves of technological innovation. And, although agriculture remains a vital part of the country’s infrastructure, many local farms are fighting a battle of attrition. Young people are opting off the family farm to pursue different careers. Why?” Dr. Michel asked. “Maybe it’s because schools are no longer promoting or teaching about career opportunities in agriculture.”

Dr. Michel said schools prioritize STEM programs as critical to student success. STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the building blocks of today’s agribusiness growth.

HFM BOCES Environmental Conservation students explain HFM’s five-year Renewable Resources Plan with a visitor during the Agriculture Education Summit Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015.“Agriculture is the original STEM industry,” HFM BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel said. “It was through agricultural experimentation that we developed the scientific method. It’s time to create new agricultural education programs aligned with the opportunities in this growing field.”

Terry Hughes closed the summit encouraging everyone to talk with his or her legislators about increasing agriculture education funding, and with a challenge.

“Don’t go out feeling good about what you did tonight. This is just the start of a conversation. It’s what happens going forward from here that matters,” Hughes said.

The Agricultural Education Summit was a collaborative event with Oneida-Herkimer-Madison (OM) BOCES, Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego (Herkimer) BOCES, Madison-Oneida (MO) BOCES, Otsego-Northern Catskills (ONC) BOCES and Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery (HFM) BOCES.