You don’t have to be a farmer to enjoy a career in agriculture. That was the message that educators and company representatives at Agricenter International in Memphis, Tenn., presented to 300 FFA high school students from west Tennessee attending a field day at the facility in mid-September.

The students, from six FFA chapters in Shelby and Tipton counties, learned about careers available in vital agricultural support areas, such as irrigation, farm equipment, farm research, bio-genetics, nurseries, precision farming, greenhouse maintenance and others.

“The objective of the FFA field day is to show students that there are many career opportunities in agriculture. Many of the people who work for companies that supply or service farmers may not have an agriculture background,” said Bruce Kirksey, director of research for Agricenter.

The tour included nine stops, on everything from electronics to research. Speakers included representatives from chemical and equipment companies, University of Tennessee Extension staff and Agricenter personnel.

Kirksey demonstrated Agricenter’s use of a recently-purchased Wintersteiger planter to precision-plant research plots for agricultural companies. “It has a computer system which allows us to plug in how many seeds we want to plant in each row. It’s set up on an RTK /GPS system, so not only does it drive straight, but it also knows exactly when to stop and start planting.”

Plot research is often one of the last stops for new technology, products and varieties before commercialization. The ability to test and evaluate these products under a number of environmental conditions can offer career opportunities for college graduates, Kirksey noted.

John Charles Wilson, Agricenter president, says hosting the FFA students is an effort “to open up their eyes to the opportunities in agriculture. We have one fellow who is a technician from Willie German Equipment Co., who helps farmers troubleshoot problems. These kinds of jobs are out there.”

Career opportunities

High school agriculture education teachers like Bill Newsom with Munford FFA are hungry to show these kinds of career opportunities to their students. “I’ve been very impressed with what we’ve seen today,” Newsom said. “What I hope my students gain from this is how far technology in agriculture has come and the career opportunities that are available for students. If we can get the word out that it’s not just cows, sows and plows. There are so many opportunities in production agriculture and within the support system for agriculture.”

Munford High School FFA student Ben Hathcock was interested in the use of RTK/GPS systems in crop production, while Rachel Hull, also with Munford FFA, was impressed with the Agricenter’s lateral irrigation system.

Tim Roberts, an educator with the University of Tennessee Extension Service who works at Agricenter, came up with the idea for the tour and developed it with the help of Agricenter staff. “We wanted to show FFA students how wide open agriculture is,” Roberts said. “It’s not just production agriculture anymore. It’s so many other things. If students are interested in agriculture, there is a place for you. You don’t necessarily have to be a farmer.”

Agricenter International is the world’s largest urban farm and research test facility, managing approximately 1,000 acres of farmland located in the Shelby Farms area of Shelby County. Part of its mission is to develop educational programs about agriculture.

Companies and organizations who sponsored the FFA tour were BASF, Helena Chemical Co., Crop Protection Services, Tipton County Co-op, Wooten Tractor Co., Memphis Ag Club, Tipton County Farm Bureau, Shelby County Farm Bureau, Agricenter International and University of Tennessee Extension Service.