The Importance of Agricultural Education in Schools

          Kate Ziehm, publisher of ‘Morning Ag Clips’, wrote an article for her publication on December 8th entitled “It is our Responsibility”. Kate received a note from a teacher who said that he shares the Morning Ag Clips with his class and raved about how that helps keep his students current on agriculture issues. She goes on to say, “It is our responsibility to get our children/students who love agriculture hooked into something every day that keeps them aware of what is going on in the industry.”

Ms. Ziehm goes on to say that the future of agriculture lies with our kids. “They are the next generation that is going to feed the world and be the stewards of the land.” She suggests that knowledge provides the power, while personality provides the action. Kate goes on to say that it is pretty simple. Get the youth tuned in, whether it be through podcasts, radio, industry publications or Morning Ag Clips.

The task is bigger than keeping the young people that want to go into the industry we call agriculture interested. It is also getting the youngsters that live in more urban and suburban neighborhoods to cultivate an interest in farming, or food distribution or processing. The industry is so much bigger than just producing the food, forage, and fiber. It is the responsibility of us involved in agriculture to also tell the story of our family farms and the farmers that care for the land, care for the soil, and the animals that they care for seven days a week. There is so much misinformation circulating about agriculture and it is our responsibility to correct the record.

Most non-rural people are far removed from the farm. So many today do not know where their food comes from. It just is on the grocery store shelf, and little thought is given by the consumers to how it gets there. As the saying goes, “If you like to eat, then you have to like agriculture.” It is our responsibility to ensure everyone knows how food gets to their plate, and how much the farmer cares that it is safe, nutritious and good tasting.

There are two organizations for young people and youth: the 4 H, sponsored by the Cooperative Extension, and the FFA that is in many high schools. I can think of no better organizations for educating our kids about agriculture, but to also develop leadership skills. Maria VanderWoude, the Executive Director of the Granite State Association of FFA says “Agriculture requires professionals with specialized skills to accept the stewardship of the environment, producing safe products for consumption and maintaining a competitive advantage in a worldwide market.” Maria goes on to say “Youth training for careers in agriculture must have viable ways to develop their leadership skills as they prepare to take the reins and guide the industry.” The FFA promotes premier leadership through its many events, programs and competitions.”

Farming First publication from August 2013 encourages school systems across the world to include agriculture in the curriculum at all grade levels. The article goes on to suggest that we in the industry use social media to convey to students and consumers the story of our farms and farm families. It rightly says that today’s youth are the next generation that is going to feed the world, and we need them prepared to take on that responsibility.

Since it is our responsibility to educate our youth about agriculture, we need to encourage school districts to look for creative ways to pique the children’s interest. Suggestions are to teach agriculture as part of a science curriculum, or adding some agriculture as part of a math lesson. Elementary school children can get a great deal of motivation by planting herbs in classroom window boxes, caring for those herbs and then harvesting them for the school cafeteria to be used fresh or dried throughout the year. School gardens are another way to teach children about farming and gardening. You can even experiment with organic and non-organic methods in adjoining gardens. As Agriculture Legislators, you have a unique opportunity to spread the agriculture and wholesome food message to your constituents. As legislators, you need to ensure that your state and provincial budgets adequately fund agriculture education programs.

While FFA and 4 H in schools are very highly recommended in the development of agricultural, forestry and leadership skills, the Ag in the Classroom program cannot be forgotten.  In this program, adults volunteer to read the Ag in the Classroom ‘book of the year’ to third graders.  Each year, a different area of farming is featured.  Equally important to familiarizing school children with life on the farm is the Farm to School program, where farmers provide food to schools cafeterias, bring farm animals to the school, or host tours of their farms for the school children.

Kate Ziehm is right. Educating youth and consumers about agriculture and our family farms is our responsibility. If we do not do it, who will? Kate’s article in Morning Ag Clips can be found here:

https://www.morningagclips.com/its-our-responsibility/

The Status and Statistics of Rural Broadband

It has been reported for years that high speed broadband is lacking in the rural areas of our country compared to urban and suburban areas.  People living in rural America do not have to be told they need broadband – they are well aware of the disadvantages they face living with lack of high speed internet. Children’s Children suffer by lack of access to high speed internet for homework or research projects compared to metropolitan students.  Rural business owners are at a significant economic disadvantage without high speed access to the internet for online ordering, credit card processing, online banking, and business marketing. Doctors and Lawyers need the access too.

Betsy Huber, President and Master of the National Grange, who was recently appointed to the FCC Broadband Advisory committee, stated that the Grange has been a longtime advocate for rural broadband and that she now has this awesome responsibility to be a voice for rural America and its people, businesses and farmers. One of the things Ms. Huber will advocate for is that farmers need internet services not only in the home and the barn, but on the tractor in the field.

Let’s look at some rural versus urban statistics.  In rural America only 55% of residents and businesses have access to broadband with speeds of 25 MBPS or greater, while in the cities, 94% availability is the norm.  The 55% access percentage does increase to 64% in rural areas with 10MBPS speed availability; however, the FCC does not accept speeds that slow as being classified as ‘high speed internet.’

Competition improves choice. Only 19% of rural areas have a choice of broadband providers, while 60% of the rest of the country has choice. Put another way, 36% of rural Americans lack any access to broadband, even at slower speeds, but in the urban and suburban areas only 4% lack access. That is 23 million people in rural areas with no access to high speed internet service there is a bigger problem. Where there is access to broadband, 100,000,000 residents do not subscribe, even though it is available to them.  For some the reason is cost, for some they do not see the need for the service, and, for many older citizens, they do not even own a computer.

