Field Days and Career Fairs Help Youth See Opportunities in Agriculture

Tara Smith  |  10/17/2016 3:04:23 PM

Tara P. Smith, Terri Crawford, Lekeisha Lucas-Powell, Ashley Powell, Lanette Hebert and Steve Linscombe

Agriculture is a leading economic driver in Louisiana, forming the backbone of the economy in many regions across the state. Total gross farm-gate value for Louisiana agriculture was estimated at just over $6.5 billion in 2015, with value-added exceeding $12 billion. The centers of agriculture are primarily located in the northeastern, southwestern and south central regions of Louisiana, whereas, the southeast region is a hub for horticulture enterprises and the northwest region is a center for forestry and related enterprises. Agricultural producers, their families and everyone affiliated with agriculture understand the hard work, dedication and struggles involved in producing the commodities that sustain each of us and the way of life we have to come to know. LSU AgCenter research and extension programs continue to contribute to the sustainability of agricultural enterprises across the state.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, U.S. agriculture and related industries contributed about $835 billion or 4.8 percent toward the Gross Domestic Product in 2014. Approximately 17 million U.S. workers, or about 9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, are employed in industries that relate to food and fiber. During the next five years, it is expected that over 57,000 jobs will be available annually for graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher in areas pertaining to food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, the environment and other related disciplines. Many American consumers do not have a fundamental understanding of agriculture or how it touches their lives. To meet the challenges of the future, it is imperative that youth and adults increase their understanding and knowledge of agriculture.

The LSU AgCenter Northeast and Southwest regions have been conducting agricultural awareness educational programs through youth-targeted field days and career fairs. Through a collaborative effort of research and extension faculty and staff in the Northeast Region, the first-ever LSU AgCenter Youth Field Day was held at the Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase in April 2014. The idea for the event grew from a question posed by Lakeisha Lucas-Powell, 4-H agent in East Carroll Parish, who asked if research stations conducted tours to provide youth a better understanding of agriculture in the region. From that one question the concept evolved into what is now an annual field day to introduce youth to real-world agriculture and provide them with the opportunity to learn more about agricultural production, technology, research and career opportunities. Almost 200 students from 12 parishes in the region participated in the event in 2014, and more than 275 youth participated in 2015.

The 2014 youth field day focused on sweet potato, soybean and wheat production and featured agriculture equipment, the use of drones in agriculture and agricultural career opportunities. Field tours in 2015 highlighted beef and forage production, sweet potato production and agricultural best management practices and featured educational opportunities and degree programs offered through the LSU College of Agriculture. A career fair presented information from AgCenter faculty and staff, agricultural consultants, extension agents, representatives of the processing sector and a veterinarian.

The 2015 Southwest Region career day at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station featured rice breeding and production practices, environmental and coastal programs, renewable natural resources and agricultural engineering. The event also provided information on the LSU College of Agriculture. Exhibitors included farm lenders, seed companies, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, USA Rice Federation, LSU AgCenter extension and 4-H representatives, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. In 2016, interactive workshops highlighted food science and nutrition programs, agricultural engineering, animal sciences and agronomy, as well as College of Agriculture degree programs and opportunities for prospective students.

Field days aimed at youth have been successful and serve as a model to inform youth about the value and importance of agriculture. In 2015, 85 percent of participants at the Northeast Region Youth Field Day indicated that the experience would be helpful in making career decisions, with more than 70 percent indicating they were interested in pursuing an agriculture-based career. More than half of those who participated signed up to be contacted by an LSU College of Agriculture recruiter. In 2016, 65 percent of youth participating in the Southwest Region career day indicated the experience would be helpful as they begin making career decisions, with 56 percent agreeing they were interested in pursuing a career in agriculture.

The agricultural sector is a large employer, and all facets of the industry are actively seeking qualified individuals to fill critical positions in research, extension, teaching, technical fields, industry and business operations. Youth field days will continue to be an important mechanism to reach youth and inform them about what agriculture has to offer.

Tara P. Smith is AgCenter Northeast Region director, Terri Crawford is Northeast Region 4-H and family and consumer science coordinator, Lekeisha Lucas-Powell is a 4-H agent in East Carroll Parish, Ashley Powell is a 4-H agent in Catahoula Parish, Lanette Hebert is Southwest Region 4-H coordinator, and Steve Linscombe is Southwest Region director and American Cyanamid Professor for Excellence in Plant Genetics, Breeding and Variety Development.

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LSU AgCenter molecular geneticist Herry Utomo explains the work he conducts using analysis of DNA in rice to improve quality of new rice varieties as part of a youth career day. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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Shelby Thibodeaux, of St. Mary Parish, reacts after reaching inside a cow’s rumen to feel digested grass at the April 21 career day. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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Courtney Garber, of Acadia Parish, looks at an experiment being conducted in the lab of agronomist Dustin Harrell as part of the Southwest Regional Agricultural Career Day on April 21, 2016, at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station in Crowley. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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Students attending the Northeast Youth Field Day on April 29, 2014, at the Sweet Potato Research Station watched a drone demonstration and learned how farmers use drones. Photo by Tobie Blanchard

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