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Young Pennsylvanians should be empowered to work in agriculture

Jillian Ranko

As of 2018, nearly 30% of the global workforce is in agriculture, making it the world’s largest industry.

In the U.S., agriculture employs over 22 million people, and Pennsylvania alone generates $81.5 billion in agricultural revenue, making the sector the state’s largest.

Today, young people can get involved with agriculture through many jobs that don’t require much schooling such as feeding animals or running farm stores. However, there are also many jobs that young people interested in agriculture can look at as a future long-term career.

Today, agriculture is a high-tech industry in need of engineers, accountants, nutrition experts and more. Now that the Baby Boomer generation is retiring, there are currently many jobs opening up in agriculture. This means that both traditional and modern jobs in agriculture are ripe for the taking, and we need our young people to fill these vital roles. For example, from 2020-2030, employment of agricultural equipment operators is expected to increase 13%, greater than the average increase for all occupations.

Something increasing at alarming rates is food demand, which is expected to increase anywhere between 59% to 98% by 2050. Our ever-growing human population needs diligent workers to ensure a sustainable food supply. Young people’s involvement in agriculture paves the way for innovation and the next generation of agricultural workers.

A demonstration of agricultural innovations brought about by youth on a local level can be seen in the rise of alpacas in Pennsylvania. The Alpaca Pack 4-H club, located in Butler County, was founded in 2012. For many years, these 4-H’ers weren’t able to show their animals at their county fair and farm show despite being active participants in the local agricultural industry. This is because alpacas weren’t officially recognized like beef, sheep, and other livestock are. To change this, the 4-H members spent months creating a presentation to give to the boards on allowing their alpacas to be shown at the respective events. Their efforts paid off, and alpacas have now been able to show at the Big Butler Fair and Butler Farm Show since 2019, where alpacas are officially classified under the youth department.

Youth organizations such as 4-H and FFA help millions of young people develop agricultural skills annually. In the U.S., there are approximately 6 million 4-H’ers and over 735,000 FFA members. These organizations offer stewardship-related programming in a variety of areas, including gardening, forestry, earth sciences, wildlife conservation and more. They also offer career development, project grants and scholarships to young agriculturists. These youth organizations also teach young people an array of soft skills, including leadership and citizenship. Skills like these are in high demand in our society. These programs and many more help youth to be the leaders, engineers, and stewards of tomorrow.

4-H and FFA have award programs in place for youth who show excellence in meeting personal goals and bettering their communities. National 4-H offers the Youth In Action program to recognize four members in the areas including STEM and agriculture. National FFA offers the American Degree, given when an FFA member shows exceptional dedication to their chapter and state FFA association. It demonstrates their efforts applied toward their supervised agricultural experience, leadership abilities and community involvement.

The members of these youth organizations have distinct priorities that separate us from previous generations. One of these priorities is climate change. A poll conducted by the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) found 77% of right-leaning and 90% of Independent youth respondents agree that the U.S. should invest in clean energy, modern infrastructure, and other natural ways to reduce emissions and address climate change.

Young agriculturists are also making an impact at a national level. For example, the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill directly addressed the Young Farmer’s Agenda, which was created by the National Young Farmers Coalition. This included increased and permanent funding to train the next generation of farmers. The bill’s conservation title focuses on programs that help farmers implement natural resource conservation on working lands such as pastures and cropland. It also covers land retirement and easement programs.

At both national and local levels, young agriculturists are already shaking up their industry and helping it to be more accessible and environmentally-conscientious. Agriculture and related organizations help young people reach their fullest potential, and there are countless jobs awaiting them as fulfilling future careers. Agriculture is empowering young people, and young people are, in turn, empowering agriculture.

Jillian Ranko is a Butler County native and is in her second year studying agricultural and extension education at Penn State University and is a former Pennsylvania 4-H State Council president. She is a member of the American Conservation Coalition.