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Agriculture – the forgotten science
Dr. Victor Martin

Another chilly, windy weekend with a cold, potentially snowy period to follow this week. What a difference a year makes. While we aren’t thrilled with the cold weather and wet soils, the upside is not one acre in Kansas is even abnormally dry. Wheat conditions are all over the place as has been discussed before. Wheat producers are starting to become a bit antsy for green up or even to see if late-planted wheat has emerged. Co-Ops and Ag service operations are ready to start topdressing wheat. The 2019 wheat crop is behind but there is a bit of a silver lining, a lessened chance of the growing point emerging too early and being damaged. Now, onto today’s topic.

There was an article in the Tribune recently regarding an event at U.S.D. 428. The event was to expose students to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) opportunities as career choices.  While the article may not have listed all the possible areas, it had the traditional focus on career opportunities. In this article and other media reports on STEM there is one area/career choice almost never mentioned. Yet it is perhaps one of the original stem career choices, the single largest employer in this country, and on the cutting edge of “STEM.”  Agriculture.

Perhaps this is simply an oversight. Perhaps there are many schools actively relating STEM to agriculture and it is going unreported. Perhaps it is the result of old, deeply entrenched stereotypes of those in agriculture as unsophisticated “hicks.” Perhaps it is a lack of awareness of the breadth and scope of the science, technology, engineering, and math that makes up modern agricultural production and the possible career paths, all of which involve STEM. Perhaps it is a lack of awareness of the role agriculture plays in modern society now.  How that role is increasing as the world population continues to grow and resource conservation becomes more and more critical. Finally, it may be a lack of awareness of how many people are needed over the next 30 years to work in food, fiber, and fuel production. That agriculture is and continues to experience a chronic shortage of qualified, educated individuals in all aspects of the industry.

How important is agriculture to Kansas? It accounts for around seventy billion dollars of the state’s economy or over forty percent. Around a quarter million people are employed in some aspect of agriculture. Farmlands account for over forty million acres in Kansas, almost ninety percent of total land. Cattle normally outnumber people in the state by almost three to one. The number of hogs is around two million. And the list could go on and on.

As our ability to produce food, fiber, and fuel, goes, so goes the nation. This is a rapidly changing area on the cutting edge of STEM. Hopefully, schools as well as the rest of us will recognize this fact.


Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.