This past Thursday Barton Community College hosted over 300 area high school students for the Annual Jack Kilby Science Day. They were exposed to a variety of speakers and topics ranging from the drones and blood typing to biodiesel, chemistry and physics magic. One topic involved soils and their importance to our world, not just in agriculture but in our everyday world. Another part of the soils presentation involved careers in agriculture and the challenge of feeding nine billion people in the next several decades.
The future of not just the United States but of the world rests on a scientifically literate population. Not everyone needs to become a scientist but everyone needs to understand basic biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics to survive in an increasingly technology oriented world. And the need for science literacy applies not only to the hard sciences just listed but also to the “soft” sciences like economics. In agriculture the need is even greater and in areas many wouldn’t even think about. Let’s examine the need a bit.
* Producers – These are the people who own the family and corporate operations producing food, fiber and fuel. While they may hire crop consultants, attend extension meetings, and use testing labs in their operations they are the ones making the decisions. They need the ability to process and analyze what is being recommended, new techniques, and new technologies. And producers need the observational and critical thinking skills to identify potential problems, how to determine the solution, and where to obtain the necessary information.
* Workers – These are the men and women performing the day-to-day tasks in producing food, fiber, and fuel. They need to understand not only what they are supposed to do but why they are doing it. Workers further need to ability to recognize problems and obstacles early on. More importantly they need the science background to identify potential problems and help the producer plan accordingly.
* Agribusiness – From spray rig operators and seed salesman to crop consultants and food processors, everyone needs a basic science background to do their jobs well. Just as above, it is not enough to do what you are told. You must be able to know why you are doing what you are doing and evaluate the process to either identify problems or make it better.
* Researchers – From private companies and land-grant universities to the USDA and EPA, the country needs highly trained and qualified technicians and researchers to solve the problems of an ever changing agricultural landscape. There is growing shortage of American students committing to graduate school for an M.S. and PhD. The bright side of this is most won’t go on because they can have good, high-paying careers with just a B.S. The not so bright side is their income increase with advanced degrees, particularly a PhD, makes it hard to justify the time investment and income lost.
* Consumers – In a world where advertising is becoming increasingly sophisticated and groups on either end of the spectrum are constantly bombarding the public with real and pseudo-scientific claims, a consumer must be scientifically literate to separate the truth from the fiction. And with basic scientific literacy, consumers are much less likely to be emotionally sucked into the sensational “news” found everywhere.
This doesn’t mean you need a PhD or even necessarily a four-year degree but exposure and assimilation of basic science to be both a wise producer and consumer. Agriculture has an ever increasing need and shortage of trained individuals at all levels of the system.