A growing industry

The field of agriculture is wide open for young people looking for career opportunities, according to Anna Horner, who teaches agriculture education at Sentinel Career and Technology Center.

“I would recommend it for those students who don’t know what their future plans are,” she said. “We touch on a lot of things. We’re heavy into the science and math area, but we do touch on a little bit of English and communications stuff, too.

“The agriculture world has changed in general over the years,” she said. “We’ve become more technology-based. More communication- and leadership-based, also. And we have more than just the traditional students. We’ve opened it up to more students than just the traditional farming students.”

According to predicted numbers she received during a recent teacher training session, Horner said the wide field of agriculture is an excellent place for students to look for careers.

She said universities are predicting only about half the people needed in agriculture now are involved in studying ag topics.

“Basically, they’re saying in the ag field as a whole, in most cases we’re going to be short about 50 percent of grads,” she said. “That’s what they’re predicting.”

In the near future, she said, 54,000 people will be needed to fill agriculture-related jobs which require post-high school education, and universities predict there will be only 29,000 people trained to fill those jobs.

She said the numbers include everything from a certificate program to become an ag mechanic to a bachelor’s degree to become a teacher or a doctoral program to become a veterinarian or a researcher.

Today’s agriculture is part of everyone’s life, she said.

“Pretty much anything you can think of has some sort of ag tie,” she said. “IT people with equipment and technology, GPS … accountants, sales, transportation, the people who drive the material where it needs to go … mechanics, retail, clothing and food is all related to agriculture in some way.”

One example would be a student interested in working with computers but also working in the outdoors and agriculture fields. He or she could focus on preparing GPS maps or programming equipment for precision agriculture.

“I have students who tell me they want to be a farmer, but you talk them a few years later and they have completely changed focus,” she said. “They got to college and started taking some ag classes and something caught their interest. They’re still in the ag field, but they aren’t farmers.”

Students who don’t come from farm families can find it hard to get into farming, sometimes.

“Unfortunately, unless you own land, getting into farming is very difficult right now as the prices of land are very high,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s impossible.”

If she has a student interested in becoming a farmer, but doesn’t come from a family with farmland, she suggests making connections with farmers.

“Get summer jobs with people in the industry to help get connections and see if that’s really what they’re interested in,” she said.

But she stressed being a farmer is only one of many options related to agriculture.

She suggests a few ag classes for all students.

“On my side, I want them all to come to me,” she said. “Agriculture’s about everything. There’s a need for lots of people with education beyond high school of some sort.”

She has 60 students from Columbian, Calvert and Bridges Academy who take agriculture classes at Sentinel. The rest of the schools affiliated with Sentinel have their own ag classes.

That makes her program different from other Sentinel programs. Students spend less time there each day and it’s a four-year program rather than two or three years.

“It’s a four-year program, but there’s a wide variety of courses the students can take now,” she said. “Some are more specialized and some are more general.

“A lot of it’s staying fairly close to the same over the years,” she said. “But the ag classes have changed some, which allowed more students to pick up a class here and there.”

Individual schools can choose which courses to offer, depending on the needs of their students. Classes offered by Sentinel are designed to benefit students in the Tiffin area, and classes her husband, Adam, teaches at New Riegel and Hopewell-Loudon are different.

“The basic-level courses are the same, but I offer an agronomics class and some schools might offer plant and animal science,” she said.

Increasing graduation requirements in core programs is cutting into electives, which hurts the ag program a bit, she said.

Examples of other courses students can take in ag ed include communication, leadership, business, engineering and ag and industrial power. Several of them are offered every other year.

The FFA organization for agriculture students extends classroom learning into real-life experience, she said. At Sentinel, the agriculture and horticulture programs work together in FFA to participate in contests and other events.

“It’s a youth organization run by students and it promotes the classroom stuff that we are doing in a practical, hands-on, career-development-type setting,” she said. “It’s very strong in leadership skills.”

FFA members can participate in a wide variety of contests, which test the skills of students on topics from small engines to making speeches.

“We have like 75 different contests students can choose from throughout the year,” she said.