Preparing the Next Generation to Feed a Growing Planet
The opportunities for creativity and problem-solving within agriculture are endless; however, we are finding that the world’s young people often don’t consider this to be the case. The image constructed in many young consumers’ heads are of men in boots riding tractors and performing manual labor. Yes, today’s farmers do indeed use tractors, but many young people do not realize that those on today’s farms are technologically advanced and often equipped with an average of twelve screens – that’s more than many people have in their house! From GIS technology to weed management, these tractors use digital tools to do much more than plow fields.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to nearly 10 billion people. That’s 2.8 billion more people than live on Earth today. All the while, fewer young people are recognizing the diverse career opportunities available in agriculture. Now, we find ourselves at a crossroads. In thirty years, it will be up to the next generation of leaders to ensure these 10 billion people all have access to enough fresh, safe and nutritious food. While the burgeoning population is a challenge, the decreasing work force in the ag industry begs the question: How do we ensure these future leaders are ready and willing to take up the mantle?
Head of Crop Technology, Soybean – Bayer Crop Science Division
Bayer is committed to showcasing the many possibilities available in the agri-science industry and inspiring the next generation to be involved. To pique student interest, they need to experience science – not just read about it. This is why Bayer has a number of programs in place around the world to engage youth of all ages and provide tangible, hands-on experiences around STEM education and agri-science.
Every two years, Bayer convenes the Youth Ag Summit, bringing together delegates between the ages of 18 and 25 to critically – and creatively – problem-solve the issues of tomorrow. The last summit held in Brussels, Belgium, centered on the task at hand of feeding a hungry planet. Young leaders in attendance represented 49 different countries and brought together unique perspectives and knowledge as they engaged in eye-opening conversations and expanded their professional networks. Each summit, the delegates are divided into teams and compete to solve a challenge based off the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The winning group then receives funding to make their vision a reality. Since its inception, the Youth Ag Summit has had a concrete impact in shaping the next generation of sustainable agriculture champions. Our impact goes beyond the Summits themselves; we strive to foster and support a network of ‘agvocates’ who are active on an ongoing basis in tackling food security challenges. Applications for the 2019 summit, to be held in Brasilia, Brazil, are now being accepted through January 17. Know someone who would value this experience? Encourage them to apply here.
Additionally, Bayer in North America works closely with the Sigma Alpha sorority, an agricultural leadership organization located on many college campuses, to facilitate AgVocacy training sessions. These sessions take a critical look at how consumers view and speak about modern agriculture. Through these workshops, women from Purdue University, Michigan State University, the University of Georgia and many, many more are preparing to engage others in what can be difficult conversations about advancements in agriculture and ultimately become representative voices for the industry within their communities.
But how do we foster growth of a group of future leaders who do not yet know the possibilities found in agri-science? Bayer sponsors several programs that directly engage youth under the age of 18. In 10 countries worldwide, Baylabs have been developed in coordination with local Bayer sites to engage students of all ages with biology, chemistry and medicine. This program, which both invites students into Bayer laboratories and brings experiments into local classrooms, aims to kickstart youth’s fascination with science and encourages exploration of these disciplines. During this year’s holiday break from school, the Monheim, Germany, location will host its second Baylab vacation for high school students. Over four days, they will partake in immersive experiences and conduct experiments relating to modern agriculture and nutrition, ensuring scientific learning continues even when class is not in session. With hands on learning, students can make the connection between science and their everyday lives. By the end of last year, over 420,000 students experienced the Baylab program.
In the United States, Bayer partnered with National 4-H Council (4-H) to launch the Science Matters program, which addresses the misperceptions students have about modern agriculture. In just over a year, Science Matters activities, including curriculum education tools, digital photo contests and a video produced in collaboration with influencer Zach King, have reached millions of students. Bayer also sponsors 4-H’s Youth Summit on Agri-Science, where high school students from across the country are invited to participate in an immersive weekend, partaking in workshops with industry leaders, exploring career opportunities and more.
Earlier this year Science Matters released survey results revealing that, although 80 percent of high school science teachers believe agri-science is important, only 22 percent teach the subject in their classrooms. Furthermore, though 86 percent of parents of high school students believe encouraging pursuits within agri-science is important for global health, 70 percent of respondents did not expect their children to seek a job within the industry.
Through the many efforts Bayer is making, we hope to inspire the next generation to think differently about the possibilities available within the world of agriculture by encouraging them to dive in and ultimately close the career gap looming before us.