The Challenge

Projected increased in the human population (9.1 billion by 2050), will necessitate a 70% increase in global food production (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations).  This increase in agricultural production must be achieved while simultaneously confronting increased costs and decreasing availability of natural resources, a situation that demands technological innovation, human ingenuity, and leadership.  However, the human capital needed to confront these challenges is underdeveloped and, in some cases, threatened.  A majority of students and adults do not have a fundamental understanding of agriculture or natural resource issues, their underlying scientific and technological (STEM) foundations, or how they impact their lives (NRC, 1988).  Efforts to recruit and prepare highly-skilled members of agriculture and natural resources workforce already fall short of the needs of industry (Goecker, Smith, Smith, & Goetz, 2010).  A sustained and systemic effort is therefore required to support youth and adults to become informed, scientifically literate consumers, producers, advocates, and policymakers regarding agricultural and natural resource issues and open the career pipeline further.  This effort requires collaboration among a representative and inclusive group of stakeholders.  

Post-secondary institutions must take a leading role in fostering science literacy as a means of bolstering the national food, agricultural, and human sciences workforce; however, few systematic educational efforts exist to foster science literacy about food, energy, water, landscapes and the interrelatedness between agriculture and natural resources stewardship (NRC, 1988). As the epicenter of global food production, Nebraska is uniquely positioned to carry out this work.  One in three jobs in Nebraska is directly tied to agriculture or agribusiness and the richness of the natural resource base in the state makes it an international leader in production of agricultural products and services.  However, the critical global problem of successfully feeding 2.4 billion more people by the middle of the 21st century can only be solved by innovations in food, energy, water, healthy people, and landscape systems that span disciplinary boundaries.  As noted by the NRC (2009), “Agriculture now so thoroughly combines basic and applied aspects of the traditional STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that the acronym might rightly expand to become STEAM, joining agriculture with the other fundamental disciplines” (pg. 3). The science and social implications associated with food, energy and water are too important to Nebraska and the global community to be taught only to students pursuing careers in these areas.  Increased knowledge of agriculture, natural resources, and the life sciences will allow leaders and consumers to make informed decisions that will impact their lives and the lives of future generations.  This skillset and associated knowledge base - science literacy - is a foundation for maintaining America’s social and cultural institutions, food and energy security, global economic competitiveness, and position as an international leader in progressive policymaking.  

Graph of 2010 Employment Opportunities showing 29300 Agriculture and Natural Resources Graduates and 24200 Allied Graduates Source: USDA Employment in Food, Renewable Energy, and the Environment, 2010


Goecker, A. D., Smith, P. G., Smith, E., & Goetz, R. (2010). Employment opportunities for college graduates in food, renewable energy, and the environment: United States 2010 - 2015. Retrieved from USDA Employment Pages

National Research Council. (2009). Transforming agricultural education for a changing world. Washington, D.C.: The National Academy Press.

National Research Council. (1988). Understanding agriculture: New directions for education. Washington, D.C.: The National Academy Press.