Agricultural Education

Agricultural education is instruction about crop production, livestock management, soil and water conservation, and various other aspects of agriculture. Agricultural education includes instruction in food education, such as nutrition. Agricultural and food education improves the quality of life for all people by helping farmers increase production, conserve resources, and provide nutritious foods.

There are four major fields of agricultural education:
    Elementary agriculture education
    Secondary agricultural education
    College agricultural education
    General education in agriculture

Elementary agriculture is taught in public schools and private schools, and deals with such subjects as how plants and animals grow and how soil is farmed and conserved. Vocational agricultural trains people for jobs in such areas as production, marketing, and conservation. College agriculture involves training of people to teach, conduct research, or provide information to advance the field of agriculture and food science in other ways. General education agriculture informs the public about food and agriculture.

The chief sources of agriculture education in the United States are:
    High Schools
    Community Colleges
    Universities and colleges
    Youth organization

High schools
High schools in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands provide vocational agriculture training for over half a million students yearly (2007). The purpose of agricultural education is to provide students with the personal, academic, and career experiences essential for success in the fields of science, business, and technology. High school agricultural education programs consist of three components: classroom/laboratory instruction, Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAE), and FFA.

Classroom curriculum and laboratory exercises provide students a foundation of knowledge in agricultural practices, preparing them for careers in food, fiber, and natural resource industries. Supervised Agricultural Experiences provide students the opportunity to experience ownership of their own agricultural enterprise or work in the industry. Examples of SAE projects would be a student raising a crop or an animal, working on a farm, or employment at an agriculture business, such as a machinery dealer. These projects offer "real world" experiences to students as well as practical application of concepts learned in the classroom. SAE's also enable students to develop skills in agriculturally related career areas. FFA is a national organization that develops students' potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success. Students grow as individuals and leaders through their involvement in competitions, degree programs, community service projects, and state and national leadership conventions. Members of the FFA gain self-confidence and interpersonal skills that will assist them in achieving success in their educational, career, and personal futures. The combination of the three components of agricultural education, classroom/laboratory, SAE, and FFA, develop proud, well-rounded individuals who will become future leaders of the agriculture industry.

Colleges and universities
Colleges and universities award about 21,000 bachelor's degrees in agriculture each year. About 6,000 other students receive a master's or doctor's degree.

Land-grant universities
Land-grant universities award more than three-quarters of all agricultural degrees. These state schools receive federal aid under legislation that followed the Morrill Act of 1862, which granted public lands to support agricultural or mechanical education. Land-grant universities have three chief functions:
    Extension service.

Colleges of agriculture prepare students for careers in all aspects of the food and agricultural system. Some career choices include food science, veterinary science, farming, ranching, teaching, marketing, agricultural communication, management, and social services.

The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the largest national education association dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for careers, provides resources for agricultural education.

Each land-grant university has an agricultural experiment station equipped with laboratories and experimental farms. There, agricultural scientists work to develop better farming methods, solve the special problems of local farmers, and provide new technology. Research published in scholarly journals about agricultural safety is available from the NIOSH-supported National Agricultural Safety Database. The American Dairy Science Association provides research and education scholarships focused on the dairy farm and processing industries.

Scholarly journals
    North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Journal
    Journal of Dairy Science

Extension service
The Cooperative Extension System is a partnership of the federal, state, and county governments. This service distributes information gathered by the land-grant universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to farmers, families, and young people. County extension agents, located in most countries (1988), train and support about 3 million (1988) volunteer leaders. Agents and volunteers carry out extension programs through meetings, workshops, newsletters, radio, television, and visits.

Youth organizations
Youth organizations involved in agricultural education include 4-H and National FFA Organization (FFA). Members of 4-H carry out group and individual projects dealing with conservation, food and agriculture, health and safety, and other subjects. The 4-H program in the United States is part of the Cooperative Extension Service and has about 6 million members (2006). More than just a club, the FFA is an integral part of the program of agricultural education in many high schools as a result of Public Law 740 in 1950 (Currently revised as Publication 105-225 of the 105th Congress of the United States), with 500,823 FFA members (2007–2008). Local chapters participate in Career Development Events (individually and as a team), each student has a Supervised Agricultural Experience program (SAE), and participates in many conferences and conventions to develop leadership, citizenship, patriotism and excellence in agriculture. The National FFA Organization is structured from the local chapter up, including local districts, areas, regions, state associations, and the national level. The FFA Mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.

The rapid growth of agricultural education began during the late 19th century. In 1862, the United States Congress created the Department of Agriculture to gather and distribute agricultural information. The Morrill Act, which provided the land-grant schools, became law that same year. The Hatch Act of 1887 gave federal funds to establish agricultural experiment stations. The first dairy school in the U.S. was created at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1890.

Government support for agricultural education has increased during the 20th century. For example, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created what is now the Cooperative Extension System (1988). The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 and the George-Barden Act of 1946 financed high-school instruction in farming. Woodlawn High School (Woodlawn, Virginia) was the first public high school in the United States to offer agricultural education classes under the Smith-Hughes Act. The Vocational Education Act of 1963 funded training in other fields of agriculture.

Agricultural science and education expanded after 1900 in response to a need for more technical knowledge and skill. This development led to the use of modern farming methods that required fewer farmworkers. Another major result of this change was the creation of larger farms and ranches. This development increased the need for more agriculture science and education.