Most of us never stop to think about where our food comes from, but the agriculture industry still chugs along contributing about $835 billion annually to the GDP of the United States. The industry needs knowledgeable people to keep running, and that means attracting young people into the business. This is why CHS Inc., a Fortune 100 agribusiness owned by farmers, ranchers and cooperatives, focuses its corporate philanthropy on promoting agricultural education.
The CHS Foundation offers hundreds of scholarships for students pursuing degrees in agriculture-related fields, and funds recruitment and training initiatives to fill a shortage of agriculture teachers across the country. This month, the foundation announced its largest grant ever with an award of $3.44 million to the University of Minnesota to “transform agriculture education from kindergarten through higher education.”
For the city folk wondering what, exactly, agricultural education might entail, think land management, animal science, horticulture, crop science, and even economics and leadership training. Virginia’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, Jaclyn Ryan, is an agriculture teacher and advisor for her school’s Future Farmers of America program. According to Ryan, this field is not getting the attention it deserves.
“Agricultural Education should be in every school, but it isn’t,” Ryan wrote in an article. “The importance of our curricula spreads further than the classroom—we need agriculture to survive. If you eat, you need agriculture. If you wear clothes, you need agriculture. If you take medicine, live in a house or write with a pencil, you need agriculture.”
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A dearth of high-skilled workers in this field means that 22,500 agriculture jobs go unfilled each year. According to the CHS Foundation, there are 30 jobs in the industry for every one qualified candidate. So it makes sense that the foundation is investing in programs to develop an ag-savvy workforce.
We've been writing a lot lately about the many funders addressing the mismatch between employer needs and worker skills, but it never occurred to us that this was a significant problem in agriculture. It makes sense that it might be, given how few young people are growing up on farms these days. It also makes sense that the ag industry would see philanthropy as one way to tackle this issue, since the giving of other industries is guided by enlightened self-interest in a similar fashion, as we've reported.
"The CHS Foundation is committed to growing the next generation of agriculture leaders," Linda Tank, president of the CHS Foundation, said in the grant announcement. "Together with the University of Minnesota, we are cultivating, preparing and helping agriculture leaders thrive now and into the future."
The record-high grant to the University of Minnesota will fund programs such as an creating an agriculture education technology lab, integrating agriculture curricula into K-12 classrooms, and developing agriculture literacy programs. The university will also create a CHS endowed fellowship for agriculture education.
"We are charting a new course for the future of ag education with new technologies, interdisciplinary curriculum and experiential learning that combine best practices in agriculture and natural resource sciences," said Brian Buhr, Dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences at University of Minnesota, in the grant announcement.
While this domestic philanthropy from CHS Foundation is not surprising, we wrote recently about an unexpected player giving big money to agriculture education in Latin America. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation just revealed a $40 million commitment to EARTH University in Costa Rica to prepare the next generation to contribute to sustainable development in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.