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FACT SHEET: America the Bountiful Initiative to Strengthen U.S. Agricultural Workforce

Thursday, October 6, 2016 7:02
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(Before It's News)

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the White House Rural Council, in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, is announcing new efforts to expand and diversify the U.S. agriculture workforce.

Agriculture and its related industries provide nearly 10 percent of U.S. employment, but the number of students graduating with degrees in agricultural fields is not meeting industry demand. Agricultural education needs to attract a diversity of students and keep pace with the increasingly complex nature of agricultural innovation needed to address global challenges. Falling behind in agriculture is a threat to national security and must be addressed as such.

During the infamous Dust Bowl of the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote, “The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” This was not the first nor the last agricultural disaster to strike the United States. As recently as 1970, 80 percent of the U.S. corn crop was destroyed by disease in the span of just four months, creating a food security and national security crisis. Today, a new pathogen is threatening the U.S. citrus industry, with the University of Florida estimating a $900 million annual loss to the state each year already. Food challenges outside the United States can be similarly threatening. The 2011 “Arab Spring” that began in Egypt and Tunisia coincided with record high wheat prices caused by droughts in China and Russia, major wheat producing countries. The vulnerability of the food supply is an issue of national security; food insecurity and rising food prices are highly correlated with global civil unrest.

In a two-year long fact-finding process—that included comments from scientists, educators, industry representatives, and advocates from Federal agencies, academia, and the private sector, compiled through meetings and submitted comments to a Request for Information in the Federal Register—OSTP determined two fundamental goals necessary to meet global workforce and food security challenges:

  • Increase the number and diversity of agriculturally trained workers at all levels of education, taking into account specific program needs and current and future challenges and opportunities.
  • Expand research and training in higher education in areas that are experiencing particularly serious workforce shortages and are central to meeting future needs.

That is why today:

  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are announcing commitments that will expand and diversify the agriculture workforce;
  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is releasing a report, prepared by the Science and Technology Policy Institute, on the state of the plant breeding research enterprise; and
  • The National Science and Technology Council is announcing the chartering the Subcommittee on Food and Agriculture, which will coordinate food and agriculture science across the Federal government and develop recommendations for how to promote and support a diversity of stakeholders in rural and urban food production.

In addition to building the diversity of the Federal workforce, today’s Federal actions will broaden and diversify the Nation’s agriculture workforce to the benefit of increased national, and global, security.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) will increase its support for the 1890 National Program to ensure a scholarship at each of the Nation's 19 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This program provides funding for tuition, books, school fees, travel, and lodging to outstanding undergraduate students studying agriculture science or statistics at the 1890 Land-Grant Colleges and Universities or Tuskegee University, which represent the Nation's HBCUs.Specifically, USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) will triple its investment in this program, representing more than half of the increase in support. Additionally,

  • 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 more than 90 agriculture research facilities.
  • The USDA Science Council will coordinate with the National Science Foundation (NSF) will 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 a new FSA Kids Educational Site in 2017 to provide educators, children and teens with inspiring agriculture educational resources.

The National Science Foundation (NSF)

  • NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences expects to support a BIO Research Traineeship track in FY 2017 that will be coordinated with the NSF-wide Research Traineeship Program. It would include a topic with the scope to support training in the plant and microbial sciences under the general framework of Understanding the Rules of Life. The 2017 Budget proposes $2.8 million for BIO's contribution to the NSF-wide NRT program.
  • The 2017 Budget proposes $4.0 million for NSF's Integrative Organismal Systems contribution to the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships Program, which is cosponsored by NSF, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Agricultural Research Service. NSF awards these fellowships to recent recipients of doctoral degrees for research and training in specific areas of need with the goal of developing the workforce in those areas. The fellowships encourage independence at an early stage of the research career to enable fellows to pursue research and training goals in the most appropriate research locations regardless of the availability of funding at that site. This commitment will lock in disciplines relevant to the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI) as one of the focus areas for these research fellowships. Eligible areas include all genome-scale projects in plant genomics, with an emphasis on quantitative genetics, modern breeding approaches, and bioinformatics.

To build on these Federal actions, OSTP issued a national call to action in January, and followed up in July, for private-sector commitments that would:

  • Increase the number and diversity of agriculturally trained workers at all levels of education; and
  • Expand research and training in higher education in areas that are experiencing particularly serious workforce shortages and are central to meeting future food needs.

