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Agriculture, science and real life

By Joshua Rice

“When am I ever going to use this in real life?” If you're an educator working with youth, you've probably heard this question, usually when they're faced with a complex equation, a problem-solving scenario, or are asked to read, remember, and recall information.

Agriculture educators have an advantage answering this question. They can simply reply, "Every day."

Young people want to invest their time and energy into things that will have a direct impact on their well being and reward them for their efforts. Agriculture does play a role in their everyday lives and possibly in their futures, because it affects everyone, everywhere.

Everyone is directly involved in agriculture -- from kids who open a refrigerator door to adults who visit a fast food drive-through. More than 21 million people in the US work in agriculture. Hundreds of careers are directly linked to agriculture such as agriscience, natural resources management, tourism and floral design, to name just a few. Understanding the science of agriculture is the first step in understanding the impact that it has on our everyday lives and the career opportunities that exist.

When people think about science they tend to think of biology or chemistry. But science is the knowledge of the world around us; it means applying general truths or laws while using specific methods of study. New ways of producing food and fiber and meeting human needs comes about through science. Simply put, agriculture is science in action.

The science of agriculture comprises four major areas of study: life sciences, physical sciences, biotechnology, and consumer science. When talking to youth about the science behind agriculture, are we sharing merely a piece of the puzzle or the whole picture? Let’s explore the four major areas in a little more detail.
  • Life sciences is the study of living things with two major areas: botany (the science of plants) and zoology (the study of animals).
  • Physical science is the study of nonliving things, with three major areas of study: earth science, chemistry and physics.
  • Biotechnology is the application of science in the development of new products or processes that involve living organisms and is concerned with increasing production and highlighting desired traits.
  • Social science, also known as behavioral science, deals with human society, including many traits of human behavior including people's interests in foods, clothing, and shelter. Anthropology, sociology, and psychology all fall within the scope of social sciences.
All areas of science are applied within agricultural science. From the time that humans transitioned from hunters and gatherers into nomadic groups and then to establishing agricultural communities, the application of scientific principles has played a role in shaping society. The integration of scientific concepts into agricultural practices help to feed the world. Youth are the future and they will be responsible for shaping the world in which we live. They will need to understand the science behind agriculture and how to apply those concepts to ensure continued growth and prosperity for everyone.

My question for you is this: How can we, as educational professionals, infuse more scientific principles and science connections into our interactions with youth so they have a better understanding of the science of agriculture?

-- Joshua Rice, assistant Extension professor and Extension specialist, science of agriculture

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  1. Great Post Dr. Rice! Context is important to any enduring learning!

  2. As a start, we can be intentional in pointing out where the science is in agriculture, even the simple, basic science. One "tool" that immediately comes to mind are the eight practices of science and engineering identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. What is convenient about considering science in terms of practices is that educators (and youth) can identify how a specific skill or piece of knowledge fits into one of these eight practices. I think another valuable "tool" is our personal story of the science in agriculture. I have my story of how precision agriculture allowed a son to become more profitable than his father, so much so that his father went to work for his son! But we don't even need to get as technical as precision agriculture - even stories that illustrate the basic science in basic agriculture (machine calibration, animal nutrition, soil analysis, fertilizer rates, etc) are incredibly illuminating.


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