Deputy Secretary of Agriculture pushes for young people, women to take the reins in agriculture | TheFencePost.com

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture pushes for young people, women to take the reins in agriculture

Bridgett Weaver

Krysta Harden, deputy secretary of Agriculture for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, speaks at the Colorado State University Animal Sciences building in Fort Collins on Tuesday afternoon. She discussed the future of agriculture.

When she was climbing the ranks of leadership in agriculture, Krysta Harden, deputy secretary of Agriculture for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said she didn't have many women she could look to for advice.

Harden today is a female titan paving the path for young women to choose agricultural careers, and she recognizes the importance of getting more women involved.

"We can't have half the population be shut out," she said. "We need them to care. We need them to want to be involved."

Harden was at the Colorado State University Animal Sciences building in Fort Collins on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the future of agriculture.

Women already are getting more involved in agriculture than when she was younger, she said. About 75 to 80 percent of the students enrolled in CSU animal sciences programs are women, and Harden said CSU isn't the only school she's visited with like numbers.

A total of 21,443, or 37 percent, of Colorado farmers are women. They farm more than 13 million acres and bring $284.7 million into the state economy.

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"The trend we're seeing, just like the numbers in your ag school, is women saying, 'I'm not waiting to work with my dad. I'm not waiting to work with my husband or my brother. I can do this myself,'" she said.

But she doesn't want people to think she's trying to replace the people who are already in agriculture — she wants to add more to the industry, which is struggling for support.

"It's not about taking anybody away from the table — it's about adding more chairs," she said. In the U.S., "1 percent of our population feeds the other 99 percent."

While farmers are very productive and do a great job of feeding so many, the industry should continue to grow with the population.

"Now is the time to really be thinking about our food, about how we're going to feed 9 billion people by 2050," she said. "There are decisions we need to be making now that can make a difference."

One of the big obstacles is not just going to be getting women to work in agriculture but also growing the number of students going to school for agriculture-related programs, she said.

A USDA news release this past week said about 60,000 high-skilled agriculture job openings are expected in the next five years, but only 35,000 graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher in ag-related fields are expected to be available to fill them.

"We have more jobs in agriculture than we have kids coming out of our schools to fill," she said.

She said with the average age of farmers at 58, and rising, the future of agriculture is in the hands of the younger generation.

"We're going to be in good hands because we're going to be in your hands," she said to the small group of CSU students in attendance. "I just have such confidence in young people and the decisions you're going to make."

She said young people are hardworking, focused, creative, flexible, worldly and they think about things differently than the generations before.

"You don't think twice about spending a semester abroad or spending a whole summer out in the forest, or whatever it might be," she said. "You think differently."

She said she trusts the younger generation to take care of and carry on the agriculture industry.

"My generation or the one before may have messed some things up, but you all are going to fix them," she said. "You're going to learn from your parents, grandparents and the folks like me and the things we could have, should have done better." ❖

Women in agriculture

There are 21,443 women farmers in Colorado, accounting for 37% of Colorado farmers.

Women farm more than 12 million acres of Colorado land.

They bring in $284.7 million.

Use #WomenInAg to join the discussion on social media.

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