Preparing Youth for Production Ag Careers

Bradley Leger, PhD

Throughout all of my years on this good earth, my life has been steeped in agriculture: growing up on a farm, member of 4-H and FFA, presently part-owner/operator of a hay operation, agricultural educator, and presently serving on State Extension Staff.  I have also seen many changes in ag technology and within our society as well.  In all of these situations, I have had the opportunity and sacred duty to tell the story of agriculture to youth and adults.  One of the major issues which we commonly discuss is the need to grow enough food to feed our growing world population.  Of course, this means that we need people who are willing to be engaged in the food production industry.  We are all aware that the average age of ag producers in our country is 57 years.  With each successive generation, fewer young people have been willing to enter the field of ag production.  Economists as well as sociologists can provide us with a multitude of reasons (which could be another great blog topic!)

So, what to do?  We do have excellent 4-H and agriscience/FFA programs and post-secondary agriculture programs throughout the country which provide instruction and hands-on experiences which expose young people to the various careers available to them in agriculture, including production agriculture.  However, even with these programs, we still have a shrinking number of people pursuing the ag production field.   AgCenter responded to this in 2010 by establishing an academy of sorts to work with high-school age students who are specifically interested in this field: the Louisiana Young Ag Producer Program (LaYAPP).  If you are not familiar with it, check it out at www.lsuagcenter.com/layapp.   I’m honored to serve as coordinator of this program.

 However, I firmly believe that we need to “think out of the box” to address this issue.  I’m confident that we’ll always have the presence of larger commercial producers; but instead of fretting over the seeming demise of our “traditional” farmers, what of smaller producers who market their products locally?  What about food production in urban settings – even growing crops on rooftops?  What about smaller part-time producers?  Need we mention people who produce for the growing number of farmers markets across the country?  How many of us are familiar with Community-Supported Agriculture?  I’ve long held the notion that we’ll always have producers around, but they will probably look differently.   All of these efforts – whether they be massive or small-scale, commercial or shared within the community – put food on the table.   

 I recommend these sites (good stuff!):

Community-Supported Agriculture: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

List of Louisiana Farmers Markets: http://www.fruitstands.com/states/louisian.htm

Rooftop gardening: http://www.cityfarmer.info/category/roof-garden/

 Any ideas to share?

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