‘Agriculture’ is irreplaceable (Editorial)
Over time, several agriculture colleges at leading Land Grant universities have merged with related disciplines and emerged rebranded, adding Natural Resources, Life Sciences, Food Sciences, Environmental Sciences or other sciences tacked on to its name.
The impetus was to strengthen the college, attract more students and better define what programs are offered.
Notably, in each case, agriculture — the word and emphasis — remained first and foremost.
That would not be the case at the high school level under recent draft revisions to the National Career Clusters Framework.
The framework, overseen by AdvanceCTE, serves as an organizing tool for Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, curriculum design and instruction. Its 16 clusters represent 79 career pathways, seven of which come under the Agriculture Food and Natural Resources cluster.
Among its many proposed changes, the word “agriculture” is removed from the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources cluster and replaced with Living Systems.
The rationale for removing agriculture lies in its dual definition of narrowly describing food and fiber production and broadly describing the industry that surrounds and supports producers.
With labor market data mainly focused on production agriculture and some states and local planners required to use that data in developing programs, taking out the word takes out the conflict, according to the draft framework.
In other words, from the labor market data, the number of employees in actual ag production is too small to show there are high-skill, high-wage careers in demand in the field and justify the program being offered.
Yet another reason for the name change is that many ag-related careers — management, business, science and engineering — are already represented in other clusters.
After its unveiling on Feb. 9, a feedback survey was open until Feb. 25 and agriscience teachers wasted little time in responding.
The National Association of Supervisors of Agriculture Education implored AdvanceCTE to reestablish agriculture in the cluster name and align all pathways in the industry under it.
“What problem are we trying to solve by removing the word, ‘Agriculture?’” the NASAE executive committee asked in a letter. “There is no clear benefit that will positively impact students, teachers, or programs at the local level.
Agriculture provides 250 unique careers and covers 17 percent of the nation’s workforce, the NASAE letter said. Many of those don’t fit neatly into the areas of energy production, food production and natural resources services. Consider the green industry and other non-food crop industries.
“Removing the term ‘Agriculture’ from the vocabulary of schools is problematic,” the letter continued. “In terms of equity, it narrows the spectrum of students exposed to agriculture as a career area, impacting the diversity of future agricultural leaders. It widens the gap between producers and consumers by reducing communication about farms and food production. It undermines the public understanding of how agriculture contributes to our national economic strength and security. Essentially, it presents a long-term threat to the sustainability of our nation’s foundational industry.”
NASAE’s comments were among thousands sent in since the proposed revisions were presented. In one survey alone, AdvanceCTE reported over 3,500 responses and over 10,000 individual comments. The groundswell led to the group announcing on Feb. 24 that it would “suspend the initiative to modernize the framework.”
We’ve seen too clearly the effects of agriculture fading from the public’s everyday lives. It’s ranged from the silly — “Food is made in the grocery story” and “Only brown cows make chocolate milk” — to the scary as activist groups work tirelessly preying on an unknowing public to dismantle modern agriculture.
Aside from eating, wearing and driving with what agriculture produces, they have virtually no idea what it takes to grow and make it. As a result, farming groups have been trying to claw its way back into general classrooms and people’s homes for decades.
Removing agriculture from school vocabulary would be another way the industry gets lost from people, and arguably the people it needs most — young motivated students eager to work and searching for a different path.
Replacing agriculture with “Living Systems” in the cluster title leaves it to the students to find the many career paths the industry offers and desperately needs to fill, including new farmers, rather than packaging it together, and keeping at the top of the list.
Instead of scattering it about the CTE landscape, the revised network should shine an even brighter light on agriculture and what it provides for career-ready students and society as a whole.