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CAFES contributes to food and fiber industry

April 11, 2013

Fewer than 2 million Americans are actively farming, compared to over 7 million in the late 1930s, but with 23 million jobs, the food and fiber industry is the largest employer in the U.S., according to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES).

UW-River Falls is contributing heavily to that market, according to Joseph Shakal, an agriculture engineering technology professor.

He said the Agricultural Engineering Technology Department cannot supply enough graduates to satisfy the demand for new employees.

“Agriculture, and all of food production, is in the midst of rapid world-wide technological change. New employees are needed for roles that did not even exist 10 or 20 years ago, with the overarching goal of putting more food on the grocery store shelf while consuming less land, water, and nutrients,” Shakal said.

UWRF is the only school in the state that offers an agriculture engineering technology program and has one of the largest dairy science programs in the nation, according to the CAFES website. But even as one of the largest programs, the push for graduates with the technical and industry skills is ever-present.

“We need more students,” Shakal said. “Just take a look at the job boards in our department. There’s a high demand for our students and many of our spring graduates receive multiple job offers by the end of the semester.”

This demand for more agriculture students may come as a surprise to some, as over one in six students (or about 1,300) at UWRF are already in some agriculture related field, according to the UWRF Admissions office.

But it doesn’t come as a surprise to Shakal, given that agriculture is an important part of Wisconsin and Minnesota’s economy.

“It is said to be the world’s No. 1 industry. When you look at the number of people involved in producing food, there are a lot of big businesses right here, such as Cargill, ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), Nestle and even companies for pet food like Purina that are around this area. We’re surrounded by it because we produce so much food in this area,” Shakal said.

The wide diversity of fields, from the environmental side to the machinery side, is what Shakal said makes the agriculture engineering technology field attractive to prospective students.

According to Kristen Hatzinger, an agriculture education major at UWRF, “Many people think that agriculture is just about farming, but there’s so much more,” Hatzinger said.

“There are skills that will last you a life time, such as dedication, work ethic, and helping to keep the country running. As an ag. ed. major, I can now share my passion with future farmers and help them grow that same passion I have.”

Hatzinger recently participated in UWRF’s agriculture technology contest that brought in over 1000 high school students from around the Midwest for a series of agriculture related activities. This included a hands-on activity related to milk cooling, working with food and grain crops, a one-hour written exam, and work at the lab farms and Agriculture Science building. Other agriculture related events on campus include the UWRF Collegiate Farm Bureau chapter hosting the first-ever Ag Day on Campus on April 25.

The event is intended to promote Wisconsin agriculture, with events happening all day and non-agricultural students, faculty and community members are invited by the UWRF Farm Bureau Chapter to learn more about agriculture, interact with animals and enjoy food made by farmers, according to the event’s press release.

Student organizations in CAFES, along with agricultural businesses, will have educational and interactive booths set up outside the University Center in the middle of campus from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and beginning at 6 p.m., and a free pork sandwich meal will be served in the Agriculture Science building. At 7 p.m., keynote speaker Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, will be presenting “Building Trust in Today’s Food System.”

“We are excited to host this first-time event to educate our fellow students, faculty and community members about the impact agriculture has on their daily lives,” said Erik Warmka, a UWRF Collegiate Farm Bureau member. “This event allows non-agriculture students and faculty to get a first-hand experience with agriculture by the agriculture students bringing the farm to campus.”

So whether a person grew up with farming in their veins, or has never set foot on a farm, the impact of the agriculture industry can be felt throughout the world.