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VOL. 131 | NO. 185 | Thursday, September 15, 2016

Agricenter’s FFA Field Day Teaches Students About a Growing Job Market

By Don Wade

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As his students listened to presentations on everything from soil testing and diagnostic solutions to plot research and biogenetics to agricultural sales and service, Carol Mason wiped the sweat from his brow and said that standing in a filed at Agricenter International was to step foot into an different world.

More than 300 high school students from Memphis and the surrounding area attended FFA Field Day at Agricenter International on Wednesday, Sept. 14, exposing students to the myriad ag career possibilities .

(Submitted by Agricenter International)

“It’s a new experience for them,” said Mason, a STEM and agriculture science teacher at Southwind High School who had brought his students to FFA (Future Farmers of America) Field Day. “We’re getting them exposed to the opportunities. Most of them are surprised. They think agriculture is a tractor.”

Actually, it is still a tractor – just not your granddaddy’s tractor.

“High-tech tractor, GPS and everything else,” Mason said.

More than 300 students from in around the Memphis area attended FFA Field Day at Agricenter International on Wednesday, Sept. 14. Companies such as Bayer Crop Science, Helena Chemical Co., and Monsanto gave presentations.

Eight schools offering agriculture majors were represented: Alabama A&M, Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee State, Murray State, Tennessee State, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and UT-Martin.

“Since 2013, and it has continued on, there are more jobs than people to fill them in the agriculture industry,” said Tim Roberts, director education for Agricenter International and a UT Extension agent.

Victor Delgadillo, a sophomore at Southwind, was soaking up the information.

“There’s so much you don’t know that goes on behind the scenes in farming,” he said. “You have to use fertilizer, different soils, there’s climate, water … so much you don’t realize.”

The same sentiments holds true for the job opportunities in the agriculture industry. Sure, belonging to FFA still can lead to a career as a farmer. But the companies at FFA Field Day are examples of employers that can offer a college graduate a path to becoming a lab assistant, a researcher, an engineer, a sales professional or an attorney.

Agricenter International also has an intern program that gives students in college or in the summer between high school and college a chance to learn more about the industry.

“It’s that time of life when they’re not sure what they’re going to do,” said Bruce Kirksey, director of research at Agricenter International.

And so FFA Field Day was a microcosm of an internship, a crash course in what the modern agricultural world really looks like.

“Drones, automated irrigation, even the greenhouse is automated,” Roberts said.

Of course, some of the students in attendance come with more knowledge than others. Genesis Lopez, a senior at Kingsbury High School, had read “Fast Food Nation” and was admittedly intrigued when a huge sugar cane harvester rambled past.

“I would love to ride in one of those,” she said. “But I know I couldn’t drive it. Too many buttons.”

Makenly Coles was at FFA Field Day as an ambassador and agriculture major at Arkansas State. She hails from Strawberry, Ark., population 383, about two hours northwest of Memphis. Her grandfather raised Hereford cattle and she plans to go into poultry management.

“I’m headed into the chicken world,” she said.

But most of the high school students Coles and others would speak to at FFA Field Day don’t have that farming background. Many were city kids who don’t understand all that happens “from farm to table,” said Qubie Greer, an ASU academic advisor.

What they need to know, Greer says, is that from now until 2020 there are expected to be 60,000 available jobs in agriculture and only 30,000 new graduates to help fill them.

Lianne Riles, who is a senior and the FFA chapter president at Potts Camp High School in Marshall County, Miss., envisions a career on the research side.

“Maybe herbicides, pesticides,” she said.

Even Victor Delgadillo, the sophomore from Southwind, can now imagine a career in agriculture as one possibility for his life.

“I really could,” he said. “I like the idea of nature, growing healthy stuff.”

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