So why is broadband coverage so low in rural America? Broadband service is provided, with very few exceptions, by the private sector. For those providers, such as Comcast or Fair Point, where to provide high speed internet access is a business decision. The return on investment of stringing fiber optic cable for limited connectivity in remote areas is a poor business choice. It costs roughly the same amount to string a cable in the city and potentially attach one thousand subscribers as it does to string cable in rural locations and potentially attract six subscribers. On average, it costs$40,000 a mile to string cable.

It should be noted that today’s farmers rely more and more on access to high speed broadband. They need to be competitive and efficient and have access to data needed to operate their business. In some agricultural areas, farmers are starting collectives to string their own lines from the provider’s connection point.  It is not uncommon for people on the outskirts of rural communities with no access to broadband to go to the local library   to login to the internet at just to read their email.

What is the solution? The Federal Communications Commission, in its latest budget, is providing $2 Billion over 10 years for subsidies to providers to encourage them to string lines in rural areas and make connections.   In addition to these subsidies, there are currently several bills before Congress dealing with broadband accessibility, as outlined By Jessica Mulholland and Eyragon Eidam in the August 6 edition of ‘Government Technology:

‘The bipartisan Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) bill, was introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. The legislation aims to drive down wireless costs by opening commercially licensed and unlicensed spectrum space, while hopefully bettering broadband access in rural areas.   There is also

In a similar spirit, the U.S. House’s Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act of 2017 would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a national standard for “reasonably comparable” broadband services in rural and urban areas. Since the bill’s introduction in mid-June, however, it has not progressed in the House.

Also in mid-June, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., introduced legislation that would provide tax incentives for companies willing to build out rural broadband services. The so-called Gigabit Opportunity Act would effectively allow companies to front load the expensing of investments in rural networks within applicable zones. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai lauded the bill, which has not progressed since its June 16introduction.

And in March, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., introduced legislation that would streamline broadband permitting in existing highway rights-of-way for broadband infrastructure projects. Called the Highway Rights-of-Way Permitting Efficiency Act of 2017, the bill seeks to avoid duplicative federal permitting and regulations and other issues that cause project delays and cost-overruns.

And states in the CSG-ERC region are taking measures to expand broadband in their states as well.

On June 14, the Maine House passed Legislative Document 1399, which would create the nonprofit Maine Broadband Initiative. The goal of the non-profit would be to spur high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved parts of the state. The broadband initiative would replace the ConnectME Authority with the new Maine Broadband Initiative. On June 15, the Senate placed the bill on the Special Appropriations Table, which is tasked with determining how to fund the bill.

In late May, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bipartisan Senate Bill 717, which establishes the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service as a means of studying and outlining recommendations to further the technology in underserved, rural areas.

The goal of New Hampshire House Bill 238 is to establish a committee to study broadband access, one of the first steps in working toward bringing access to rural residents. The bill was introduced in New Hampshire in December 2016, but it didn’t pass the House until February 2017 and then passed the Senate on April 27.  New Hampshire currently has SB 170 that would set up a public / private partnership to leverage investment. That bill has passed the appropriate Senate Committee and will go to the full Senate in January. It is expected to pass the Senate, but will have more resistance in the NH House

New York’s Assembly Bill 4869 aims to create a tax credit for providers willing to deploy broadband services to rural or underserved homes and businesses. The bill, aptly named the Credit for Rural Broadband Act of 2017, was both introduced and referred to the Senate Governmental Operations Committee Feb. 3, and has not showed any signs of moving forward’

Legislatures, both federal and state, will need to be willing to subsidize rural broad banding in order for providers to move forward with build out.

The CSG-ERC Rural & Agricultural Affairs Committee staff will continue to monitor the rural broadband situation at the state level and give you updates as they occur.

2017 Census on Agriculture

According to a December 4 press release, the National Agricultural Statistic Service division of the USDA has this week begun to mail the 2017 Census of Agriculture to the national’s farmers.  The census is a critical tool in determining the number of farms there are in the country, and their economic health.  All farms which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural product in 2017 are required to participate in the census.

“The Census of Agriculture is USDA’s largest data collection endeavor, providing some of the most widely used statistics in the industry,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “Collected in service to American agriculture since 1840, the census gives every producer the opportunity to be represented so that informed decisions can support their efforts to provide the world with food, fuel, feed and fiber. Every response matters.”  The resulting data are used by farmers, ranchers, trade associations, researchers, policymakers and many others to help make decisions in community planning, farm assistance programs, technology development, farm advocacy, agribusiness setup, rural development and more.

This year, the NASS has made it easier for farmers to complete the census.  In addition to the ‘snail mail’ census, there is now an updated online questionnaire, with auto calculations and online and desktop compatibility.

The deadline for submitting the census response is February 5, 2018.  Response is required by law.  All information received is required to be kept confidential and is to be used only for statistical purposes.  The data will only be published in aggregate form to prevent disclosing the identities of any individual producer or farm operation.  The results of the census will be released in February 2019.

Here is a link to the NASS Census PowerPoint presentation:

https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Partners/2017/2017_Census_PPT_FINAL.pdf

And here is a link to the USDA Census website for all the information you and your constituents might need:

https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/

 

Please urge your farmer constituents to fill out the questionnaire and submit it prior to the deadline.  It is only with accurate data that we can know what our farmers need and how to get it to them.