A good friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, teaches in the agriculture college at a major mid-western university, which shall also remain nameless. We have been close friends for more than 30 years and have the chance to visit over the phone quite often, so I was a little taken aback during our last conversation to find how frustrated he has become with the lack of basic agricultural knowledge of his students.
He had alluded to this ever-increasing problem a few times before, but I could tell it had reached a boiling point this time. “Jerry,” he began, “these kids are going to get a bachelors degree in agriculture and some of them don’t even know the difference between a cow and a sow!” I tried to calm him down a bit by telling him he had just had a bad day and was exaggerating their incompetence to make a point. Then, he really let me have it.
“No I’m not!” he screamed through the phone as he went on to explain what he had just done that day to a small class of college seniors that were nearing graduation. Suspecting that these soon-to-be graduates might be lacking some basics, he had prepared a little quiz to test their understanding of rudimentary facts. The test was a fill-in-the-blank style of exam that disallowed the guessing that can occur in a true/false or multiple-choice test.
The questions were extremely simple; how long is the gestation period of a cow, what is the male part of a corn plant called and what is the actual width of a 2 x 6, for just a few examples. When I was teaching high school agriculture, I would have flunked any student that couldn’t have answered these questions, so I assumed a college senior would be angered that they would even be asked such ridiculously easy questions. Wrong.
He started telling me the answers that were given – and I was appalled. There were very few questions that were answered correctly by all the students, and there was even one question that stumped every single person in the class; what color is a Duroc hog?
I quit teaching 14 years ago and I know things have changed. I also know that you don’t have to have hoed corn by hand in order to be able to work on new and better genetic varieties of the crop, but it would seem to me that you should know that the tassel is the male part that produces the pollen in order to start messing with the gene pool.
In just a few short months, these same students are going to begin their careers in industry, government and education. In the next few years, many of them may be responsible for developing cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs that could revolutionize the way we farm today. Others will be involved with government agencies and policies that shape the very way we do business. Some will be charged with instructing and motivating the next generation of agriculturalists as classroom teachers themselves.
In today’s society, it seems every profession has become so specialized that: a cardiac surgeon doesn’t have a clue on how to treat a common cold, a tractor mechanic refuses to touch a hay baler, and a criminal defense attorney has to hire a tax attorney to fill out his form 1040. With that in mind, I guess every agricultural graduate doesn’t need to know that a Duroc hog is red.
Call me old fashioned, but I’d still feel better if at least one of them had known. 
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’


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