California agriculture schools update ‘cows and plows’ image |

California agriculture schools update ‘cows and plows’ image

LOS ANGELES (AP) – How do you make farming hip?

It’s a question that agriculture schools in California and throughout the nation are hoping marketing firms will be able to answer. Schools want to makeover their outdated “cows and plows” image in the hopes of boosting enrollment as a large portion of the industry’s workforce nears retirement.

One-third of California’s public and private plant doctors who monitor the health of the state’s $32-billion agriculture industry will retire in the next decade. One-third of the state’s county agricultural commissioners, whose inspections help keep out foreign pests, will retire in the next five years.

Yet, enrollment in horticulture programs at the state’s top agricultural schools has dropped as much as 40 percent in the last five years.

At a recent career night at Cal Poly Pomona, a dozen recruiters competed for the attention of about 30 students. They offered jobs, internships and scholarships.

“It’s sad standing there and only having one potential job candidate in the room, when I’m looking for at least three or four people,” said Bert Lopez, a recruiter for Univar USA, a large fertilizer and pesticide distributor.

Many colleges have changed their names to broaden their appeal, tacking on terms such as “environmental sciences” or “natural resources.”

Iowa State University officials added “life sciences” to their agriculture school’s name, a move designed to attract more students after enrollment dipped from 2,807 in 2001 to 2,448 in 2005.

Other universities have hired marketing firms to boost their profiles.

After a 20 percent decline in plant sciences majors in the past five years, Cal Poly Pomona hired a marketing firm. The company created a glossy mock-up advertisement dares students to “Get a Job as a Superhero,” fighting a fierce crop-destroying black bug, or “Delve Into DNA” to breed world-class Arabian horses.

U.S. Department of Agriculture boosters are also employing catchy slogans. At local fairs, volunteers hand out bright red book covers with cows wearing sunglasses under the words “Agricultural Research is UDDERLY Awesome.”

In California, entry-level county agricultural inspectors make $32,000 annually. With an additional two years of study, they could become certified as senior inspectors and earn $70,000, said Earl McPhail, president of the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Assn.

Educators and agricultural experts estimate that the industry has five years to turn the tide.

Work in the industry, however, seems to draw a certain kind of soul.

Bob Gaddie, a 62-year-old Bakersfield plant doctor, is the third generation and last of his family to work in agriculture. His grandfather owned citrus groves in Corona, and his father was a ranch foreman.

Gaddie is a consultant, hired by farmers to help against wily menaces like spotted spider mites, which suck the moisture out of leaves and strip a grape vine bare within weeks.

He monitors 7,000 acres of almonds, pistachios, grapes and citrus for a dozen growers. He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. six days a week and is walking in the fields as the sun rises.

“There are plenty of opportunities, but kids just are not into it,” Gaddie said. “It’s not a glitzy profession.”

Information from: Los Angeles Times,

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