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Invest in youth to secure ag’s future

Ag Matters: Two summer programs offer high school students a jump-start to an ag career.

Chris Chinn

May 21, 2024

3 Min Read
Students in a classroom setting
MEET MO AG: During the summer, students travel the state learning about agriculture opportunities. Last year, these 30 high schoolers visited Purina to learn more about careers as part of the Missouri Agribusiness Academy. This year, the group heads to the state’s southwest region. Missouri Department of Agriculture

This year marks the 36th Missouri Agribusiness Academy, with more than 1,000 alumni to the program.

MAbA created lifelong friendships and even several marriages. Former participants work in all areas of agriculture today — seed sales, plant biology, veterinarians, ag teachers and financial lending, just to name a few. Many are home on the family farm, and still others work outside of agriculture but can still advocate for the industry and its importance.

In June, 30 incoming high school juniors will travel to Jefferson City from across the state, with five students from each of the six Missouri districts. Their first stop is with the Missouri Department of Agriculture Ag Business Development team, to learn more about our leadership team, but that is just the start of a weeklong ag adventure.

These students are introduced to a variety of agriculture and agribusiness careers. This year, their tour takes them to Springfield and southwest Missouri, where they will visit:

  • a fish hatchery

  • Hiland Dairy processing facility

  • Joplin Regional Stockyards

  • Hammons Products Co.

  • a blueberry farm

  • Missouri State University Darr Agriculture Center

The agenda is full of terrific stops that I know the students will enjoy.

Next-gen networking

I meet with the students at the beginning and at the end of the week. The change in the group is always fascinating.

First, this quiet group of high school strangers become talkative friends after five days on a bus. However, the most interesting thing to me is how their knowledge of agriculture increases, even for kids who come from strong ag backgrounds.

They learn about jobs that were not even on their radar at the beginning of the week. This broad brushstroke of agriculture careers is something we talk to students about all the time. Kids who love science can steer their career toward plant science, food science or animal science, for example. There are so many options!

On this year’s MAbA tour, students will learn about beef genetics and reproduction using embryo transfer. Will this tour stop spark an interest for a student who loves working with animals, but does not have the land or capital for her own beef herd?

Foster curiosity in ag science

The Missouri Agribusiness Academy is one of two youth activities our team provides.

In July, MDA partners with the University of Missouri to host Life Sciences Quest Academy. A similar weeklong program, LSQ is geared to urban and suburban students, exposing them to agriculture, biotechnology and life sciences.

Life Sciences Quest participants tour biochemistry and nutrition labs, research farms and various industries. They learn about animal and plant genetics, while hearing from professionals. I hope this time lights a spark in many of these students.

The key to both events is to raise student awareness of the opportunities in agriculture.

For those who don’t come from a farm, we show them how they can plug into the industry.

For students who have an agriculture background, or at least an understanding, we show them how they can stay in our field. While I would love them to be in production agriculture, like my husband, son and son-in-law, I also know how vital seed salesmen, veterinary technicians and plant biologists are to the entire industry.

Only time will tell where these future leaders will end up. Will they have careers in agriculture, or will they take what they have learned through 4-H, FFA, MAbA and Life Sciences Quest and help tell the story of agriculture from a different part of the work world? Either way, I’m proud that the Missouri Department of Agriculture opens their world to the potential.

Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and lives on a diversified farming operation in northeast Missouri.

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