Kody Beavers knows his way around a cotton farm. The high school student from Franklin Parish helps out with his family’s farm. But Beavers wants to learn more about the cotton industry, so he is participating in the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana Young Ag Producer Program.

The year-long program uses classroom activities and mentor-based experiences to introduce high school juniors and seniors to careers in agriculture.

“I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to broaden my horizons and get a better understanding of the crops, how they’re marketed,” Beavers said.

Beavers is one of 14 Louisiana high school students who recently attended the program’s summer institute.

During the five-day institute, students heard from LSU AgCenter specialists, government officials who help shape farm policy and farm financial advisors. Students also visited farms, mills, gins and agriculture research facilities, as well as end users of agricultural products such as grocery stores and restaurants.

Institute participants were exposed to the wide reach of agriculture, according to Bradley Leger, program coordinator for the LSU AgCenter.

“They may have indicated that they were interested in beef production, but they’re getting a whole overview of the livestock industry,” Leger said. “And they’re learning about other aspects of the ag industry and seeing how it’s all connected.”

On their applications, participants chose a sector of agriculture they want to learn more about. Interests include traditional row crops, specialty crops such as blackberries, horses and wildlife management.

The 14 youths met the mentors — producers working in agriculture — they will be working with over the next year.

Rhonda Poche runs Landry-Poche Farms, a strawberry farm in Livingston Parish. She signed up to be a mentor because she wants to see agriculture thrive in Louisiana and wants her protégé to know all the ins and outs of farming.

“My advice is, don’t get discouraged. That’s the main thing,” Poche said. “You’re going to have a good year; you’re going to have a bad year, but it’s all worth it.”

Mentors were matched with the youths geographically and by area of interest.

The young participants will be required to put in at least 50 hours of internship work with their mentors. The mentors and their protégés spent a session of the institute planning their projects for the year.

“They are signing program agreements,” Leger said. “They will put an emphasis on particular skills they’d like to learn and things they’d like to be exposed to throughout the year.”

Beavers will be working with a cotton farmer in Franklin Parish. “I want to work with him a lot after school and learn what he does that is different from what we do and maybe pick up things I can bring back to our farm,” Beavers said.

Courtney Hebert applied to the program because she is interested in a career in wildlife management.

“I’m a high school senior, so I want to know what steps I need to take to get my goal, and I think my mentor will understand my goals,” Hebert said. “I just need to be led in the right direction.”

Students will conclude the program with another institute next summer.