Shaping ag education's future

by Joel Schettler, Managing editor, CHS and Tera Fair, Staff contributor, CHS

Nov 22, 2016

Agriculture demographics are changing rapidly; key talent is beginning to retire. The data tell the story.
We are charting a new course for the future of ag education with new technologies, interdisciplinary curriculum and experiential learning that combine best practices in agriculture and natural resources sciences.
Brian Buhr
Dean, University of Minnesota
Twenty years ago, the average principal farm operator was nearly 53 years old. Today most operators are age 58 or older, according to USDA, and they are quickly approaching the average age when producers retire.

Fewer than 20 percent of principal operators are younger than 44, according to data from the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture. Agricultural businesses off the farm show the same need for the next-generation talent.

In 2015 alone, the number of agriculture jobs posted on, a key industry benchmark, grew by more than 26 percent, with 16,680 more posted open positions than the previous year. USDA estimates that more than 20,000 agriculture jobs remain unfilled each year.

Compounding the problem is that most of the job openings are located in the Midwest, a region with some of the country’s lowest unemployment rates. While both low unemployment and open positions are signs of a burgeoning economy, they also create a need for talent. 

Overlay the statistic that there are approximately 30 open ag jobs for every qualified individual, and it shows an industry that isn’t performing to its full potential. Agriculture can do a better job of preparing the next generation. Enter CHS.

New Ag Model
The CHS Foundation has made developing the next generation of agriculture educators, producers and leaders a top long-term priority. 

In September 2016, the CHS Foundation, funded by charitable gifts from CHS, awarded a $3.44 million grant to the University of Minnesota, the largest gift ever awarded by the foundation.

“The CHS Foundation is committed to growing the next generation of agriculture leaders,” says Linda Tank, president, CHS Foundation. “Together with the University of Minnesota, we are cultivating, preparing and helping agriculture leaders thrive now and into the future.”

The gift will not only go toward training future ag education leaders; it will begin to lay the groundwork to create a new model for teaching ag education, from kindergarten through higher education. The grant will also support public initiatives designed to enhance the image of agriculture, develop ag literacy among youth and attract future leaders to the field.

“We are charting a new course for the future of ag education with new technologies, interdisciplinary curriculum and experiential learning that combine best practices in agriculture and natural resource sciences,” says Brian Buhr, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota. “This critical support from the CHS Foundation will better prepare future agriculture leaders and educators, while strengthening rural communities.”

Specific programs to be created at the University of Minnesota include establishing a CHS agriculture education endowed fellowship and a CHS education technology lab with agriculture and science programs at the Bell Museum. The funding will also support programs to integrate agriculture into K-12 curriculum, and develop agriculture literacy programs in conjunction with 4-H and the Minnesota Youth Institute.

“The CHS grant will help apply STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] concepts to real-world applications. This is an opportunity to connect innovation with new development,” says Brad Greiman, program leader and associate professor of agriculture education at the University of Minnesota. “We are developing a 21st century experience for current and prospective teachers.”

The University of Minnesota grant continues a long-standing commitment of funding projects that ensure the next generation of agricultural leaders is equipped with the education needed to be successful in the future.

Over the past five years, the CHS Foundation has supported a variety of organizations and institutions to develop tomorrow’s ag leaders.

Recent CHS Foundation gifts include $2.5 million to North Dakota State University to create the CHS Chair in Risk Management and Trading; a $150,000 gift to the University of Illinois to update the agricultural education and leadership learning space; and $100,000 to Lake Region State College at Devils Lake, N.D., for the Next Gen Simulation in Agriculture Laboratory, a portable training lab containing five simulators designed to teach aspects of agriculture, including precision ag equipment, soil-to-crop characteristics and crop production techniques.

“By investing in a wide variety of programs that train tomorrow’s ag leaders, we are helping young people become prepared to fill open positions and take advantage of all agriculture has to offer,” says Tank. 

Check out the full C Magazine with this article and more.

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