In response to this call, over seventy external organizations are today announcing new efforts to expand and diversify the agriculture workforce. These efforts include:

Support for K-12 agriculture education and teacher training to inspire young people with the challenges and opportunities in agriculture.

  • Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf will proclaim the week of October 10-14, 2016 as Agriculture and Food Careers Week in Pennsylvania in recognition of the career pathways that lead to good jobs in agriculture production, food processing, food distribution, forestry and wood products, horticulture, and landscaping. The week will contain a number of events and announcements in support of the theme, including:
    • Four National FFA Showcases in Lancaster, York, Lycoming, and Columbia Counties where best-of-class agriculture education programs will be recognized by visits from the Pennsylvania Secretaries of Agriculture and Education.
    • The Cole Hammels Foundation will announce a $100,000 grant to the W.B. Saul High School of Agriculture Sciences in Philadelphia to repair the greenhouses that support the horticulture program at the high school. 
    • The Lancaster County Agriculture Council will announce a $500 pool of scholarship money for FFA students at the Lampeter-Strasburg High School. 
    • The PA Department of Agriculture will launch a social media campaign across its Facebook and Twitter accounts with an image series and blog posts focusing on agriculture education and career pathways for agriculture and food that will make this information more accessible than what is featured on its static webpages.
    • The PA Secretary of Labor and Industry will announce the addition of careers in targeted agriculture industries to the High Priority Occupations List for the Commonwealth, which will make funding available for training through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
    • The School District of Philadelphia will recognize the Fox Chase Elementary School as the only elementary school in the district that uses agriculture as the context for its curriculum, and other schools are expected to follow. 
    • Through a collaborative initiative between the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the PA Department of Labor and Industry, a new version of the PA Conservation Corps–the PA Outdoor Corp–will begin a new phase of its program which provides a focus on career pathways and entry-level skill development for 18-25 year olds.
    • A partnership of the PA Department of Agriculture, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the PA Department of Community and Economic Development will present the report of the Green Ribbon Commission to Governor Wolf on October 15, 2016.  The report focuses on how to conserve forest land while increasing good paying jobs that depend on the forest.
  • Archer Daniels Midland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have joined forces with 45 companies, government agencies, universities and not-for-profit organizations to form the Agriculture Diversity & Inclusion Roundtable, whose members will, this month, convene to present their three-year strategic plans for building a diverse and inclusive pipeline of talent and a competitive U.S. agriculture sector. Together, these organizations employ, enroll, represent or speak on behalf of about 30 million people. The member organizations are committed to sharing best practices, building awareness in grades K-12, creating greater access to ag opportunities for all students at the post-secondary level, connecting with students in urban areas, deepening collaborations among ag stakeholders, and promoting more effective funding platforms that consider diversity and inclusion requirements.
  • Seed Your Future will invest more than $850,000 to promote careers in horticulture. A strong horticulture workforce is essential to protecting the food and water supply and maintaining a healthy environment, but few Americans know that this field of study offers fulfilling and respected careers.  Seed Your Future, led by the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS, Alexandria, VA) and Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, PA), will begin by conducting research that assesses the perceptions of 7th through 10th graders, their parents, and teachers on horticulture and careers in horticulture. With this information, Seed Your Future will commit additional funding to develop an education, marketing, and advocacy campaign to increase awareness of horticultural careers through an educational, advocacy and marketing plan based on the research results. Horticulture industries will benefit from an increased pool of well-trained and educated students, who will find exciting and rewarding careers in horticulture. 
  • The National FFA Organization, Discovery Education and AgCareers.com have partnered to create AgExplorer. AgExplorer.com is a robust and comprehensive online career resource that will help students explore the broad range of careers in agriculture through access to educational requirements and links to current job openings through a partnership with AgCareers.com. AgExplorer features videos that highlight how an agricultural education and over a half dozen ag career pathways can solve the world’s global agricultural challenges. It also offers the Career Finder, an interactive assessment designed to help students find which of the 235 featured agriculture careers is the best fit.
