Over the next few decades, the world population will grow substantially, along with the percentage of that population that can be considered middle class. As middle class income increases, diets will be more varied, balanced and improved – meaning that there will be a higher demand for food. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts a 60 percent increase in the demand for milk, meat and eggs by 2050.

Feeding eight billion people by 2025 and over 9.5 billion people by 2050 will require more food production on less land and with fewer resources. Agriculturalists agree it will require more “‘STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math) to remain efficient and productive.

Feeding and clothing nine billion people will also require more people involved in all agriculture careers including those identified by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) such as management and business, science and engineering, food and biomaterials production, education, communications and governmental services.

The USDA reported some 57,900 employment opportunities for those with a bachelor’s degree (or a higher degree) in academic concentrations of food, agriculture, renewable natural resources or the environment each year between 2015 and 2020, but only an average of 35,400 graduates in those areas each year.

So there are robust opportunities for those interested in the fields of food, agriculture and natural resources. With job growth and retirements, there simply are not enough skilled people to serve today or tomorrow’s global food and agricultural needs.

As the needs of our planet and growing society have changed, so has education. High school food, agriculture, and natural resources education, a career and technical education program, (previously known as agricultural education, and before that, vocational agriculture) has already focused on these needs. Programs have transformed over the last ten years to include academically/STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curricula, rigorous enough that students can earn college credit for high school agricultural science courses.

New Jersey Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Education Programs Today The New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) administers the state’s food, agriculture and natural resources education programs in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). There are more than 55 teachers of agriculture (official certification title) and more than 40 approved food, agriculture, and natural resources education programs in over 30 of New Jersey’s more than 250 secondary school districts.

More than 10 years ago, New Jersey became one of the 10 states to participate in a pilot program for a new, STEM-based agricultural science education curriculum. The first New Jersey teacher became Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE)-certified in 2009. Since then, 40 teachers have been certified. Twenty-two New Jersey food, agriculture and natural resources education schools have transformed their instructional programs from ‘traditional’ horticulture or agriculture offerings to academically/STEM-infused food, agriculture, and natural resources science education programs using the national CASE program, modeled after Project Lead the Way (an engineering curriculum).

In developing the curriculum to prepare students for emerging careers, representatives from business and industry identified the skills and equipment necessary for today’s classrooms. What were once ‘agriculture shops’ and ‘classrooms’ are now being transformed into laboratories with handheld computers, lab tables, test tubes, microscopes, land labs, and more.

CASE offers a structured sequence of courses in five pathways (plant science, animal science, agricultural engineering/technology, natural resources and, soon, agriculture business); professional development for teachers using inquiry/project based teaching techniques; and lesson, course and program assessments; as well as a certification process that helps guarantee facility, teacher and program quality. Students excel because lessons and courses spiral and build on previous knowledge. Teachers use project/inquiry-based learning techniques that put students in control of their own learning. For more information see the CASE website at: www.case4learning.org

College Credit for Secondary Courses Saving time and saving money –especially college tuition costs –is always advantageous for students. High school students completing CASE courses have received up to 13.5 college credits at Rutgers University. Early New Jersey CASE students who received college credit for secondary courses have been very successful and made such a positive impact at Rutgers University, that Rutgers created a website (https://sebs.rutgers.edu/academics/case.html) hoping to attract CASE students from across the country.

The list of college courses eligible for credit continues to grow as university curriculum committees evaluate new CASE courses. Colleges and universities in the region that have created articulation agreements with New Jersey food, agriculture and natural resources education programs include but are not limited to: Rutgers – School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Delaware Valley University, County College of Morris, Cumberland County College, Mercer County Community College, and SUNY Cobleskill.

Inquiry/Project Based Teacher Professional Development is a Key to Success Teachers seeking specific course training attend CASE Institutes held around the country. They are often hosted by universities, typically during the summer months. The teachers attend training for up to 80 hours, and they experience all aspects of the 150-day curriculum, which fully equips them to teach courses effectively. CASE is successful because it requires teachers to attend this intense professional development before teaching the course, thus fully preparing them for success. Certification is for life and teachers receive updated curriculum every three years.

The common entry point for all students is Introduction of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources for first-year students. Depending on local offerings or student pathway interest (animal, plant, engineering, natural resources or business), the students take a foundation course in the second year. Course titles include: Principles of Agriculture – Animal; Principles of Agriculture – Plant; Agricultural Power and Technology; Natural Resources and Ecology and Agriculture Business Foundations. Third year students take specialization courses. These courses are intense and rely on knowledge, experience and lab practices from previous courses. Specialization course titles include: Animal and Plant Biotechnology; Food Science and Safety, Mechanical Systems in Agriculture; Environmental Science Issues and Agriculture Marketing and Communications. The capstone course, Agriculture Research and Development allows for all fourth-year students to work together regardless of pathway to research and solve problems on a related project.

CASE provides online access for teachers and students, as well as assessment tools for lessons and courses. http://www.case4learning.org/index.php/assessment-learning-reflections/philosophy-and-strategies

There are no state-mandated curricula in New Jersey and not all New Jersey schools use CASE. The typical cost for professional development for a teacher is about $3,000 (to attend a CASE Institute); in addition a school must purchase the laboratory and other equipment that is required by the curriculum. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture in cooperation with NJDOE, provides grants for teachers to attend CASE Institutes training and purchase necessary equipment.

Building Leaders and Preparing Students for Successful Careers through FFA FFA is the career and technical student-governed organization available to approved programs of instruction in food, agriculture and natural resources. FFA develops students’ leadership, personal growth and career skills, and helps instructors teach those skills. FFA, an educational resource, is integral to all instruction in food, agriculture and natural resources programs, no matter what curriculum the schools use.

Some may remember references to the name ‘Future Farmers of America.’ The organization transitioned to ‘FFA’ almost three decades ago to reflect the diversity of its members, their interests and to be more inclusive of all aspects of our industry. There are over 250 careers in the food, agriculture and natural resources industries, many of which are beyond the well-known animal, plant and fiber production careers. FFA also offers $2.7 million in college scholarships at the national level and up to $42,000 at the state level to members. FFA members compete in local, state and national career and leadership development events to help sharpen their skills for college and careers. Additionally, members can take advantage of local, state and national leadership opportunities that give them access to global travel and experiences.

More Programs and Teachers Needed The importance of food, agriculture, and natural resources education programs continues to grow as we continue to increase the population and decrease the land and water resources available to produce food and fiber. We must educate our young people to research, use, communicate about, market and educate others on improved and efficient science and technology in the industry. We need more programs to educate and prepare young people for the science, business, technology and education of agriculture, not fewer.

We will also need more certified teachers of agriculture to serve these programs, which is challenging based on the current shortage of teachers certified in this area. With increased job and career openings because of new and emerging careers, retirements or normal attrition, the gap continues to widen between the number of those graduating from colleges and universities and the employment demand. Knowing that 39 percent of the industry’s job openings are not filled by those with expertise in agriculture, this author agrees with the writers who say, “….if you want a job after college, study agriculture!”

For additional information, contact the author, or go to the website at www.jerseyageducation.nj.gov.

FURTHER READING

Agricultural Productivity is Key to Reducing World Poverty,” by Bill Gates 

Skip the MBA, Get an Agriculture Degree, ” by Jim Rogers, CNBC News 

Want a Job? Agriculture is teeming with them, ” by Christopher Doering, Gannett Washington Bureau and others

Nancy J. Trivette is state program leader in food, agriculture and natural resources education in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. She can be reached at nancy.trivette@ag.state.nj.us.

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