By COURTNEY CULEY
Capital News Service
LANSING – Statewide, agriculture is expanding five times faster than the general economy, according to the Michigan Farm Bureau.
But schools are cutting funding for farm programs and students are losing interest in them.
It is a disconnect that some lawmakers are trying to address.
Agriculture is one of the fastest growing employment markets, and kids need the opportunity to learn about it, said Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart. Booher is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Schools let programs dry up because a loss of interest in agriculture occupations post-graduation and shrinking budgets, Big Rapids High School Principal Ronald Pincumbe said.
Schools move towards 21st century technologies, leaving agriculture science programs in the dust, he said. When funding was cut, agriculture programs were the first to go.
Big Rapids High School would consider bringing agriculture science back, but “bringing something in without money and staffing isn’t feasible,” Pincumbe said.
Agriculture education is a key job investment strategy, Booher said. “Agriculture is one of the fastest growing fields for employment.”
The agriculture-food and agriculture-energy industry employs 25 percent of Michigan’s work force, according to Michigan Farm Bureau.
Lawmakers are considering a bill to teach agriculture statewide over the Internet, Booher said.
High schools across Michigan would have access to the program. Booher expects the bill to come out of the Senate Education Committee soon.
Farm programs teach motivation, commitment, responsibility and self-discipline, said Jennifer Marfio, a Michigan Farm Bureau member from Mecosta County.
Having agriculture education available in schools could be beneficial, Marfio said, but she believes a hands on approach is much more useful.
High Schools aren’t the only places losing funding for agricultural education. Michigan State University experienced a 15 percent budget cut for extension services, services provided to non-college students, this fiscal year, said Chris Peterson, director of the university’s Product Center for Food, Agriculture, and Biology. Future Farmers of American and 4H were two of those programs that received cuts.
That hurts professional advising and leadership positions for agriculture, Peterson said. “These people are the key to success,” he said.
Youth programs are very beneficial to kids and can turn them into agricultural leaders, he said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By COURTNEY CULEY