  • The CHS Foundation, DuPont Pioneer, and Growth Energy, as a special project of the National FFA Foundation, have pledged $625,000 to support the National Teach Ag Campaign’s efforts to recruit and retain high quality and diverse agriculture teachers. As part of the National Teach Ag Campaign initiative preservice agriculture teachers will be able to participate in a special professional development track at the upcoming National Association of Agricultural Educators convention in November. The National Teach Ag Campaign, an initiative of the National Council for Agricultural Education, led by the National Association of Agricultural Educators, just this September announced the preservice teacher institute track that will include professional development, networking, and mentorship. Additionally, in an effort to address the lack of diversity in the agriculture teacher profession, the National Teach Ag Campaign will develop a Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit with handouts, videos, and a research component to inspire a diverse group of educators who will, in turn, inspire the next generation of leaders, problem solvers, entrepreneurs, and agriculturalists.
  • The Algae Foundation will commit $200,000 to develop and distribute algal-based STEM curricular kits for grades K-12 and formulate community college degrees in Algae Biology & Cultivation and Algae Biotechnology to engage and train a new workforce for algae farming.  The Algae Foundation’s “K to Gray” approach for education promotes lifelong education and learning opportunities that will support a workforce of algae farmers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Algae farming can significantly reduce greenhouse gases while providing a sustainable source of biomass for food, feed, and fuel for a growing population. The Algae Foundation commits to distributing 50 algae curriculum kits to grades 5-6 in the spring of 2017 to two pilot sites, one in the greater San Diego region and one in southwestern Michigan.  An additional 200 kits targeted to elementary, middle, and high school students will be distributed nationwide in 2018, and 500 kits will be distributed in 2019 with the initiation of a national algal-based STEM teacher training program. Additionally, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Algae Foundation will develop two community college degrees in algae cultivation and biotechnology through the construction of six online courses supported by intensive, hands-on laboratory exercises.
  • Celebrating five years of an employee-driven volunteer program supporting STEM outreach, Dow AgroSciences’ Science Ambassadors program commits to gearing its growth to further inspiring future plant breeders. The Science Ambassadors will double their impact numbers, reaching an additional half million students, and will increase their volunteer hours by 30 percent by the end of 2020. They will also place priority on engaging underrepresented communities in agricultural sciences by focusing 15 percent of the program’s new growth to supporting women, Hispanic, and African American populations. To achieve this, Dow AgroSciences will implement STEM outreach at more than 80 percent of all of its U.S. field stations by 2020. Additionally, it will implement one educator training opportunity each year through its Science Ambassadors, providing early and primary educators with project-based tools to present plant breeding and biotechnology demonstrations to students and community members, to increase learning and retention around agricultural sciences.
  • Syngenta is announcing a new partnership with the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture (AFBFA) to improve the Syngenta Summer Fellowship program, aligning participants’ lesson plans with national standards to broaden their accessibility and ease of use. The Syngenta Summer Fellowship program is a two-week externship that immerses North Carolina STEM teachers into the world of agricultural biotechnology. Through its new partnership with AFBFA, Syngenta’s new fellowship program will enable participants to become more effective science and agriculture communicators. In addition, participants will apply their experiences in the collaborative development of school lesson plans, which, through the AFBFA partnership, will now align with national standards for broad distribution. 
  • Louisiana State University (LSU) will double its support for an LSU Governor's School for Agricultural Sciences. In 2016, LSU held a pilot program that invited 16 of Louisiana's academically talented high school seniors interested in agricultural sciences to the university for a five-day, residential educational experience. Next year, LSU will support 20 competitively selected scholars for a two-week program of college-level coursework in relevant content areas at no cost to them. The scholars also participate in field trips and industry tours, develop leadership skills by working with LSU College of Agriculture faculty and staff, and new this year, will collaborate on LSU faculty-led community service learning projects. Through the creation of a team capstone presentation, the scholars will investigate issues and propose solutions to challenges facing the agricultural workforce now and into the future.
  • The Beaverton School District in Portland, Oregon, in partnership with Strata Farms LLC and Illumitex will provide funds, equipment, and expertise for Terra Nova High School to install an indoor vertical farm. The vertical farm system will not only supply greens to students all year round but will also be used as a laboratory to teach students about farming, food, and 21st Century agriculture. Terra Nova has converted its green space into a large outdoor garden, and hoop house and has already converted a classroom into a kitchen so that students can learn how to prepare the food they grow. This pilot program will inform future expansion of a vertical farming teaching system throughout the Beaverton School District. The committed investment from the partnership totals $5,000.

Support for the technical training and capacity building needed for a host of important agriculture careers.

