News Release Distributed 05/05/14CHASE, La. – Nearly 200 students from 12 parishes in northeast Louisiana watched drones fly, saw soybeans and sweet potatoes planted, and learned about soils, crops and careers in agriculture. It was all part of the LSU AgCenter’s first youth field day at the AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station on April 29.
“Our objective for the northeast youth field day was to expose our youth to the real world of agriculture and provide them with the opportunity to learn more about ag production, technology, research and careers,” said Terri Crawford, an LSU AgCenter regional coordinator who helped organize the event.
Mary Claire Gilder, a recruiter with the LSU College of Agriculture, told students about the many career opportunities they could pursue with a degree in agriculture.
“There are lots of ways to practice agriculture,” Gilder said. “It’s much more than farming. It’s nutrition, education, business, apparel design, wetlands studies, resource conservation and much, much more. The backbone of today’s agriculture is science, technology and business.”
The youth also heard from Rogers Leonard, AgCenter program leader for plant and soil sciences, about the need for young people to go into agricultural careers.
“In the next five years there will be a significant shortage in the number of workers in ag fields, in some of those areas those shortages could be 50 to 60 percent,” Leonard said.
Leonard also talked about how technology is changing agriculture.
“A career in agriculture is not just about picking cotton or chopping weeds,” he said. “Science and technology drive the new agriculture today.”
Trey Price, a plant pathologist at the AgCenter Macon Ridge Research Station, showed the students different seeds and plants with diseases and stressed the importance of the agricultural industry to the area.
“Agriculture is the main driver of our economy in the northeast region,” Price said, noting that about 80 percent of the corn, 70 percent of the cotton, 65 percent of the wheat and 50 percent of the soybeans grown in the state are grown in that area.
AgCenter agricultural engineer Randy Price showed participants how farmers are using drones to improve crop production. “With drones you can observe crops as they grow without having to drive throughout the field,” Price said.
Researchers at the station dug a soil pit so the youth could see the different levels of soil in the ground. AgCenter soil scientist Beatrix Haggard explained why it is important for farmers to understand their soil.
“We put together soil maps,” Haggard said. The maps help farmers know what is in their soil and what nutrients the soils may need while growing crops.
The students saw how labor intensive sweet potato production is. One person can plant a field of soybeans or corn, but it can take as many as 12 people to plant sweet potatoes, according to Theresa Arnold, an extension associate at the AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station.
Sweet potato growers have other challenges. “Sweet potatoes grow below the ground, so farmers don’t see the crop until they harvest it,” Arnold said.
Kaia South, an eighth-grader at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Monroe, was interested in learning about careers in agriculture.
“I love animals, and I love science, so I hope to use agricultural science to better myself in becoming a vet in my future,” South said.
Zach Sanford, an 11th-grader at Forest High School in West Carroll Parish, was interested in the drones.
“I thought that was really neat,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything that fancy.” Jennifer Moran, a 4-H agent in West Carroll Parish, took 28 students to the field day.
“I think it exposes them to careers that are beneficial to our region and state,” Moran said. “It is important for them to see what agriculture means today.”
LSU AgCenter northeast regional director Tara Smith said agriculture awareness events are a great way to reach youth and expose them to the importance of agriculture in our everyday lives.
“Based on the positive response we received from this event, I am optimistic that this will become a premier ag awareness event for our youth in the northeast region,” Smith said.
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