Young generation see great opportunities in agriculture

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Young people who hope to become farmers or to work in agriculture-related business are very hopeful about the future—at least that was the case among the students gathered on April 20 for the University of Minnesota’s first Ag Awareness Day. Members of the U of M Ag Club organized the event, which drew together representatives of a handful of major farmer and commodity organizations, who brought information booths and live farm animals to the Northrop Auditorium plaza for the event.

“I feel positive about the future of farming,” said Caitlin Kasper, a junior majoring in Agricultural Education, in the leadership and communications track, with minors in animal science and Spanish. She grew up on a dairy farm in Owatonna. Kasper said “There are a lot of opportunities for our generation, as producers, in agribusiness, research in science and the implementation of new technologies and agricultural methods. I found speaker Patrick Moore’s talk very interesting, especially his message that we shouldn’t teach our children that the planet is dying. There is reason to be optimistic and pro-technology about the ways we provide the things that feed and clothe us.”

Kasper hopes to be an FFA Agricultural Collegiate Ambassador, so she can travel and give talks to educate people about agriculture, spreading some of the important information that Moore brought to the event.

Moore, a founder of the world-renowned environmental activist group, Greenpeace, split from the organization and now travels the world talking about “commonsense environmentalism”—the idea that by embracing scientific advances the world can both feed and sustain its human population while conserving the natural environment. Moore directs a non-profit called “Green Spirit” which supports, among other things, biotechnology in agriculture, which he called “the gene revolution.”

One of the principal organizers of Ag Awareness Day—providing University of Minnesota Ag Club with key support to make the event happen—was Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition. They helped to bring Moore to the event.

Tim Braun, a senior in Agriculture Education at the U of M spoke during the panel discussion. He said, “I want to thank all the farmers here today–the generation before us has done so much for conservation, helping to keep our planet green and our land healthy. We are inheriting a system and a set of tools that will allow us to succeed in agriculture.”

Freshman Theresa Touhey told the audience about her growing up on a dairy that now has 230 Holstein cows and has exemplified the trend in the industry by consistently improving both efficiency and cow comfort.

“I want to thank all the farmers for all the hard work they have done and all the progress we have made,” said Touhey. “Your work has provided future generations with amazing opportunities in agriculture. Right now, the face of agriculture is changing. Consumers want to know where their food products come from and there is a tremendous opportunity for us young people in agriculture to educate the public about farming.”

The roster of participating organizations included both Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation and Minnesota Farmers Union, as well as Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, Minnesota Turkey Producers Association, Minnesota Pork Producers Association, Midwest Dairy Association, Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association and a constellation of smaller educational and political activist groups like University of Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota Meat Store (Animal Science Department), Minnesota Ag In The Classroom, National Farm Workers Awareness Week, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and Minnesota Foundation for Responsible Animal Care.

Out on the plaza, all these groups took advantage of the presence of an adult Angus beef cow, a Llama, sheep, and chickens—a natural draw to curious students passing by, in order to spend a moment with these students and tell the story of agriculture today in Minnesota.

Jason Kaare, a sophomore from Waconia, is looking forward to teaching agriculture at the high school level.  He was one of a group of Ag Club members, all wearing green shirts, to stand out and convey their pro-conservation stance. These students answered questions and started the process of opening the eyes of young people to what farming is really about these days.

“This (event) is an opportunity to do Ag 101,” said Kaare. “I’m answering some simple questions like ‘Do Llama’s spit?’ At the same time I’m able to communicate with people who don’t know a lot about farming and convey all the effort that farmers put into the food they produce, to create a healthy food supply. We can talk about all the different ways food is produced, all with their pluses and minuses, but still, in the big picture, very positive and making great progress all the time.”

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