New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles M. Kuperus visited Allentown High School (N.J.) on National Agriculture Day to emphasize agricultural education at the high school level and stress the importance of continuing it at a state college or university.
“To continue to thrive, there is a great need to equip the next generation of agriculture leaders through quality high school and post-secondary agricultural education programs delivered by top-notch ag education teachers,” Kuperus says. “We are working with Rutgers University on programs that will keep these students in our state so they can take jobs here.”
Agricultural jobs have been hard to come by in New Jersey for some graduates from colleges of agriculture and life sciences, forestry and veterinary medicine. Their search won’t get much easier knowing the New Jersey Department of Agriculture expects there to be a shortfall of about 20,000 between the number of recent graduates and the number of jobs available over the next few years.
Still, agriculture is a significant part of New Jersey’s working landscape with 9,800 farms scattered over about 800,000 acres. And education, Kuperus says, is just as vital as it’s ever been to sustaining agricultural careers in New Jersey.
“Rutgers and other college programs in New Jersey help provide a seamless path for high school students to find careers in the agriculture field,” he says. “To be able to meet the workforce demands of the industry and the need for new ag education teachers, we hope these programs grow and flourish in the future.”
Schools like Allentown have flourished mainly because of agricultural education teachers like Jacque and Cynthia Roszel, who served the high school for a combined 68 years. They’ve instructed more than 5,000 students, and 288 of them have gone on to become FFA officers.
But the Roszels will be retiring by the end of 2008, and their departures signal the need for new teachers who can strengthen New Jersey’s agricultural schools and influence career-minded people to stay in the state.