February marks the beginning of “education season” at Farm Bureau. Our training calendar is gearing up for county farmers and ranchers to take advantage of learning and continuing education credit opportunities through early May. Also later this month scholarship applications will be available for students planning to pursue post-secondary education this fall.
Funding for scholarships will be provided via donations from several individuals, businesses and organizations made to the Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County. A large portion of these tax deductible donations come to the Foundation in connection with the Annual Great Sonoma Crab & Wine Fest. Last year, forty students were awarded $135,000 to continue their education. Expectations are high again this year to continue the financial support of these students as they pursue degrees in agricultural related fields and eventually return and contribute to the future of Sonoma County agriculture.
Why is it important to support these students? It is no secret that the face of the American farmer is now over 57, white, male and in many cases having no succession plan. The face of higher education agricultural educators is very similar. There is a real need to introduce younger students, from elementary through high school, from urban as well as rural areas to the possibilities and promise of careers in agriculture and food related research fields.
According to a USDA recent report, there will be 20,000 fewer graduates in the fields of agriculture and the environment than will be needed in just the next four years. We will need a diverse group of producers and researchers who can leverage outside of the box thinking, including those from urban and rural backgrounds, veterans, migrant farmworkers and female farm owners.
Agricultural technologies are the oldest forms of innovation known even preceding the industrial revolution. We cannot afford to lose the ability to recognize the pioneering nature of agriculture that can only occur if support for agricultural research increases, reversing a trend from the previous decade that experienced a nearly 25 percent decline in federal spending on agriculture and food research.
While on a break from visiting with my Congressman and state Senator in Washington, D.C. a few years ago, I noticed writings inscribed onto the stone of the Union Station building that inspired me then and continue to do so today, words identifying key elements that have contributed to the advancement of our society, mentioning Fire as the greatest of discoveries and Electricity as the carrier of light and power, devourer of time and space.
Not surprisingly also included is “The Farm – Best Home of the Family – Main Source of National Wealth – Foundation of Civilized Society – The National Providence”. Our county’s, our state’s and our nation’s economic health relies upon vital rural communities. We must maintain investments in agricultural education and research.