Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry, and young people across the state have plenty of opportunities to develop an appreciation for it. Organizations such as 4-H and FFA help middle and high school students understand the world of agriculture, and Georgia colleges and universities help prepare students for careers in agriculture.
“Career opportunities in agriculture are very diverse, whether you are science or research-minded, sales and marketing-minded or talented in technology and web design,” says Ben Lastly, executive secretary for the Georgia FFA Association. “And of course there are always crop and livestock production careers on the farm where it all begins.”
Georgia FFA Association
Many middle and high school students in Georgia get their first look at agriculture from the Georgia FFA Association, which has more than 35,000 members and 290 agricultural education programs at schools statewide. Georgia FFA is the third-largest FFA program in the nation and includes 400 agriculture teachers at middle and high schools across Georgia.
“The three things that make agricultural education complete and unique are classroom instruction, supervised agricultural experiences and FFA leadership. That winning combination is the major reason the FFA organization has lasted from 1928 until now,” Lastly says.
An Oklahoma native, Lastly joined FFA in the eighth grade and went on to study agriculture communications and agriculture economics at Oklahoma State University. He later earned his master’s in agricultural education from the University of Georgia and has worked for Georgia FFA since 2001.
“FFA made a huge impact on my life, and my ag teacher had a tremendous influence on me,” Lastly says. “FFA gives young people leadership skills and opportunities to travel outside their hometowns, whether it’s to Indianapolis for the National FFA Convention, D.C. for the Washington Leadership Conference, or competitive events in other cities. FFA helps students understand the value of agriculture even if they don’t choose it as a career.”
Andy Paul is Georgia’s state FFA president and plans to major in agricultural communications at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in fall 2013 and pursue a career in public relations.
“I got involved in FFA in 8th grade, and through FFA, I learned hard work, dedication, versatility and compassion,” Paul says. “FFA teaches students about leadership, agriculture, people and living to serve. We learn to be future leaders and future producers, and we learn to be outstanding young adults.”
Georgia 4-H is another stellar organization that gives students hands-on learning experiences focused on agricultural and environmental issues, leadership, communication skills, food and nutrition, health, energy conservation and citizenship. Georgia 4-H is a program of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Cooperative Extension System.
“4-H in Georgia began [in 1904] as a corn club to help young boys learn to grow a better crop,” says Arch Smith, director of 4-H at the University of Georgia. “The information the children learned was then absorbed by their parents, which resulted in better agricultural practices on Georgia farms. By participating in 4-H, more and more children are becoming aware of agriculture and the need for a sustainable food and fiber production system. 4-H has encouraged children to look at the many careers available in agriculture and agribusiness.”
Oakley Perry of Jeff Davis County 4-H is the 2013-2014 Georgia state 4-H president, and he says 4-H has helped him become the person he is today.
“Through 4-H, I have met people from across the nation as part of the Citizenship Washington Focus event, experienced my first airplane ride, visited our nation’s Capitol and learned gardening tips from master gardeners,” Perry says. “I used to be bullied, and 4-H was an outlet for me to grow and learn. Through 4-H, I gained courage and self-confidence to rise above hate.
Because of 4-H, I can candle an egg, tell you how many logs a lumberjack could get out of one tree, make flower arrangements, grow a better garden, make a terrarium, lead a group of fifth-graders on a nature hike, and lead Georgia 4-H as state president.”
Georgia Agriculture Schools
Georgia colleges and universities offer students a way to continue their 4-H and FFA experiences by majoring in agriculture and pursuing future careers in the industry.
Several colleges and universities have made major contributions to Georgia agriculture, from the large, well-known University of Georgia in Athens to the smaller Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton and Fort Valley State University in central Georgia. ABAC has 3,000 students and offers a variety of bachelor’s and associate degree programs, and FVSU has more than 4,000 students earning bachelor’s degrees in more than 50 majors, as well as master’s degrees.
Perry, who plans to attend the University of Georgia in 2014, says he appreciates the role these schools play in developing future agriculture leaders, and he looks forward to his own opportunities to grow.