Well, 2021 started with a bang, but not the kind we hoped for. Temperatures soaring to 80 degrees in January, yet another power shut off notice, most schools are still closed, extracurricular programs are happening in a limited format, and we face the reality that our hard-working ag kids may not see the show ring, again, this summer. This makes me worried for the next generation of agriculture students.
As an FFA program graduate myself, and as someone who is still involved with the local FFA chapters, and as a current 4-H leader, it brings me great sadness and disappointment to learn that our ag students cannot attend in person ag classes. While I understand the struggle that school districts are facing, many of the students are planning on going into the ag trades, and that requires them to have the skills they are learning in the classroom. If they aren’t learning these valuable skills, how will they transition to the workplace? These kids are the future of our industry, and not having them in the classroom is detrimental to the agricultural industry.
We are so lucky that our youth has the support of our fairs, as this is not the case with many areas. I appreciated our fairs’ work last year: Sonoma-Marin put on a virtual show for the breeding livestock, and Sonoma County Fair put on an online sale for the hard-working market exhibitors. The changes in show formats have hit exhibitors and families hard. Students are uncertain about what this year will hold and are hesitant to purchase animals for market and breeding projects. There are so many uncertainties for what this year has for these students. How do we keep them motivated?
It’s time to get creative on how we support students and inspire the next generation of agriculturists. If you’re wondering how we get students back in the show ring or are thinking about the opportunities students are missing, you’re not alone.
Now, more than ever, it’s essential to support our local agricultural education programs. To be honest, at this point, I have more questions than answers about how to do that. Agriculture programs need a lot of support, even in good times, so it is time to reach out to them when they’re struggling. If you can, perhaps you have time to volunteer to host a virtual field trip or be a guest speaker on Zoom. If we can’t have fairs this year, can we get creative with teaching students how to be successful in animal production and encourage their efforts? Are there ways to focus on record keeping, genetics, or production in the animals students are raising? Can judges go from farm to farm to evaluate student projects’ management, growth, and health? If our kids can show, what support do our fair programs need to pull this off and make it as successful as possible?
We have programs like the Sonoma RCD FARMS program that incorporates schools that don’t have ag programs and focuses on conservation efforts. Can we provide virtual farm tours or have guest speakers? These students may not have an ag background but could potentially find a career in agriculture.
We know that trades like welding and agriculture mechanics offer great jobs that are important to our community. If you work in these fields, do you have the ability to mentor students to keep them motivated to stay in the trades?
If you have ideas or need help reaching out to your local high school, college, or junior college, Farm Bureau is here to help. If you are an agriculture program and need support, let us know what your needs are, and we will try to provide a connection to someone in the industry to support your students. We are stronger together. One of the greatest strengths of agriculture is our community. Let’s work together to help the next generation of agriculture by keeping students engaged and letting them know their community is behind them.