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Illinois Country Living


Ashley Mason

Ashley Mason,
senior at Western Illinois University

Commentary:

Ambassadors for Agriculture
College students are increasing ag awareness

Each year 20 college students from across the United States are selected to be a part of The National Collegiate Agricultural Ambassador program. Selection occurs through an interview process conducted by the National FFA Organization. Ambassadors are selected based on a variety of criteria, including appreciation and general understanding of the agriculture industry and ability to communicate with an audience.

These students then receive training on how to effectively present agriculture information to a variety of audiences. During this training the ambassadors also benefit from briefings on current, important agriculture topics. The students are then responsible for completing 25 presentations about agriculture to primarily non-ag audiences throughout the school year.

The goal of the program is to increase general agriculture awareness through fun, interactive and informative presentations. Since 2006, over 1,300 presentations have been delivered, reaching over 62,000 people. BASF, Syngenta and Elanco Animal Health generously sponsor the program.

This is my second year serving on the National Collegiate Agricultural Ambassador team. I am very proud to be a part of this program.

American agriculture has benefited from persevering innovation and incredible advances in technology. As we become more advanced we also become more efficient, which has allowed the agriculture industry to be more condensed.

Today the average American is five generations removed from the family farm. Of course, today’s agriculture goes beyond the family farm. Agriculture is a science and a business, a process that extends from production, to processing, to marketing. Agriculture is global, prices being affected by conditions all over the world. It is because of these advances in efficiency that most Americans have not had the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from. This situation can lead to unfortunate misconceptions about the agriculture industry. Informing the public about agriculture is vital to their ability to make good decisions, both as consumers and voters.

The National FFA, BASF, Syngenta, and Elanco Animal Health prepare the ambassadors to give comprehensive presentations to non-ag audiences about topics like: sustainability in agriculture, economic importance and sound science. These presentations are made with the goal of increasing the audiences understanding of a part of agriculture and addressing any misconceptions they may have. The visits are made to a variety of audiences, ranging from elementary school students to adults.

I have enjoyed my time as an ambassador very much. Training for the program provides us with a more in-depth knowledge of agriculture, and how to communicate the industry’s message. The training also gives us the opportunity to practice presenting agriculture information with our peer ambassadors and sponsor evaluation, making our message more effective when we present on our own. We schedule the presentations to audiences of our choice, taking care to predominately visit non-agriculture groups.

One of the most important ideas that I have taken away from this experience is that agriculture is a concept. This means that without a basic understanding of the methods and goals of the industry, it is natural for misconception and frustration to occur.

Agriculture is an exciting industry to be a part of, especially as we examine the challenges that the industry will be pressured to overcome in the next 50 plus years. Our global population is growing fast. Today we have about 6.7 billion people. By 2050 it is estimated we will have a population of 9 billion. These additional 2.3 billion people will expand the borders of our cities with development, taking productive farmland off the market. Essentially, agriculture is faced with the challenge of providing more food, and doing so on less land than before.

For all of these reasons I am happy to play my part as a National Collegiate Agricultural Ambassador and share the story of agriculture.


Ashley Mason is a senior at Western Illinois University, majoring in Agriculture Education with a minor in Political Science. She is native to Canton, Ill. For more information, or to inquire about a presentation, contact Mason at AD-Mason@wiu.edu.

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