Friday, May 10, 2019

Agriculture needs more tech specialists; hard to recruit

Some may consider agriculture old-fashioned, but it relies on innovation as much as any industry, so states that want to continue being ag powerhouses see a need to invest in high-tech ag education.

"Science and technology will be core to the farming revolution, which teachers and agricultural leaders envision as including robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images and GPS technology, alongside big data that affects everyone — suppliers, farmers, traders, processors, retailers and consumers," April Simpson reports for Stateline.

The farm sector needs more tech experts to help develop precision agriculture, but many techies have no idea that agriculture is even an option for them. Ag educators and advocates "say part of the problem is marketing: Most people, including students, equate agriculture with farming. The industry gets limited media exposure, they said, but also needs to do a better job of promoting itself, particularly as high-tech," Simpson reports. "But agriculture can be a tough sell to students when other flashy majors are competing for attention. Engineering programs, for example, often have ample resources and funding. Computer science academies can give students computers." 

Also, "The agricultural industry can feel insular and difficult to break into for those who didn’t grow up on a farm, in a rural area or with an industry connection," Simpson reports. The industry is 95% white and mostly male, inhibiting non-white and female students. And there aren't enough certified ag teachers in public schools to help more students see farming or ag tech as viable career paths.

There's money to be made. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that, if farmers had better access to digital technologies, the U.S. could increase its agricultural production by almost 18%, meaning $47 billion to $65 billion in annual gross economic benefits, Simpson reports.

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