FFA only part of proof future of agriculture is bright

Thursday, February 22, 2018

When a city-slicker thinks of farming, images of a pitchfork and two-cylinder tractor may come to mind.

Surely agriculture is something to be left in the past as today’s young people head off into the high-tech future.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, that technology is transforming the way food and fiber is produced, and many of our youth are agriculture in their future.

The Future Farmers of America has long been renamed FFA, but agriculture is still at the heart of the organization celebrating the 90th anniversary of its founding this week.

“FFA is helping raise up the next generation of Nebraska’s farmers, ranchers and ag innovators,” said Gov. Pete Ricketts in his official proclamation of FFA Week.

“Through FFA, students across Nebraska receive great agricultural education and training from this historic organization,” he said. “FFA is developing the fresh thinkers and strong leaders our growing agriculture industry needs to innovate and move it forward in the 21st century.

The sixth state organization chartered by the National FFA, the Nebraska FFA Association has more than 8,500 FFA members in 185 chapters.

From efficient center-pivot systems like those manufactured in McCook, to GPS guidance and crop inspection via drone, technology is transforming and enhancing agriculture day by day.

The Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis is one of the innovators, recently partnering with Mississippi to serve our state’s burgeoning poultry industry.

But it’s not just chickens. A report issued a couple of years ago predicted an average of nearly 60,000 high-skilled ag and related job openings annually, with only about 35,000 graduates in food, agriculture, renewable resources or the environment graduating each year to fill them, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University.

That includes about 15,500 in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, 8,500 in sustainable food and biomaterials production, and about 7,200 in ag and food job in areas such as education, communication and governmental services.

And those jobs won’t be filled strictly by traditional college graduates.

Jordan Rasmussen, policy program associate with the Center for Rural Affairs noted that rural Nebraska is home to nearly half of the state’s 133,000 military veterans, making farming and ranching a natural fit for those who can convert their military skills to a career in the field.

The CFRA and Legal Aid of Nebraska plan a free event, the second annual Answering the Call conference in Hastings March 24 for just such former military personnel who want to get started in agriculture.

Topics will also help those already in agriculture learn about conservation and diversification.

“Whether that be agri-tourism in addition to your row crop, growing more of a cash crop like pumpkins or something of that nature,” Rasmussen said.

About half of the current farmland will have new ownership in the next 25 years, and the conference hopes to connect experienced farmers with those just getting started.

Lower commodity prices have affected the whole state — including the budget the Legislature is now wrangling with — but things are looking up, according to the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska.

That’s because a decline in the value of the U.S. dollar is making American agricultural and manufactured products more attractive to foreign purchasers.

Growth is expected through the summer as the future of agriculture continues to be bright.

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