WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2016 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced increased federal and private-sector support to expand and diversify the U.S. agricultural workforce by increasing opportunities in education, research and outreach. The announcement is part of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Rural Council initiative, America the Bountiful, a collaboration with federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders to meet the growing demand for a skilled, diverse workforce in the rapidly evolving agricultural landscape.
“The face of American agriculture is changing,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Nearly 10 percent of U.S. jobs are related to agriculture and the increasingly complex nature of production requires more training and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the STEM fields—to stay competitive and meet the needs of a growing world for food, fuel and fiber. A report by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Purdue University projects that over 22 thousand jobs in agriculture related fields may go unfilled every year through at least 2020. This is a great opportunity for smart, young people to start careers in a field that addresses some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”
OSTP convened scientists, educators, advocates and industry representatives to examine future workforce and food security challenges. Two fundamental goals have emerged: increase the number and diversity of skilled agricultural workers at all levels of education and expand research and training opportunities in areas that are experiencing particularly serious workforce shortages and are central to meeting future food needs.
During an event at USDA headquarters today, OSTP used the America the Bountiful Fact Sheet to outline financial and other assistance by USDA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Science and Technology Council to support these goals. USDA’s commitments to the initiative include:
- USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will continue investing in graduate and post-graduate fellowships for food and agriculture research and agriculture curriculum development.
- The U.S. Forest Service (FS), in collaboration with the Americas for Conservation and the Arts, a Latina-founded and operated non-profit organization, and the Green Amigos Latino Legacy, expand the Woodsy Owl Conservation Corps to promote public awareness of opportunities for conservation and land stewardship through educational programming and service learning efforts, focusing primarily on underserved, urban youth with a strong emphasis on Latino youth.
- USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) will continue to invest in the Ag Econ Scholars program that introduces talented Master’s and Ph.D students to careers in applied agricultural economics through hands-on learning opportunities at USDA in commodity market analysis, agricultural finance and other applied fields of economics.
- USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS), in October, will launch a new Student and Outreach Database to identify the number of students and post-doctoral fellows training at and visiting any of ARS’s over 90 agriculture research facilities.
- The USDA Science Council will coordinate with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create opportunities for NSF-funded Ph.D. students at USDA research facilities through a new Graduate Research Internships Program.
- USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will continue to invest in the AgDiscovery Program, a free summer outreach program to help teenagers explore careers in plant and animal science, wildlife management and agribusiness at an increasing number of participating colleges and universities.
- USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will add to USDA’s online resources for teachers and students with the launch of a new FSA Kids Educational Site in 2017 to provide educators, children and teens with inspiring agriculture educational resources.
The Fact Sheet also includes additional commitments by NSF and more than 70 state, nonprofit and private sector businesses to help expand and diversify the agriculture workforce.
During the event, USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Catherine Woteki also announced an investment of $382,650 in four universities through NIFA’s Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields Program (WAMS) from FY2016 funds. These projects help increase the number and diversity of students entering food and agriculture-related STEM disciplines that help feed the world and contribute to the economic viability of rural communities.
- The Level Playing Field Institute, Oakland, Calif., $100,000
- Universidad del Este, Carolina, Puerto Rico, $100,000
- Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $92,538
- University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $90,112
Diverse experiences, background and education are vital to a healthy agricultural sector that continues to meet the challenges of a changing world and the demands of markets at home and abroad. USDA partners with land-grant universities, Tribal colleges, Tribes, states, nonprofits and other community-based organizations to grow the next generation of agricultural innovators and entrepreneurs that keep American agriculture the most productive anywhere. Engaging young people in these fields now is an investment in the future of America’s economic health and security.