“If you can communicate about agriculture, you can communicate about anything,” says Kevin Kent, a 2014 Media Design Master’s grad currently working as the Assistant Director for the Florida FFA Association. (FFA, or Future Farmers of America, is a national student organization that provides education about agriculture and leadership training.)
Kevin wasn’t raised on a farm, but he did grow up in a rural area and joined FFA in middle school. From an early age, he understood not only the value of agriculture, but also the importance of communicating that value to other people.
“Now more than ever, people are so disconnected from the farm. People think food comes from a grocery store,” he says. “They don’t think about what happens before it gets there. And it’s only getting worse. Because of that, there are a lot of misconceptions about where food comes from and how it’s produced. Agriculture is hard to communicate because people are so disconnected from it, yet there’s so much being said about it.”
This disconnect is obviously bad news for agriculturalists, but it does present some unique opportunities for the next generation of job-seekers.
Kevin, who also has a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Education & Communication from the University of Florida, says some of the most pressing needs in the ag industry include nontraditional roles like journalists, digital content creators, app developers, and marketing professionals.
Content and Communications
“The industry needs people interested in things like film and video, or social media, who can work with farmers and producers to relay the story of agriculture to the public,” says Kevin. “There are a lot of farmers with really cool stories, and although they’re not direct-to-consumer, what they do every day affects a lot of people.”
“We’re starting to see some farmers in the fields posting their daily activities on social,” he adds, “but you rarely get to see a production chain from start to finish.”
Kevin says a lot of the students he works with are eager to see these activities. “More than anything, we have students wanting to see exactly what production agriculture looks like. Our biggest chapter, for instance, is in downtown Miami. Those students are in an urban area, but they want to know how their food is grown and what farmers use to grow it. An educated public asks those things.”
Rob Bulluck, District 6 Representative of the Florida Farm Bureau, also points out the crucial role of media professionals and advocacy organizations in connecting agriculture with the general public. “A common misconception is that Farm Bureau is just insurance; but there’s a lot more to it,” says Rob.
For instance, Florida Farm Bureau puts out a quarterly magazine featuring regional and national ag news. “We have a staff of media representatives who go to events, do video recordings, and take photos. They don’t necessarily come from farms, but they use their talents and skills – from journalism to photography and graphic design – to benefit the ag community.”
“We also have a federation side,” he adds, “which goes out there and advocates for agriculturalists, and meets with legislators in Tallahassee and Washington, DC. We also work on foreign affairs and importing/exporting projects. We’re a network of farmers, speaking up about issues that affect us and everyone else in our community.”
Web and App Development
Despite agriculture’s traditional image, the industry possesses some incredibly advanced technology. One example is the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), which can help farmers monitor moisture and pesticide levels, tend to sick animals, and even spot distressed plants…If it were possible to give every square foot of the farm exactly what it needs, when it needs it, two things would happen: Farmers would get a bigger crop yield, and use less input – water, fertilizer, fungicide, pesticide, etc. This means less cost to both farmers and to the environment.”>a report from Modern Farmer, the author describes the benefits of UAVs:
“Imagine a farm. Somewhere, the soil is too wet or too dry. Somewhere, a fungus or other pathogen is starting to take hold. Somewhere, the crop needs fertilizer or insecticide. It’s difficult to say where without walking every square foot of the farm … If it were possible to give every square foot of the farm exactly what it needs, when it needs it, two things would happen: Farmers would get a bigger crop yield, and use less input – water, fertilizer, fungicide, pesticide, etc. This means less cost to both farmers and to the environment.”
According to Kevin, opportunities for technological innovation exist even beyond the UAV. “We also need people – who don’t necessarily have any direct involvement with agriculture – to create apps using the data we’re getting from UAVs.” (Existing apps include tools like Optimizer, which helps with soil sampling and creating see profiles, and Agrivi, a management app for everything from irrigation and weather monitoring to pest detection.)
In addition to a knack for analytics, agricultural app developers should also have an eye for design and usability. “The key is creating simple user interfaces,” says Kevin. “There needs to be a bridge helping connect traditional farmers and new technology.”
Branding and Marketing
According to Kevin, the most difficult part of his job is building that bridge. “FFA – and what it represents – is very traditional. Translating that message, and consolidating it into smaller pieces for a platform like Snapchat or Instagram, is challenging. But moving forward is important, and we want to create messages that people actually hear, so that they can make informed decisions.”
For Full Sailors not affiliated with FFA but still interested in pursuing a career in agriculture, Kevin recommends going straight to the source. “There’s no one better to talk to than the producers themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and to chat with somebody in your own community.”
“I was able to take what I learned at Full Sail and bring it back to agriculture,” he says. “I took my love of design and turned it into a profession, and now I’m able to say, ‘Yeah, I’m helping out. I’m making a difference.'”