Another view: Cultivate careers in agribusiness

6:34 PM, Jun. 16, 2013  |  Comments
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"I am going to major in agriculture."

If you heard that comment at a high school graduation party 10 years ago, you would probably have reacted with stunned silence or a quizzical look.

But if you react that way this high school graduation season, you are behind the times. Careers in agribusiness have become a hot topic with growing appeal to young people.

That's a trend Wisconsin should encourage. Bringing more bright young minds into agriculture bodes well for tapping the rich resources of America's Dairyland to create jobs and income.

A prime example of the blooming interest in agricultural careers was last week's annual convention of the Wisconsin FFA, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America. The FFA convention in Madison has membership in Wisconsin at a 28-year high, totaling 19,000 students.

The trend is also evident at UW-Madison. Enrollment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is up 33 percent in the past decade.

The number of full-time farmers is still declining. But for some students farming may be more attractive than ever, with incomes and challenges both up dramatically.

Even more students are recognizing the expanding opportunities in off-the-farm agribusiness. Genetic engineering, computer technology, an energy revolution, value-added product innovations, health and environmental concerns - all are transforming agriculture and opening career paths.

Consider Katie Hedrich, a 2007 college graduate who has become a specialty cheesemaker at LaClare Farms Specialties, Chilton. In the past three years she has won 10 awards for goat cheeses, including Best of Show" at the 2011 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. Students & Leaders Network, a nonprofit providing career information to students, educators and parents, included her in its program of presentations last winter.

Consider also the team of UW-Madison food science students who developed a gluten-free rice-flour waffle. They will take their product to the finals of an Institute of Food Technologies contest next month in Chicago.

Around the country, agribusiness has proved fertile ground for entrepreneurs creating web-based services to help farmers with growing or marketing decisions, for seed scientists developing improved hybrids, for engineers applying computer technology to develop more labor-saving equipment, and more.

Today's agriculture needs brainpower. Young people are recognizing the opportunities. Wisconsin should recognize its stake in supporting agricultural education through FFA, UW-Madison and other institutions.

Another View

The Green Bay Press-Gazette occasionally offers Another View, providing an opportunity to read about state, national and international issues covered by writers across the country. The following editorial appeared June 10 in the Wisconsin State Journal.

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