  • Fair Trade Fisheries has raised over $1.2 million to develop Aquaculture.Info, a comprehensive, open-access aquaculture database with Google VR system simulations and computer based system simulations for a mid-2017 release. Aquaculture systems are a complex interaction of biological, physical, chemical, and economic factors. Open-access, interactive simulations will help new and experienced farmers better understand how these systems work, generating increased interest in the growing aquaculture industry which already provides more than 50 percent of the world’s seafood.
  • PT Partners and Chestnut Hollow Farms will use a social entrepreneurship model to develop a hydroponic farm system to train and employ residents of the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  PT Partners and Chestnut Hollow Farms partnered with the public housing residents of PT Barnum apartments, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Anaergia, an anaerobic bacterial digester facility contracted by the City of Bridgeport as part of its BeGreen 2020 initiative, and the City of Bridgeport to create a sustainable source of affordable fresh foods, beautify and revive a notorious brownfield, and provide local jobs to PT residents through a Host Community Benefit Agreement (HCBA). Chestnut Hollow will manage trainee positions and farming jobs for PT residents to build opportunities in the community. Chestnut Hollow is also collaborating with Anaergia to use byproducts of the digester process to provide heat and light to the farm; carbon dioxide; and a highly concentrated fertilizer.
  • Penn State University and EPFL Switzerland will invest $250,000, doubling their investment to date, in PlantVillage, a free, web-based image database and knowledge library of crops and plant diseases. PlantVillage provides more than 100,000 open access images of more than 40 diseases on 30 crops. These images have facilitated the development of algorithms capable of accurately diagnosing diseases with above 95 percent accuracy. Such diagnostic tools support increased capacity for training in plant pathology where teaching resources are scarce. PlantVillage will use this new investment in part to develop similar disease diagnosis algorithms with over ten thousand images of cassava, a critical crop for global food security.
  • Hunters Point Family and Our Foods are announcing a $235,000 investment by 50 Fund – the legacy fund of the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee – to build The People's Harvest, an aquaponic produce farm in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point (BVHP) communityThe People’s Harvest will address persistent unemployment for those with barriers to work, such as the formerly incarcerated, and will feature a six-month aquaponics apprenticeship-like program for an estimated 20 participants annually. In addition to jobs, the farm will also provide BVHP residents with free public education and food using a farming methodology that's 90 percent more water efficient and produces six times the yield per square foot of conventional farming. The education program will consist of free weekly “Aquaponics 101″ courses. The farm itself will grow enough produce to support the weekly vegetable intake for an estimated 50 families. By focusing on jobs, education, and food, The People's Harvest will create a vital and diverse pipeline of individuals from under-resourced communities, and those traditionally residing in “food deserts”, who will be knowledgeable about the benefits of aquaponics, consumers of its bounty, and able to implement this highly productive agricultural practice as hobbyists, employees, and entrepreneurs.
  • Blue Planet +Plus will launch an online, open source website and manual with detailed instructions for building a hydroponic vertical farming rack system. This fall, Blue Planet +Plus Farm will launch an online, open source website and manual that anyone can use to build a hydroponic vertical farming rack system. +Plus Farm is a no-frills approach to vertical hydroponic agriculture that will enable other schools and entrepreneurs to take vertical farming into their own hands to build upon and improve its performance. The +Plus Farm is more than another DIY kit: the +Plus Farm is commercial vertical farming in its most raw form. This system has the potential to engender other new approaches to the challenge of urban and low-resource agriculture and inspire a new generation of young farmers.
  • Grayson College will partner with Denison High School to offer dual-credit courses in viticulture for high school juniors and seniors.  This new program will train 10 students in vineyard establishment, grapevine biology, fruit harvesting and vineyard maintenance such as pruning, fungicide application and irrigation, and enrollment is anticipated to double to 20 students next year. Grayson College and Denison High School joint-program students will gain valuable skills through immersive, hands-on training that can lead to immediate employment in the ever-growing Texas grape and wine industry. Through these dual-credit courses, students will contribute to the state's economy and may choose to continue their agriculture education by enrolling in a four-year university program.

Investments in higher education that inspire undergraduates and train graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in food systems and agricultural science research.

