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Ag group aims to recruit young WI farmers

Wisconsin State Farmer
Elkhorn High School student Leo Ehlen prepares a milking machine for use while helping out on his family's farm in Elkhorn, WI. Elkhorn High School has one of the most prestigious agriculture programs in the country.

JANESVILLE, WI (AP) - A farming organization in Wisconsin is teaching children about agriculture in the classroom in the hopes of recruiting and retaining younger farmers.

Sheila Everhart, the Rock County coordinator for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom program, told The Janesville Gazette  her goal is to educate kids about where their food comes from and introduce them to career opportunities in agriculture. She said she wants her lessons to appeal to all students, not just those with farming backgrounds.

The average age of Wisconsin farmers has crept steadily upward over the past few decades. A typical farmer was 48 years old in 1982. The average Wisconsin farmer was 56 in 2012, the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census.

The average Wisconsin farmer was 56 in 2012

Cattle and beef farmer Vaughn Johnson sometimes works with Everhart during Ag in the Classroom events to teach kids about farming. He said whether the students understand his message usually depends on where the school is located. He said students are more familiar with agriculture in rural areas, but that engaging kids is much more difficult when he visits classrooms in Janesville or Beloit.

While guest speakers can give students a real-life example of a longtime farmer, it's a fleeting presentation. High school agriculture programs, such as those at Elkhorn High School, can make education a consistent part of a student's schedule.

David Kruse, Elkhorn's agricultural sciences instructor, said students need to get outside of the classroom and immerse themselves in the industry in order to understand agriculture's many career opportunities.

"When students think of their career options, they're familiar with careers on TV or their parents' careers," Kruse said. "We don't understand stuff if we're looking through windows or magazines."