September 26, 2023

By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade

A smiling farmer tilling his field, a dozing farmhand collecting cow’s milk in a bucket, and hundreds of other classic pictures of the American heartland come to mind when most people shut their eyes and visualize a farm. But many non-farmers would be shocked to hear that virtually all of these “timeless” perceptions are inaccurate.

Today’s farms are rapidly becoming more technologized thanks to significant advancements in agricultural technology over the past couple decades, including drones, apps, and even Fitbit-like equipment for cows. This makes farming a surprisingly viable career route for those who are interested in STEM.

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Sitting inside a contemporary combine will make you feel as though you’ve just stepped into a spacecraft since the machine is equipped with hundreds of sensors that are constantly gathering and analyzing vast amounts of data about its operation and the world around it. This information gives farmers the ability to pinpoint issues and find solutions with a degree of accuracy that earlier generations could only imagine.

For instance, the technology of the combine can assist the farmer in determining the precise quantity of more fertilizer required in just that one part of a huge field if a little patch of underperforming soil. Farmers may avoid overfertilizing entire fields by using this degree of precision, which saves resources and money while assuring improved land cultivation. Visit a place like Oakleigh Farm in Mercersburg instead, where owner Matt Brake is glad to demonstrate how his sophisticated milking system enables him to safely produce milk from his herd while still preserving the wellbeing of each individual cow. The technology works because of a number of biometric sensors that are continually monitoring the health of each animal.

Often, the sensors can detect disease or suffering in an animal long before the farmers would be able to notice any outward symptoms, allowing them to treat the issue considerably early and produce significantly better results.

Many individuals are also uninformed about the range of professions that can be pursued on a contemporary farm. How, for instance, can we ensure that cows live in the most pleasant setting possible? Agronomists, veterinarians, nutritionists, and many more professions that combine science and a love of nature may all contribute to the solution to that topic.

Unfortunately, the vast technological transformation of farming has largely gone unnoticed by the general public, which is a big problem for the future of farming. Few families today have any direct contact with the farmers and production workers who are responsible for the food we eat every day.

In the United States, a farm’s primary operator is typically 59 years old. Few new farmers are stepping up to replace the existing generation of farmers as they near retirement age. One major factor in this is that students nowadays have little direct experience with food production, which prevents them from ever considering a career in agriculture. Similarly, if someone has a passion for technology, they could assume that it only translates into a desk job, but if someone has a passion for working with animals or being outdoors, they might assume that there are no career alternatives that combine these hobbies with the technological boom.

Because of this, farmers and educators all around the United States are coming up with innovative methods to expose students of all ages to more agriculture-based activities.

For instance, the annual Remake Learning Days festival offers a variety of outdoor learning options as well as exposure to Career Ready PA career preparedness skills, such as a recent trip to Oakleigh Farms where approximately 1500 K–12 students learned everything about the cutting-edge science behind producing nutritious milk. In the meanwhile, a lot of urban schools have started putting community garden initiatives into place that motivate kids to take part in the planting, development, and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. Innovative school districts are getting in touch with local farmers to arrange field excursions and school visits, giving students the chance to experience all the cutting-edge agricultural technology up close.
Agri-tech is opening up a wide range of new job prospects for young people who enjoy animals, the outdoors, and technology. In reality, many of these professional pathways just need for certification and on-the-job training rather than a four-year college degree or a veterinarian degree. If only more students, parents, and guidance counselors at schools were aware of the numerous career opportunities in agriculture, it would be a much better world.

For America to be able to properly and sustainably produce the food we depend on, it is imperative to encourage more youngsters who enjoy science and engineering to show a greater interest in agriculture. It will also fuel the subsequent wave of technical advancement in the agricultural sector, where inventive problem-solving contributes to the improvement of conditions for humans, animals, and the environment.

I am enthusiastic about the future of American agriculture and the part that STEM is actively playing in making that future feasible since I am a fourth-generation dairy farmer. By doing everything we can to expose more kids to the glories of science and agriculture, perhaps we can create a fresh and more realistic depiction of what is possible when nature and technology come together.

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