By Jesus Madrazo
Vice President, Corporate Engagement
(This article is based on a speech given at the Agribusiness Council of Indiana on Jan. 28.)
As we look to 2020 and beyond, we see that today’s high school students will be entering the work force.
It will be a work force that is growing, because agriculture is experiencing an incredible renaissance, from cutting-edge science focused on developing better seeds to improved information technology on the farm that gives farmers a new level of precision never seen before. Agriculture is a vibrant and innovative industry.
But all of us here have an opportunity to lead in the development of agriculture’s future – creating new jobs and opportunity for people, and attracting sharp, innovative, minds, representing numerous different disciplines, to our community from all over the country and around the world.
And this value delivers economic impact and jobs. A study from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business says agriculture contributed almost $40 billion in economic output to the Hoosier economy and also supported nearly 200,000 jobs in 2011.
But what’s more, the outlook for new jobs in agriculture is bright for the next several years as well.
A recent study by Purdue University found that, the agriculture, food and natural resources sector of the U.S. economy will generate approximately 50,000 annual openings for people with degrees or advanced degrees in related areas for the next few years. The unfortunate side of this study is that roughly half may go unfilled, because of a lack of qualified candidates.
Consider that about 25,000 jobs in agriculture annually go unclaimed because of a lack of qualified talent.
This is a trend we’re beginning to see reflected in other industries as well, like aerospace, medicine, and engineering. And it’s a trend that must be reversed if we are to continue growing and leading as a community, as a region and as a nation.
From my view, developing and attracting biologists, geneticists, agronomists, engineers, computer analysts, and other highly skilled talent requires an investment and a focus in both educating young people for the jobs of tomorrow as well as attracting new talent to our community from across the country and across the globe.
This focus is especially important in the so-called STEM fields of education. As many of you know, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. Research with high school students shows that too many young people feel detached from these areas of study, and unfortunately this same research suggests this is particularly true with girls and young women.
At Monsanto, we know and understand the potential impact of this issue not only on our business but also on agriculture, on other innovative industries, and on communities more broadly. And we’re working to do our part.
It’s one of the reasons why we invest in educational programs with youth groups like 4-H and FFA that reach millions of young people around the world.
We are piloting a new program here in Indiana called America’s Farmers Grow Ag Leaders, a new scholarship program that gives students the opportunity to earn a $1,500 dollar scholarship to further their agricultural education. The program is sponsored by Monsanto and administered by the National FFA Organization.
This year it will support 18 scholarships in Indiana. Applications close on Feb. 1.
It joins our America’s Farmers Grow Communities, which supports non-profit organizations, and America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education programs, which supports school districts for science and math education. Applications are open for the Grow Rural Ed program now, too.
I’m proud to say that in total, Monsanto has donated over $1 million dollars to Indiana organizations and schools through our America’s Farmers programs. I encourage you to learn more about these programs.
Programs and job opportunities are important for agriculture’s future. Equally important is telling the story of agriculture.
Food, where it comes from, and how it is produced are topics that are now part of everyday conversations with friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances.
Interest will continue and grow. I welcome these discussions – to help talk about the important contributions that farmers, our customers, make in keeping our food supply abundant, safe, and affordable for everyone. I also look forward to talking about the important role that innovations in agriculture, like biotech, play in keeping it that way as well.
But Monsanto, our industry and farmers have not always done a good job in telling that story, of articulating why we need to continue to innovate, to attract new ideas and talent, and to develop better products for growers.
I’d also say that my company hasn’t done a good job of listening to what society wants to know and understand about where food comes from and what we’re doing to support farmers and ultimately people.
This is changing. And it’s one of the reasons why I’m so pleased to join you today to talk about the future and pledge our support – my personal support and that of all of my colleagues at Monsanto – to open up the dialogue around food, farmers, agriculture and innovation.
As the world continues to become more and more global and interconnected via tools like social media, it’s more important than ever that we work to tell the story of agriculture.
Public uneasiness is sometimes part of any innovation in farming and food production. While we’ve done a great job of speaking with farmers, we haven’t always done a good job of connecting with consumers.
We are beginning to take some positive steps in sharing information about our products and business with broader society, but we can’t do it alone. We are empowering our employees to help participate in the conversations, but we need our whole industry to tell the story of agriculture.
And the good news is this is happening more and more. I was pleased to see a recent article from the Associated Press about a month ago on this topic. The headline was “Defined by Critics, Big Ag Restarts Conversation.” The article featured two farmers discussing how they are communicating with society through conversations and blogging. They essentially have a new hat to wear in addition to being a farmer. I hope this is just the beginning.
This will require all of us… companies, organizations, communities, governments, academia and society as a whole… to listen more… to share and educate more…and to understand what might be possible. We still have a long way to go, but it’s essential to begin the dialogue now.
This is an incredibly important time in our world. We live on a planet growing bigger every day, and soaring to more than 9 billion people in our children’s lifetime, a planet asking and more from agriculture and farmers, straining our natural resources like water and soil, and questioning our ability to produce enough food to feed people.
Yet I’m excited about what the future holds for our business, our industry and our region. I’m thrilled about the potential agriculture holds for sharp, innovative people and the work they can do to feed, clothe and sustain our world.
We look forward to partnering with this community and others as we continue to work to share our story and to bring better solutions for 2020 and tomorrow.