Increasing Agriculture Literacy

Ernie Neff Agriculture, Education

Students visited labs during Citrus Youth Day 2018 at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center.

Agriculture is the second largest industry in Florida, but there is uncertainty about the industry’s labor force, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) recently reported.

UF/IFAS stated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the market value of Florida agriculture at more than $7.46 billion. “But career interest from youth does not match the size and scope of the industry’s labor demands,” it added.

The average age of farmers increases each year. “UF/IFAS works to address this disparity through youth outreach programs that increase agriculture literacy early on,” a recent UF/IFAS media release stated.

“The disconnect begins in early education, a time when school faculty, staff and students do not discuss agricultural careers as part of the traditional STEM curriculum,” the release added. It stated that UF/IFAS researchers have developed outreach programs to improve agricultural literacy and increase career interest among youth.  

For example, UF/IFAS entomologists developed a youth outreach program to raise awareness of the risk that invasive species bring to Florida and the career opportunities available in the field. There are a wide variety of career opportunities in agriculture, for example in plant biosecurity.

“A lot of kids were surprised that you could be a scientist working in agriculture,” said Morgan Pinkerton, a UF/IFAS doctor of plant medicine student. “Many of them only pictured working in agriculture as being a farmer, and they did not realize how far a career in agriculture could expand.”

Over two years, the entomologists’ youth outreach program reached 2,326 middle and high school students in urban and suburban areas of Florida.

“Agriculture literacy is important to ensure we have people entering the agriculture field, which is critical to food security in the future,” Pinkerton said. “We have a growing population that we still need to feed. We need young people going into these careers.”

The UF/IFAS outreach programs are designed to be adaptable to local curriculum needs and customizable to cover specific agricultural topics. The biggest challenge in the future will be creating space in curriculum for such education, UF/IFAS stated.

Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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