Editorial: Support more agriculture education in Maryland schools

Students who attended a hearing in the Maryland House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee last week in support of Carroll County Del. Haven Shoemaker’s agriculture education bill laid out a number of compelling reasons why it makes sense for schools across the state to offer classes about ag, which remains one of the largest sectors in our nation’s economy.

Agriculture is often thought of strictly as raising livestock and planting crops, but it encompasses so much more than that when it comes to potential careers.


Take for example, Taylor Thomas. The 16-year-old junior attending high school in the suburbs of Prince George’s County testified in favor of the bill last Thursday. PG County probably wouldn’t be the first place in Maryland you would think of when it comes to agricultural education and yet, Thomas’ school offered classes that now have her ready to pursue a career of becoming a food scientist.

Another student, from Anne Arundel County, testified how her high school’s agricultural classes have inspired her to want to be a large animal veterinarian.

These are just a few of the many career tracks for which agriculture education could prepare students. The Maryland Department of Agriculture reports there are an estimated 83,600 jobs in agriculture and other resource-based industries.

Right now, just 50 Maryland public high schools out of more than 280 offer agricultural science instruction.

House Bill 225 encourages local school boards to implement, in public schools and career and technology centers, an agriculture curriculum that prepares students for careers related to agriculture or to make informed choices about agriculture. A similar bill is cross-filed in the Senate.

Agriculture education will teach “skills in science, math, technology, communications, leadership, and management through integrated classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised agricultural experiences,” among other learning tools, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The Maryland Farm Bureau requested legislation be submitted, hoping additional education about agriculture will help perpetuate the industry across the state.

Shoemaker, a Republican, proposed the same legislation a year ago, which received unanimous support in the House of Delegates. However, the bill died in the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee by party line vote, with the committee’s seven Democrats voting against it.

We’re not sure what the downside is here. Unlike some pieces of legislation that place unwanted mandates on local government agencies or come with a significant fiscal impact, Shoemaker’s bill does neither.

In fact, the bill is fairly harmless because of the wording that it “encourages” local school boards to implement an agriculture curriculum. That means county boards of education would still be able to exercise local control to decide if such programs are right for their community, which may not be particularly interested in agriculture.

Of course, we would argue that perhaps these are the schools that need these types of programs most. Unlike in communities like Carroll, where there are plenty of opportunities to experience agriculture first-hand — such as through 4-H programs, numerous farmer’s markets and the like — the only exposure students in more urban or suburban settings may get to agriculture is in the classroom.

A basic knowledge, simply to understand the importance of the industry in our everyday lives, is one thing, but giving students access to learning about the science behind it and the ways people can make a career out of agriculture beyond plowing the fields is potentially even more important.

Hopefully, state lawmakers will recognize these benefits and support Shoemaker’s bill, which could provide a necessary shot in the arm to convince local school systems to offer more agriculture education and science programs to their students.