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Teaching ag today goes way beyond corn and cows

FFA teacher
Do you know a high schooler who’s looking for a bit of career advice as high school graduation nears? Maybe a bright young man or woman who just isn’t quite sure what direction to pursue as they prepare to head off to college?

Well, I’ve got an interesting suggestion: How about studying to become a high school agriculture teacher?

Teaching ag these days, as I’ve discovered talking with a lot of folks in the profession, is a very interesting and rewarding occupation.

Ag teachers today shepherd students through subjects that go way, way beyond learning about crops and livestock. In ag-related classes students learn about the latest in genetics and biotechnology. They immerse themselves in knowledge about water quality and other environmental subjects sure to be big in the coming years. They explore local food systems, as well as learn about food production all over the world. And they experiment with cutting edge technology, like drones and remote controlled vehicles and other high-tech machines.

And there’s something else that’s great about studying to be an ag teacher: there are jobs in this field after graduation, plenty of them.

The demand for agriculture teachers in Iowa, and around the Midwest, is very strong and getting stronger. That’s because school districts have seen a surge in high schoolers interested in ag-related fields that dovetail nicely with the emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and schools are adding classes to meet that demand.

As Joshua Remington executive director of the Iowa FFA foundation put it, “We have school districts in the state now that would like to start agriculture education programs, but they just can’t because they can’t find a teacher.”

And it’s not just rural school districts that are beefing up their ag education programs. Iowa’s urban centers are also seeing the value in offering ag classes. In the Des Moines metro area, for example, suburban districts, such as Waukee and Dowling Catholic, have already added agricultural studies programs, while the urban Des Moines district now employs two agriculture teachers at its Central Campus magnet program.  Other metro area schools have expressed interest in adding an ag teacher, Remington said, if they could find a teacher.

Add it all up, it’s a cool career choice with a very good chance for a job at the end. I’m way too old to know the latest lingo among high schoolers in 2016, but back in my day we called that a “slam dunk.”

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is the News Services manager and Spokesman editor for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.