Progress seen in modernizing education for $132.5 billion ag industry

Cris Collingwood//September 27, 2022

Progress seen in modernizing education for $132.5 billion ag industry

Cris Collingwood//September 27, 2022

State Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding tours Conrad Weiser High School’s agriculture program facilities – PHOTO/PROVIDED

Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of young agriculture producers in the nation, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistic Service. 

To celebrate the 2,598 producers under age 35 and the progress in modernizing agriculture education, Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, Acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty and Commission for Agriculture Education Excellence Executive Director Stephon Fitzpatrick joined student leaders and educators Monday at Conrad Weiser High School in Robesonia, Berks County, to tour its cutting-edge facilities and student projects. 

“The agriculture industry cannot continue to feed the world without feeding the minds of our youth,” Redding said. “The innovative programs we’re seeing today are representative of an education that exposes students to the possibilities in agriculture, sparking their imaginations for how their curiosity, passions, and interests can be put to work in our industry.” 

Redding said programs across the state are preparing an increasingly more diverse group of students who will be agile in adopting technology and solving the complex challenges that come with climate change.  

“From hydroponics to animal care, urban gardens to FFA, agriculture education opens up endless opportunities for students to engage in learning that will lead to meaningful, family-sustaining careers,” said Hagarty. “The departments of Education and Agriculture, along with the Pennsylvania Commission for Agriculture Education, are committed to ensuring that learners across the commonwealth can take advantage of high-quality, engaging ag ed curriculum and programming in their school, no matter which city or town they call home.” 

The programs create relevant, hands-on learning experiences that prepare students for careers in agriculture, a $132.5 billion statewide industry that provides more than 593,000 jobs across the state. The 2.4% increase in the agriculture workforce since 2018 shows that jobs will be in demand when students graduate, Redding said. 

Jobs range from farm managers to high-tech equipment mechanics, and from field biologists to entomologists to veterinarians. All must be equipped to adapt to changing technology and climate challenges, he said. 

The Wolf Administration, in coordination with the General Assembly, created the 15-member Commission for Agricultural Education Excellence in 2017 to help create and implement a statewide plan to align educational programming with increasingly technological needs of today’s employers. The commission’s third biennial report was released during today’s event, outlining progress made on the commission’s recommendations. 

Highlighted commission accomplishments include: 

  • Growth in the number of approved secondary ag education programs statewide from 131 to 178 since the commission’s inception, with five more pending approval. 
  •  Hiring a dedicated, specialized commission staff with expertise in agriculture-focused career and technical education and diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
  •  Assessing the state’s ag education Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) and implementing a strategic plan to address gaps, which has led to New Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) chapters in four urban high schools and Delaware Valley University. 
  •  Strengthened or renewed partnerships with Rodale Institute, the Food Policy Advisory Council, and other non-governmental entities specializing in urban and organic agriculture. 
  •  Built ties with the Franklin Institute to help build student connections to ag careers in their initiatives.