Each year Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters around the country have been celebrating this past week — National FFA Week. Many of our chapters in our area have been sharing what FFA is and the impact it has on members every day.
The impact FFA had on me as a young person growing up was huge. It helped me solidify why I wanted a career in agriculture. I grew up on a grain and livestock farm, and as a farm kid, it was a no-brainer to be involved in FFA.
The opportunities like leadership, hands-on skills and exposure to parts of agriculture I had not experienced with my family’s farm and so much more opened my eyes to what was possible in a career of agriculture.
Today, the world of agriculture is much more than I think many of us ever dreamed, and the opportunities our young farm enthusiasts have before them is wide open.
Consider this: In 2017, 21.6 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors—11.0 percent of total U.S. employment. Direct on-farm employment accounted for about 2.6 million of these jobs, or 1.3 percent of U.S. employment.
Employment in agriculture- and food-related industries supported another 19 million jobs.Of this, food service, eating and drinking places accounted for the largest share — 12.5 million job s— and food/beverage stores supported 3.2 million jobs. The remaining agriculture-related industries together added another 3.3 million jobs.
Agriculture, food, and related industries contributed $1.053 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, a 5.4-percent share. The output of America’s farms contributed $132.8 billion of this sum—about 1 percent of GDP.
The overall contribution of the agriculture sector to GDP is larger than this because sectors related to agriculture — forestry, fishing, and related activities; food, beverages, and tobacco products; textiles, apparel, and leather products; food and beverage stores; and food service, eating and drinking places — rely on agricultural inputs in order to contribute added value to the economy.
Over 50,000 jobs in agriculture are available per year in the US, yet there aren’t enough qualified graduates to fill the spots.
Jobs in agriculture don’t necessarily take place in a field. New hires may find themselves in a lab, an office or perhaps even an open-concept co-working space.
I applaud all the school systems in Clinton County and across the country that support FFA and all it can offer our students. It is not just about dirt, or planting a crop, or driving a tractor.
Today it is about soil science, computer technology, engineering, genetics, and marketing and more.
An aging American farm population, the need to successfully transition land ownership from senior farmers to new industry entrants, and providing support and training for these beginning farmers, are top concerns for the future of the American farming industry.
The average age of U.S. farmers in 2007 was 57.1, while in 2012 this figure reached 58.3. Additionally, data shows that there are fewer beginning farmers joining the industry compared to findings from earlier agricultural censuses.
In addition, among U.S. farmers, only 6 percent are 35 years old or younger, while 33 percent are greater than 65 years old. In Ohio, 7 percent are 35 years old or younger, while 29 percent are older than 65.
I could go on and on, but the reality is, we need our young people embracing agriculture and looking to agriculture for career choices. The opportunities are boundless and we are going to need their help to continue to feed the world.
If you know a young person involved in FFA congratulate them for having an interest and continue to encourage school administrators and thank them as well for letting our young people experience everything agriculture is and has to offer.
To all FFA members, I say congratulations on your celebration and continued successes in your pursuits within the huge world of agriculture.
Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for over 30 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.