There really isn’t much to add to the winter wheat planting conversation except that maybe Friday and Saturday some beneficial rains actually fell. Instead of beating the same old drum, let’s discuss something a little different. One of the hardest things to convince students majoring in some aspect of agriculture is that they know a lot more than they think. This is true for most of us. We learn from observing, making mistakes, doing our jobs, and reasoning things out. This is especially true of students growing up on a family farm. While helping and listening they possess a lot of basic knowledge to make them successful. Secondary education, especially when focused on career preparation, has three main tasks.
1. Helping pull out of their memory what they have observed and figure out what it means.
2. Explaining why what they know is true is true, and giving them the context to understand why so they can apply that knowledge in the future.
3. Providing them with knowledge and skills they don’t possess. This is not only laying a foundation, say math and science courses, but helping them learn the critical thinking skills to apply that knowledge.
Implicit in those three tasks is helping students effectively take in information, analyze it, and based upon knowledge used with reason, make informed, intelligent decisions. Also involved in this is helping them actually care about classes that they take because they are required to and showing them the applications to their lives and careers.
Agricultural Economics is great example of a class that can cause eyes to glaze over and elicit comments regarding its lack of relevance to their education. But as they start into the course they discover two things, they actually know and make decisions that an economist would approve of and the ideas, while not always easy to grasp, actually are relevant. That and they learn how wacky some concepts and ideas used to explain economics are. So what are some concepts they know but never put a name to before class?
• “Law of Diminishing Returns” – Students know that you can only apply so much fertilizer to a crop and then two things happen: each additional unit of fertilizer added increases yields less and less and as you continue to add fertilizer yields actually decrease. Now they understand why that works.
• “Opportunity Costs” or what you could earn or produce in the next best (alternative) use or uses. This makes sense once they think about what happens on the farm. They understand the acreage devoted to corn, wheat, beans, etc. varies often from year because of input costs or the price of the commodity. They now know why their family makes those decisions and the reasons behind those choices.
• “Relative Prices” – This concept is easily explained once they look at how technology has increased on their farms while the population has decreased. Why? Because the price of labor, along with some other factors, relative to technology is “high.” Technology is relatively “cheaper” although most workers involved in production wouldn’t say they were expensive.
For many of us, one of the positives of education is to be able to validate what we know we know. Also for many of us, it helps rid us of fallacies and myths we know must be true.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.