The Perennial Challenge of Ag Education
Why would anyone want to work in agriculture? “All you do is wear overalls and wear boots.” That seems to be the perception of young folks today according to a survey taken by the Land ‘O Lakes Foundation due to increasing concerns about the lack of young people entering agriculture.
The concern is pervasive among many agricultural-oriented businesses who have difficulty finding college graduates to fill positions. Perennially, college guidance counselors report that upwards of 50,000 entry jobs go unfilled because agribusiness cannot find enough graduates with degrees in agronomy, ag economics, ag engineering, and animal science.
The Land ‘O Lakes survey found “only 3% of college graduates and 9% of millennials surveyed have or would consider a career in agriculture. When compared to other industries, respondents were least likely to indicate that they have or would consider a career in agriculture (6%). The majority of survey respondents – 54%– think it is difficult or very difficult for recent college graduates to get a job in agriculture. Of the survey respondents 76% do not think or are not sure if a career in agriculture pays well. All you do is wear overalls and wear boots.”
There are nearly 30,000 youngsters—and over 17,000 of them FFA members—who think differently. They are enrolled in 320 secondary agricultural education programs around Illinois, with plans to enter the agriculture workforce. They are familiar with potential jobs, and know that very few require boots and overalls.
Another group paying little attention to the survey was the Illinois Senate Education Committee. A week ago a hearing on HB2975 was abruptly halted. The Senate sponsor of the Bill, Sen. Bill Cunningham, was beginning his presentation of the legislation that would restore agriculture education funding eliminated by the governor, when the committee voted unanimously 13-0 in favor of the bill. A cadre of agriculture education teachers, FFA supporters, and Pittsfield FFA members were impressed with the committee’s support.
When rank and file lawmakers warmly agree to support agriculture education, one easily realizes the importance of vocational agriculture in Illinois. Good people are involved, they are doing the right things for the benefit of students and the future of the state’s largest industry, and they are getting legislative support.
The challenge is moving the needle from the starting point on a state budget. For FY 2015-16, the legislature began with the governor’s proposal for no funding for agriculture education, and restored $1.8 million that had been in the budget during the prior year. For FY 2016-17, the scenario is starting the same way, with no funding for agriculture education, but the action of the Senate Education Committee last week was a glimmer of hope.
Why does the legislature always have to begin at zero funding for agriculture education? On Tuesday, the governor twice addressed the issue when asked by the media about the lack of support for vocational agriculture as reflected in his proposed budgets.
According to Capitol Fax, his first response was, “We don’t want to reduce funding for ag education.” His second response was, “Let’s not have lots of line items, put more money in education and let schools decide how to spend.”
Sen. Andy Manar, (D-Bunker Hill), a Senate co-sponsor of HB2975, said, “The governor repeatedly mentions the fact that Illinois’ economy is driven by agriculture but at the same time he wants to completely eliminate agriculture education funding in the state. Agriculture education programs allow for our young students interested in careers in agriculture to be educated and prepared to enter that workforce. Without that funding, many school districts would completely eliminate their programs.”
While many school boards know the importance of agricultural education, many rural districts are tight on funding and have little patience with state politics. They may put ag education at the top of their wish list, but just don’t have the tax base to fund it.
S2LS Ag Communications
Cornbelt Update Weekly Newsletter
WAND TV AgriBusiness Today
Herald & Review weekly columnist
Farmgate commentator on Miller Media Radio
Complete audio and video production services