- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

WEST MONROE, La. (AP) - The halls of the agriculture building at West Ouachita High School are lined with purple Future Farmers of American pennants, showcasing wins in a variety of competitions over the years.

Teacher and FFA adviser Wes Sebren said ag education has changed a lot over the past decades. People assume that ag is all “cows, sows and ploughs” but the scope has grown to include more technology and machine work. The most common type of ag work in Louisiana, he said, largely depends on where you are in the state. In northern Louisiana, timber is vital, but in the south sugarcane is a huge crop.

The industry is expected to need more agricultural business degree holders over the next five years, he said, and school systems are adding or reopening previously shut down programs. The department in West Ouachita is in its eighth year, and this is the first year that every high school in the parish has had an ag program. West Ouachita has about 330 students in ninth through 12th grades, and Wes Sebren said more freshmen are signing on every year.

Most ag programs, he said, offer at least an avenue for the state’s Jump Start career diploma but also offer options for the college-bound.

Ashlee Sebren plans to follow her father’s footsteps and major in agriculture business and education and get a master’s in education. She’s graduating later this year and said her family has worked in agriculture in one way or another for generations.

She said the program has offered lots of hands-on work, such as getting to grow plants from seed and sell them, create items in shop class and work with animals.

Lillian Smith, also a senior, said she remembered a class in which they created ice cream using milk with different fat content levels. It was a great example, she said, of how products made through agriculture are processed to end up on the table. Everything edible comes through ag production, and she said creation process helped solidify that concept while also showing that some options available are best left untasted. She called some of the ice creams “disgusting.”

Smith said she took agriscience in middle school in Texas before her family returned to Louisiana. She loved the class and wanted to continue studying a field that’s so important to her community.

Both teens said many of their peers are pursuing more work related to machinery. Wes Sebren said this is the first year the department is offering a full-year course on electric work.

Every student enrolled in an agriculture course is also enrolled in FFA, which Ashlee Sebren called the club of the class. She said she wasn’t aware how serious FFA was until she was a member.

The dual effect of class work and FFA membership, Wes Sebren said, exposes the students to a wide variety of skills needed in the workplace. For example, FFA requires record-keeping skills to show how much has been invested in a project, not just a synopsis of what the teen has learned. FFA contests require rehearsed and public-speaking skills, and in the spring students will showcase manual skills like mechanics and welding in addition to showing animals and determining the best landscaping plants.

Ashlee Sebren said help from the teachers often help her improve on a project, and she’s more proficient at multitasking. Smith said her public speaking skills have grown through her participation and, overall, getting help from her peers has been beneficial.

The important thing to know, Ashlee Sebren said, is that the agriculture program has something to offer everyone. It’s not only for those who want to go into farming, and it helps students develop a plethora of real-world skills necessary for success in a variety of fields.

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Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com

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