Inspiring Future Food Leaders
Ask most kids the first thing that comes to mind when you say "vegetables," and they’ll probably complain that their parents are always asking them to eat them. It’s unlikely that they think much about how vegetables end up on their plate.
But as the global population soars, so does the demand for food (yes, even broccoli)—and the path from farm to plate is getting ever more tenuous. Despite growing need, there are fewer U.S. farmers, and those that are still in the profession are getting older. Many of their children are hesitant to take over the reins of the family farm, opting to leave their rural hometowns for potentially greener pastures.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm census numbers, the average age of a principal farm operator is now 58 years old—just six percent are under the age of 35. And the number of new farmers—those who have been on their current operation fewer than 10 years—is down 20 percent between 2007 and 2012.
"It is our responsibility to get young people excited about agriculture and then provide the opportunities to become the next generation of leaders," said Paul E. Schickler, President, DuPont Pioneer.
With the U.S. farm population nearing retirement, the need for young agricultural leaders is urgent. New educational programs and coalitions are stepping up to educate and inspire a new generation to take ownership of the future of farming. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), administered by USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), recently announced $18 million in funding to help educate, mentor and enhance the sustainability of future farmers nationwide. Through this initiative, grants will be awarded to organizations implementing programs to train beginning farmers and ranchers.
Additionally, National FFA Organization and 4-H teach their student members about leadership, citizenship and life skills through agricultural education to put them on a path toward successful careers.
The National Young Farmers Coalition pushes for policy changes that address challenges young farmers face, including acquiring the capital for land and equipment. Currently, the Coalition is spearheading an effort to add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. They believe amending the program to include farmers is essential for creating a new generation of rural entrepreneurs that aren't saddled with student loans.
It's never too early to teach kids about how they can play a role in the journey from farm to table. Thanks to the My American Farm program, sponsored by DuPont Pioneer, more than 1.5 million elementary school students have played interactive digital games to learn the science behind food production.
"The strong global demand for food creates an unprecedented need for young talent in roles that people may not immediately relate to food and agriculture," said Schickler. "We'll need leaders in science, health, law, development, finance, engineering, and information technology -- to name just a few."
Whether they aspire to be a plant scientist, food chemist or environmental engineer, early education is paving the way for kids that have big ideas for broccoli.