  • In the next five years, the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research (CPBR) will triple its diversity outreach through an Expanded Diversity in Agriculture Sciences Program (EDAS). CPBR estimates an initial investment of $300,000 for Years 1 and 2, $1.5 million for Years 3 to 5, and $6 million for the total project. EDAS will involve diversity managers from more than 20 member agribusiness companies, increasing the participation of diversity managers by 400 percent. Principal Investigators (PIs) of CPBR projects who are female and underrepresented minorities (URM)—163 PIs in all—will mentor female and URM students at secondary and college levels. Student candidates will be recruited through national Ag organizations such as FFA, 4-H, MANNRS, minority landowner organizations, Farm Bureaus, State commodity associations, the Cooperative Extension Service and other Ag groups. CPBR and EDAS will provide travel grants to female and URM students to present their Ag STEM interests and projects to a national audience of recruiters from research university Ag schools and agribusiness companies at a conference hosted by CPBR and EDAS a conference sponsored by private sector partners to which will be given travel grants. When at full capacity, EDAS will produce an anticipated 4 percent increase in national enrollment percentages of young women and minority students in Ag STEM fields. 
  • A collaboration between Yield10 Bioscience, the crop science program of Metabolix, Inc., and North Carolina State University, will supplement Federal awards with new investments of over $55,000 and $21,000, respectively, to conduct a series of field trials while providing STEM graduate students the opportunity to see their research move from the laboratory to the field. The field trials will analyze the yield impact of a series of novel yield traits in the industrial oilseed Camelina, developed by Metabolix and its academic partners, based on research funding targeting breakthrough crop yield technologies from the ARPA-E PETRO program. While developed initially in programs to increase biofuel production with Camelina, these traits have the potential to increase yield in major food and feed crops, which is aligned with Yield10’s mission to address global food security. These field trials highlight the commitment of Yield10 to leveraging academic and federal partnerships to support undergraduate and graduate level STEM research in agriculture at academic institutions, not only to carry out state of the art  research projects to achieve step changes in seed yield, but to take successful developments forward to demonstrate commercial viability.
  • The University of Michigan (UM) is investing more than $24,600 to develop new food systems courses and resources that will reach undergraduate and graduate students who may not have arrived on campus with a professed interest in food or agriculture. A Winter 2017 community-academic partnership course titled “Food Literacy for All” will be made possible with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an additional $24,600 from the UM College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) and the LSA Instructional Support Services. A Bicentennial Theme Semester course titled “University of Michigan and the Future of Food” will also be offered with support from a LSA Theme Semester grant.
  • This fall, Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will break ground on a $2.5 million educational and training center in the Kamuli District of Uganda, in a region where Iowa State has been engaged in a multifaceted program of education and development for 12 years. The training center will be a resource for Iowa State undergraduate students and students from Uganda’s premier university, Makerere University, to apply science and technology to address complex problems associated with food security and poverty. Students will gain invaluable international and intercultural experience for their future careers. The project is made possible primarily through privately raised funds. The training center will have a capacity of 48 students from Iowa State and Makerere and 13 faculty leaders. The new training center will support communities in the Kamuli District to achieve resilient, sustainable rural livelihoods through the discovery and application of science-based and indigenous knowledge. The vision of the program is thriving rural communities that benefit from food and financial security, quality education and healthcare, civic participation, social inclusion, environmental stewardship and overall sustainable livelihoods.
  • The University of North Carolina Wilmington and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will collaborate to develop a Graduate Student Mentoring Network. Its purpose is twofold: to allow students who attend various quantitative genetics conferences to connect with one another and with presenters who can serve as mentors, and to help students build a professional network of peers, mentors, and potential employers. Quantitative genetics is the foundation of breeding for improved livestock and crop varieties. The Network will work with 100 trainees in its first year, and the initial, in-person activities at the conferences will be extended with an online network for sharing career advice and useful resources.
  • The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) will partner with CHS, Inc. the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Missouri, Iowa State, Colorado State, Kansas State, South Dakota State, and University of Wyoming to sponsor 11 students to attend the NASDA Annual Meeting in 2016. NASDA’s expand and diversify its “NASDA's Next Generation Program” to cover the cost of hotel, travel, meeting registration and meals for 11 students to attend NASDA’s annual meeting. NASDA's Next Generation (NNG) will join with CHS, Inc. and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Missouri, Iowa State, Colorado State, Kansas State, South Dakota State and University of Wyoming to sponsor 11 students to attend the NASDA Annual Meeting in 2016. This initiative will continue to grow and aims to reach as many students as possible who are passionate about agriculture and public service careers. NNG is a unique, one of a kind experience for students to network and interact with leaders of state departments of agriculture.

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