Ag Education Aims to Make Agribusiness a Leader in Job Creation
Wednesday, July 6th, 2011
The outlook for jobs in agribusiness looks strong in 2010 to 2015, according to the most recent five-year study titled “Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Renewable Energy and the Environment” by Purdue University in conjunction with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Consumer preferences for nutritious, safe foods and food, energy and environment public policy choices are among the factors shaping the market. John “Chip” Bridges, Program Manager for Agricultural Education in the Georgia Department of Education, believes the agribusiness sector can help lead the U.S. economy in job creation and growth over the next five to 10 years.
“New advances in technology and the growth of alternative energy sources have great implications for agribusiness,” Bridges said. “It makes it even more important that we keep strong ag education programs in place.”
A more diverse, specialized curricula
Ag education in Georgia schools has evolved over the years from a focus primarily on production agriculture to a more diverse and specialized curricula, according to Bridges. Courses in ag science, biotechnology and horticulture are now offered, with the ag science course counting as a core science credit.
“We’ve kept pace with the technological innovations in agriculture. People might be surprised to know that most ag classrooms have computers, microscopes, GPS and smart boards,” he continued.
The curriculum is developed at the state level and lesson plans are supplied to ag teachers on a flash drive. Recently, the department has developed curriculum to add to the state program on alternative energy sources such as biomass and biofuel.
“It’s a complete program that is available to school systems through the Department of Education. It includes classroom instruction and lab activities, utilizes the FFA and includes a Supervised Ag Experience or SAE, which is an individual project activity. I think the three-part approach is the greatest instructional model there is,” Bridges said.
One common misconception about ag education is that FFA is a club. “It’s not a club, but an integral part of ag education and instruction. FFA is incorporated into lessons and activities.”
The SAE can be any individual project activity that relates to one of the more than 300 careers in agribusiness. Examples include working at a local livestock auction barn, raising livestock or developing and training a hunting dog.
“One thing that hasn’t changed about ag education over the years is our focus. We are trying to prepare students to be leaders in agriculture,” Bridges said.
One look at the current leadership in the state of Georgia reveals that ag education is achieving its goal. Governor Nathan Deal is a past winner in the FFA state competition for prepared public speaking. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is a former FFA president. State Representative Terry England served as local and Georgia FFA Alumni President and as a member of the National FFA Alumni Executive Council.
Other proof of the program’s success includes 13 consecutive years of enrollment increases for the FFA. In each of the past five years, the FFA has set membership records.
Meeting the challenges of strong growth
With that growth have come challenges. Budget funding has not kept pace with enrollment growth. Additionally, as urban population growth continues, the agricultural literacy of the population in general and state leaders in particular has declined.
“It’s also a continuous battle to find highly qualified ag teachers to handle the growth,” Bridges explained. “In response, the department has developed an ag education recruitment and retention plan.”
More information on ag education efforts within the Georgia Department of Education is available online at www.doe.k12.ga.us or contact Chip Bridges at (404) 657-8311 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.