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Comment: Growing agriculture’s next generation

More needs to be done to demonstrate agriculture is a great career choice

The agriculture industry is a vital driver of the Canadian economy, contributing over $122 billion each year to the national GDP. With the world’s population expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, the industry has a significant opportunity to grow in economic importance as it expands to feed a growing global community.

However, the agricultural industry faces challenges to properly harnessing this growth, and the risk of millions of dollars in potential lost sales.

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council attributes this risk to an aging agricultural workforce, a reality further compounded by the 600 fewer youth entering the sector each year. The number of unfilled positions in agriculture is expected to climb as high as 123,000 within the next decade, leaving a talent gap that risks further hindering the industry’s ability to maintain its economic strength.

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It is vital that producers and industry stakeholders work to inspire the next generation to embark on agricultural careers. By investing in educational- and community-based initiatives, we at Bayer have identified three key areas of focus for stakeholders in helping get youth excited about the wealth of opportunities in the sector, both on and off the farm.

Community programs

By giving youth opportunities to explore their interest in science and build important problem-solving skills, community groups can emphasize the link between STEM and opportunities in the agriculture sector. Programs like those offered by 4-H Canada work to attract young minds to agriculture by providing opportunities for youth in rural communities to build their skill sets through hands-on, agriculture-focused learning. “Inquiry-based activities, such as the 4-H Science Fair, are vital in developing the young scientists whose discoveries will drive the technological advancements that agriculture needs,” says Shannon Benner, CEO, 4-H Canada. “By empowering students to explore the science behind agriculture, we’re exposing them to a wide range of opportunities they may have never considered before.”

Classroom engagement

Young people in urban communities where the sector’s real-life impact may be less visible also need greater exposure to the industry. The classroom is an important space to build youth awareness of the opportunities that extend beyond farming and into areas of STEM and business. Bayer supports programs such as AITC’s ThinkAg initiative that bring agriculture directly to students through in-classroom programming, interactive lessons, and experiential events. These educational programs allow students to interact directly with the careers that await them in agriculture, no matter their skill set or interest.

Global opportunities

“To ensure Canadian agriculture is prepared to meet the growing challenges, it’s not enough to think only locally,” says Kelly Hodgins, an alumni of Bayer’s Youth Ag Summit. “Our future leaders must be globally minded: aware of the interconnectedness of global food systems, and well networked across the world.” Bayer’s biannual Youth Ag Summit focuses on encouraging youth aged 18-25 to cultivate and execute innovative solutions that tackle humanity’s need to feed a growing and hungry planet. By interacting with global leaders and delegates from around the world, participants develop the skills to not only execute their own food-security projects, but also become future agricultural change makers and leaders within their own communities.

Trish Jordan is director of public and industry affairs for Bayer CropScience. She is based in Winnipeg.

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