Ashton Bohling

National Agriculture Week is a special time for me – an opportunity to reflect on the central role agriculture plays in my life and the direct impact it has on the success of my home state.

This year I’m especially grateful for the opportunities in agriculture that the University of Nebraska has provided not just for me, but for all Nebraskans. Our state recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. Our university has existed almost that entire time – which means that for nearly a century and a half, the University of Nebraska has been doing teaching, research and outreach to help our state’s most important industry thrive.

Now, as we face the challenge of increasing food production by 70 percent in order to feed a global population that will exceed 9 billion by 2050, the need for continued innovation in agricultural research and technology is as important as it has ever been. As I often hear our state leaders say, Nebraska can lead the way in meeting this challenge. From my personal involvement with the University of Nebraska, I am confident the university will play a vital role in helping us get there.

Growing up on my family’s farm in Plymouth, where we raised cows and grew alfalfa, I learned at an early age to appreciate the hard work of farmers and ranchers who supply our food. I carried that deep appreciation for agriculture with me throughout my time in school, participating in FFA at Tri County High School and studying agriculture education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Now, as an agriculture educator and FFA advisor in Auburn Public Schools, I’m lucky to have the opportunity every day to pass that knowledge along to the next generation of Nebraska’s leaders. I get to teach students how to grow and donate produce, weld, build aquaponics systems and design floral arrangements. I help them forge lasting relationships with industry professionals, which will serve them in their future careers and maintain a strong pipeline for Nebraska’s agriculture workforce. I introduce them to scientific and mathematic principles that will be key to continued agricultural innovation.

I probably wouldn’t be doing a job I love without the University of Nebraska. And I see my story being repeated in my classrooms every day. Nebraska schools, recognizing the growing importance of agricultural literacy, are adding agriculture education programs that will require certified agriculture instructors – an exciting trend for someone like me. But it is important to point out that UNL offers Nebraska’s only bachelor’s degree in agriculture education. Without UNL’s partnership, our schools and young people might not have access to agriculture education programs because we would have to rely on out-of-state institutions to produce the instructors. That would make it harder to recruit instructors to Nebraska when they likely have opportunities in their own states as well.

UNL also supports educators like me throughout their careers. Not only do I continue to take advantage of the resources that my professors provided me with while I was a student at UNL, but in my professional life. I’ve attended the Food and Nutrition Institute and the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education, both hosted by UNL. My FFA members attended UNL’s Pathways to Careers workshop. And of course, UNL hosts tours and educational activities during the annual Nebraska State FFA Convention, exposing young people to campus environment and helping them envision a future career in agriculture.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the educational programs, services and partnership provided by the University of Nebraska. Someday the students in my classroom – our future farmers, ranchers, teachers, entrepreneurs and community leaders – will say the same thing. The University of Nebraska has a long history of improving the quality of life for our citizens and meeting the needs of the agriculture workforce. All of us who care about the continued success of Nebraska agriculture should be proud that the university, together with leaders across our state, has Nebraskans’ best interest in mind as they look toward the future.

The author, originally from Plymouth, is a University of Nebraska alum and agriculture educator and FFA (formally Future Farmers of America) advisor in Auburn Public Schools.