Fifteen New Jersey 4-H members from Burlington, Cumberland and Mercer counties joined youth and adult teams from across the U.S. at the National Youth Agri-Science Summit, January 16-20 at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The high school students learned about agricultural science and technologies through a variety of hands-on activities, projects, field trips and speakers.
Chad Ripberger, 4-H agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) of Mercer County, was the program lead for the design and implementation of the summit, which brought together facilitators and professionals from multiple institutions, including USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, University of Maryland (research greenhouses and Animal Science Department), Rutgers, American Farm Bureau, several national commodity groups, regional agribusinesses and the program sponsor, Merck Animal Health.
Ripberger underscores the value of cultivating interest among young people, who today are generationally and geographically removed from farming and agriculture. It’s vital that young leaders and future decision makers understand the critical role of agricultural science innovation in addressing the world’s most pressing problems.
Some statistics put this in context and support the engagement of youths in the science of agriculture and its allied industries. Through 2015, it is estimated that there will be 54,400 annual job openings for those with agricultural college degrees. While the percentage of these opportunities in production agriculture has declined, 27% of these jobs will be in science and engineering and 47% will be in management and business. A shortfall of graduates for these science and business positions is projected, especially for the anticipated demand in animal and plant biotechnology. These emerging areas of agriculture are addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues related to food security, nutrition, energy, and sustainability.
Ripberger was joined by RCE of Mercer County’s agricultural senior program coordinator Meredith Melendez, who participated in the ag issues forum, the career panel, and conducted workshops on food safety. Also playing a key role was Altaira Bejgrowicz, RCE of Mercer County’s 4-H program assistant who helped conduct the hydroponics and ag biotechnology workshops.
The program included field trips to USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA National Agricultural Library, University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and a night tour of Washington D.C.