The demographics of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources student body may surprise the casual observer. Rather than becoming a destination primarily for young academics with farming backgrounds, the college is attracting a population that, more and more, reflects the diversity of the state. This means fewer and fewer students come from traditional, farming backgrounds.
According to the 2016 CAFNR Summer Welcome statistics, only 11 percent of first-time students came from a production agriculture background. Over half of the same group of students reported that they were from either an urban or suburban area. Regardless of the environments in which they grew up, students are choosing majors that will lead them to career paths within the agriculture industry.
CAFNR freshman Caleb Quinlan has always had a passion for small-town agriculture. He comes from Mexico, Missouri, as a fourth-generation farmer on his family’s row crop and cattle operation. Soybeans and corn are the major crops, along with approximately 100 head of Angus Simmental crossbred cattle. Quinlan also owns a small part of the farm that he used for his FFA supervised agricultural experience (SAE).
“I had about 36 acres of forage crops and another 64 acres for corn and soybeans, rotating each year,” Quinlan said.
Even with hands-on experience in agriculture production, it was Quinlan’s involvement with FFA that really cemented his decision to continue in this career area. After four years of active membership, serving as his chapter’s president in 2015-16, and interviewing for State Star Farmer at the 2016 Missouri State FFA Convention, he knew he wanted to stay within the agriculture industry.
“It’s kinda showed me that when you’re passionate about something you can, you know, talk about it all day with anybody if they share the same interests,” Quinlan said. “I want to be able to do that and show my knowledge and continue the passion that I’ve had for agriculture.”
Farming is his ultimate aspiration, but getting a college education first is a top priority. With the University of Missouri only a short drive from his home, he can continue farming with his dad and grandfather. Quinlan is studying plant science and would like to someday be an agronomist and help other farmers increase their own production. Eventually, he hopes to find a job close to his family, so he can continue to farm with them.
“Hopefully I can get a job within the region I’m from,” Quinlan said. “I just think where I’m from would someday be a great place to raise a family and have that close-knit family experience that everyone wants. That way everybody can hopefully want to continue to farm like I am, and hopefully we can continue that tradition that we started.”
Freshman Alissa Hurst, from Tarkio, Missouri, is also passionate about the agriculture industry, with a farming background that is five generations deep. Her family owns a row crop operation producing corn and soybeans, and has a greenhouse business as well. She also has strong ties to the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation through her uncle Blake Hurst, Farm Bureau president. However, in spite of her agricultural background, Hurst is a nursing major at the University of Missouri.
“Most of my high school career, I planned on coming back and working in the greenhouses, which is our second family operation, but I realized that wasn’t what truly interested me,” Hurst said. “I’ve always loved healthcare, and so I decided to just go with what my gut told me to.”
Even though her career choice and major are not connected to CAFNR, Hurst still wants to stay involved with agriculture and someday return to the area in which she grew up. This could include helping out on her family’s farm.
“It’s kind of weird, but I could see myself, like, marrying a farmer and then him working on the family farm,” Hurst said. “Even if that doesn’t happen, I could see myself moving to the area and then helping out when needed, so I definitely see myself going back.”
Unlike Hurst and Quinlan, CAFNR freshman Samuel Reid did not come from a traditional farming background. Instead he grew up in the suburbs of Exeter, located in the Central Valley of California. His father is employed by a chemical managing company and his mother was a chemical saleswoman until he was born. Reid’s interest in agriculture and animal science was sparked by his uncle, who is a retired veterinarian and alumni of the University of Missouri.
“I have always really liked animals, and my uncle’s a retired veterinarian, and so I kind of talked to him about animal science and stuff,” Reid said. “He graduated from here and that’s one of the reasons why I chose to go here.”
With the support of his parents towards his interests in agriculture and his chosen major, Reid would like take a career path allowing him to work with exotic animals.
“I’d like to study animal behavior and work at a zoo or conservation center with exotic animals,” Reid said.
Like Reid, today’s generation of young adults primarily come from from largely populated, suburban areas and many are several generations removed from agriculture. These are the young people now finding their way to agriculture-related careers through programs in CAFNR.