Teaching Agriculture is in Flux–Should Include Water Ed Also
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported recently that the numbers of agricultural education teachers in Minnesota is shrinking, while the need grows. This trend should surprise no one: Minnesota’s population is increasingly urban, and farm consolidation is meaning fewer and fewer people make a living through farming.
And it should be just as evident that the need to learn about agriculture has really never been greater. For a variety of reasons far beyond this post, we may be nearing the end of the days when we don’t have to think about how food gets on our plate.
A faculty member at the University of Minnesota is quoted that ag education itself is changing, that it’s not “plows, cows, and sows” any more.
What, then, what should agricultural education for the 21st century in the Midwest look like? I suggest three topics, to complement the previously mentioned references to row crops and livestock. Farmers will continue to have to know about crops and stock, of course, but in addition, they will have to know about water, about communication, and about the planet.
With a minute fraction of the country actively engaged in farming, and a slightly larger number engaged in food processing and production, it is imperative that farmers know how to tell their story. And I emphatically do NOT mean letting farm chemical producers, or commodity associations, or grain companies or seed companies tell it for them!
Farming produces for a global market, often in competition with growers across the world. The impacts of farming are felt both locally and globally, and the challenge of feeding a global population will affect every farmer in the country. It’s not enough just to know your own backyard, or your watershed.
Speaking of watersheds, it may be only a slight exaggeration to say that the most important material coming off a farm is the water that drains the fields. Better water management is an essential part of contemporary agricultural practices. If wise management of the Mississippi River is largely a matter of managing the water flowing into the river and its tributaries, then farmers have to be part of that management solution. But they have to know as much about water, and care as much about clean water, as their river conservation partners (now too often arrayed as combatants).
Yes, there likely are too few ag ed teachers, in large part because there are fewer young people with ag ed in their background. Maybe if some of these other subjects are seen as essential to future ag learning, then more folks can be enticed to participate, whatever their background. Worth thinking about, anyway.