Last week, I spent a day evaluating essays for Farm Credit Services of Illinois' "We Understand" Agriculture Scholarships.
Of this year's 95 applicants, 23 received a $1,000 scholarship for college. See the Local News section on Prairie Farmer's Web site for a complete list of winners.
The essays are a great way to gauge the current feelings in agriculture. I noticed many recurring themes.
1. A top concern was input costs. Many of these essays were written last fall or over the winter. Many of the students used input costs as a segue to explain how they'd like to research nutrient management, crop science, etc.
2. A close second was the rising concern over small farmers getting squeezed out by larger farms or urbanization. One essay went so far as to suggest the government put a cap on a farm's expansion. I found this frightening. However, with the current administration, nothing would surprise me as we chip away at the capitalistic spirit.
3. Going hand in hand with number two, many students expressed concern about the possibility of even returning to the farm. There's a lot of young folks who'd like to go back to the farm, but the farm just isn't big enough to support two families.
In the middle of reading an essay on this topic, I received a phone call from Verizon. The technician was at my house connecting a fax line. As he worked, we made idle chit chat, and he asked what I did. When I mentioned Prairie Farmer, he said he's been reading it since he was three years old. His parents farm near Stewardson. When I asked why he's working for the phone company, he struck a familiar chord when he said the farm wasn't big enough for him to come back to.
4. I was surprised to read a number of essays where students' held extremely polarized opinions on ethanol. A good number think additional ethanol production is the answer to all of our problems. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a couple students thought ethanol production was driving up food prices and causing starvation in some parts of the world.
In closing, I'd like to thank FCS for inviting me to evaluate essays. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn what's on the mind of future farmers.
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