Developing youth as leaders in the agricultural industry is crucial to the success of agriculture and feeding our growing population. I like the quote, “Thank a farmer three times a day. ” It really gets the point across how important agriculture, most importantly famers are in our society. Whether you prefer conventional, organic, or other labeled products, all of them are produced by a farmer or rancher and provide you with a delicious, safe and nutritious product. Growing up on a farm and being a farmer’s daughter, I appreciate the hard work, dedication and risk involved in production agriculture. While I am not a farmer I work with farmers and have a great appreciation for them. My husband is an agricultural education instructor and FFA adviser and was also a raised on a farm.
As an extension educator for the University Of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension, I have focused my area on educating youth and youth professionals on related agronomic topics. The overall goal is to encourage youth to pursue a degree in agronomy or related fields, since there is a tremendous career opportunity waiting for them. Whether they return back to the farm or work with farmers in production agriculture, the need for bright, talented and hard working people in agricultural careers is more important now then ever.
Sally Mackenzie, Ralph & Alice Raikes Chair for Plant Science in the Center for Plant Science Innovation provided insight on this challenge at a UNL Heuermann Lecture last year, where she said, “The continued debate over genetically modified crops is a “sociological and psychological discussion,” not a scientific one and it’s a distraction from the reality: The world’s population, now about 7 billion, is expected to top 9 billion by 2050. There’s not enough water or arable land to feed those people using current agronomic practices.” Mackenzie told UNL students “these challenges are your challenges.”
Recently I coordinated the first Nebraska Youth Crop Scouting Competition at the Ag Research & Development Center near Mead, NE. Six FFA and 4-H teams competed by taking a written test and completing eight crop-scouting exercises. The goal of this contest was to engage youth in agronomic principles, gain an interest in crop-related careers and ultimately pursue a career related to crop production. The 25-question exam tested their knowledge on basic integrated pest management strategies. Eight field exercises focused on general scouting procedures including topics in entomology, pathology, taking stand counts, weed resistance management, crop growth & development and soil residue management.
This contest was sponsored by DuPont Pioneer and provided cash prizes to the top performing teams. Plans are to continue this program for future years. More details about the program can be found on the CropWatch- Youth webpages.
Another program for youth interested in crops is the Innovative Youth Corn Challenge that is in its third year. In this program, youth work with a project advisor to test a novel management practice or product with the goal of increasing yield in an economic manner. Entry forms for this contest are due March 15th of each year.