As small-scale agriculture struggles to stay afloat amid an ageing demographic, a new pilot program from the Texas Farm Bureau aims to introduce local college students to the promise of the industry.
The fledgling campaign is spearheaded by Kaysi LaPoint: a junior at West Texas A&M who is currently studying agriculture business and economics as well as animal science. LaPoint is leading the Texas Collegiate Farm Bureau: the first collegiate edition of the American Farm Bureau Federation. AFBF represents farm bureaus throughout the US, with 118 chapters currently active across 35 states. West Texas A&M celebrated the launch of its AFBF chapter in the fall of 2020, followed by Sam Houston State University in the spring of 2021. According to the Texas Farm Bureau, additional chapters are planned for launch at Midwestern State University, Tarleton State University, and Vernon College.
According to Texas Farm Bureau director of organization Whit Weems, the campaign strives for a singular goal: to organize a targeted outreach towards young adults who show interest in the field of small-scale agriculture.
“We just wanted to continue strengthening that relationship with that audience, and be able to provide opportunities for them to continue to develop their leadership skills,” Weems stated. “[We aim to] create that network of students across the state, where they could interact with each other and all have a common ground or common mission.”
Over the past several decades, America has witnessed a significant decline in the number of small-scale family farms. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were an estimated 2.2. million farms in the US in 2020–4,400 less than were recorded in the previous year. In 2019, nearly 98% of all American farms were family-owned and operated, yet industrial farms produce 12% of the nation’s total agricultural produce, despite constituting only around 2% of American farms. The production of coveted commodities such as fruits, vegetables, beef and tree nuts are notably dominated by large-scale operations, with only around 2% of Americans working to produce these crops. Between the ongoing economic crisis wrought by the global pandemic, and the steadily-ageing demographic of America’s agricultural workers, small-scale farms could easily lose what little foothold they retain if preventative actions are not taken.
“The decline in the number of farmers and ranchers in America points to a need for more people to get involved in the agricultural industry,” said David Townsend, assistant director of member engagement at the American Farm Bureau.
For AFBF, involvement is the master plan. At West Texas A&M, the program will promote agriculture education and advocacy throughout the community, offering the chance to attend such events as the annual American Farm Bureau Convention, and the Texas Young Farmer and Rancher Conference. Education is the number one priority in the eyes of chapter leader Kaysi LaPoint, who admits that many of her fellow peers are somewhat “ignorant” about the industry and its vital level of importance on the global stage.
“There is a lack of interest in it, because they don’t have to worry about where their food comes from,” stated LaPoint. “They know that if they go home, it’ll be in the pantry or in their fridge. With every new generation, the connection to agriculture weakens. If one talks to their grandparents or great-grandparents, it seems everyone had a farmer or rancher as a close relative. Yet as time passes, we are further and further removed from the generations where every person was closely tied to agriculture. As a result, people truly do not understand the extent of agriculture, all it provides, and the steps to get there.”
LaPoint hopes that by establishing booths around campus and passing out flyers within the broader local community, she can work to change that narrative.
“I hope that students gain additional knowledge about agriculture, learn about challenges facing ag, how to combat and overcome these challenges, and effectively and professionally take action,” LaPoint concluded. “I think there are a lot of people within my age group who could be involved in agriculture, but they are not.”