Piquing Interest Early in Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources

For Randy Showerman, getting students interested in a career in agriculture, food and natural resources doesn't start when they get to Michigan State University. "That work starts early," he said.

Michigan FFA student

For Randy Showerman, getting students interested in a career in agriculture, food and natural resources doesn’t start when they get to Michigan State University.


“That work starts early,” he said.


Through a recent agreement between MSU and the Michigan Department of Education, he hopes to continue get high school students excited about agriculture, food and natural resources (AFNR), and give them the chance to earn six college credits. Entering MSU with six credits saves nearly $3,000 in tuition. 


Requirements to earn the credits include completing a state-approved agriculture, food and natural resources program, receiving the State FFA Degree and being accepted to MSU. Once the criteria are met, credits can be applied to the student’s major or used as electives with the approval of academic advisors. They may not be used to fulfill general education requirements.


The initiative has attracted significant attention. In Michigan, 456 students received the State FFA Degree in 2015, and 150 of them are attending MSU. Showerman, who is also the Michigan FFA advisor, believes that getting students interested in agriculture at a young age can increase workforce quality. That means agriculture, food and natural resources education has to become a greater priority in high schools. 


Michigan FFA membership is currently just shy of 7,000 with 110 chapters and 126 high school agriscience teachers.


For a veteran teacher, Mark Forbush, one of roughly 11,000 middle and high school agriculture educators in the United States, promoting the importance of agriculture is why he got into education. The allure of helping young people develop confidence and skills while training the next group of professionals has kept him in the classroom for 30 years.


As an agriculture teacher at Corunna High School, Forbush leads a 150- to 200-member FFA chapter with students in eighth to 12th grade. 


“We learn by doing—evaluating seed types, public speaking, career skill contests and a lot more,” Forbush said. “My students have gone on to be farmers, veterinarians, fisheries and wildlife professionals, and any number of other things. We help kids become passionate about agriculture and what they can contribute to it.”


Parents of students as young as ninth grade are already asking about earning college credit, Forbush said.


“MSU is on the cutting edge in agriculture education,” Forbush said. “To have the chance to save money on college classes is a huge benefit. It’s already working as a draw in my program.” 


For students already studying agriculture, the future is bright. 


Agcareers.com, which is a leading online job board for agriculture professionals, shows that more than 56,000 jobs available in 2013 but just 29,000 trained college graduates. Less than 1 percent of college students are pursuing degrees in agriculture, food and natural resources.


“Graduates in agriculture and natural resources are getting hired into meaningful careers,” said Kelly Millenbah, associate dean in CANR. “Students with experience in these programs—such as FFA—are in high demand. Providing this opportunity will go a long way toward encouraging the best and brightest students who have a good understanding of agriculture and natural resources to study at MSU.”




This article was published in In the Field, a yearly magazine produced by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. To view past issues of In the Field, visit www.canr.msu.edu/inthefield. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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