Speaking to the National Academy of Sciences on Education and 21st Century American Agriculture, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns addressed the future of farming in the U.S.
One of the agriculture community's greatest challenges, he says, is to inspire young people to pursue agricultural careers. First, Johanns says, we must increase awareness of agricultural opportunities, research, and technological advances.
"Fewer and fewer young people have a sense of where food comes from, and most kids have no idea how sophisticated this industry has become and how much lies before us in the future," Johanns says.
In the 2002 Census of Agriculture, the average age of U.S. principal farm operators was 55.3. With the average farm operator just below retirement age and the nature of agriculture shifting towards the sciences, Johanns points out the need for a new generation of science-oriented agricultural workers.
"Many of the young people who will replace these retirees are already here in our educational system, and many are not studying science and they are certainly not studying the agricultural sciences," Johanns says.
We also need to promote agricultural literacy programs in urban areas, Johanns says. "Teachers, parents, and students need to understand that 21st century agriculture is a global enterprise based in science, which needs constant growth in discovery and in application."