LSU participates in initiative to increase agriculture graduates

(10/14/16) WASHINGTON – The LSU College of Agriculture, along with other federal agencies, private sector stakeholders and educators, has joined with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on an initiative to expand and diversify the U.S. agricultural workforce.

Leslie Blanchard, assistant dean of the LSU College of Agriculture, participated in the America the Bountiful initiative kickoff at a meeting at the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6.

Blanchard was part of a panel discussing agricultural engagement with K-12 students and shared the success of the college’s Governor’s School for Agricultural Sciences. In 2016, the college held a one-week residential program for academically talented high school seniors interested in agricultural sciences.

“It gave them a panoramic view of agriculture,” Blanchard said about the program. “We had two goals: to recruit these students to LSU to study agriculture and to expose them to careers in agriculture that they may have not considered.”

Blanchard told of plans to expand the program to two weeks in 2017. She was one of nearly two dozen participants outlining ways to encourage more individuals to pursue a career in agriculture.

Kei Koizumi, assistant director for research and development for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said his office is working to ensure a strong and vibrant agricultural workforce. For example, he said he has seen a slow but steady decline in plant breeders despite industry demand.

“We need to target investments in agricultural education and research,” he said.

Joe Leonard, USDA assistant secretary for civil rights, said the agency is targeting historically underrepresented groups in agricultural sciences, and the USDA is working to build trust in communities of color.

“Hands that have cut wheat and have picked cotton, hands that have cultivated maize and harvested grapes will have a spot in this initiative,” Leonard said.

The initiative follows a study by the USDA and Purdue University that determined the next five years will have approximately 57,000 job openings for college graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources or the environment, but only 35,000 graduates will be available to fill those positions.

“We need to change the perception of how students view agriculture and eliminate myths and stigmas,” Blanchard said.

The final panel of the meeting consisted of three students majoring in agriculture programs at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The students also were members of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Ben Webster, a business administration major and his school’s MANRRS chapter president, expressed optimism about the future of the agriculture workforce and said he is proud to one day add to its diversity.

“In 10 years I think it will be better than it is now,” Webster said. “But we need to work on not just diversity but inclusion. Diversity is getting invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance.”

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Leslie Blanchard, assistant dean of the LSU College of Agriculture, talks about the college’s Governor’s School for Agricultural Sciences during the America the Bountiful meeting at the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6. Blanchard, Karl Binns, coordinator of recruitment, retention and experiential learning at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Riley Pagett, director of advocacy and government relations for National FFA, were on a panel on agricultural engagement with K-12 students. Photo by Tobie Blanchard

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India Oliver, Omariah Estrada and Ben Webster, students from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, take part in a panel discussion moderated by Lilia McFarland, new farmer coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The students discussed ways to get young minorities interested in pursuing careers in agriculture. Photo by Tobie Blanchard

10/14/2016 4:37:17 PM
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