Virtual Field Trip Connects Students, Farmers Through Technology

USFRA event draws more than 40,000 high school students

When so many of today’s youth are three, four or five generations removed from the farm, teaching them how Americans produce livestock or grow crops can be a difficult task. Thanks to efforts by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) and Discovery Education, that process has become a lot easier.

“One of the first things we did this year was a virtual field trip that was targeted at high school students,” said Gene Stoel, who is a director for the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) and sits on the USFRA board. “We wanted to show students how farmers farm and give urban and inner city students a perspective on what farming really is today.”

Gene Stoel
Gene Stoel, MSR&PC Director, District 7

The virtual field trip, “The Smart Farm: Where Technology and Innovation Meet,” which sought to show high school students how technology plays a large role in today’s smart farms, attracted more than 40,000 students, who tuned in to a live event April 5 from the Deere & Company World Headquarters in Moline, Ill. The event was held in conjunction with the USFRA board meeting, which Stoel and Minnesota Soybean CEO Tom Slunecka attended.

“At these meetings we review research that looks at consumer attitudes and we discuss research that allows us to craft messaging,” Stoel said. “We really focus on the audience first and then the message we need to reach that audience, and we find partners with projects that fit our needs.”

Stoel said the idea for the virtual tour was proposed by Discovery Education, which has a long history of work with public television and education. He said USFRA worked with Discovery Education to create the curriculum as well. The virtual field trip at Deere & Company tied in participants highlighted in the FARMLAND film.

“We used members of the film and tied that in with all the different technologies used on the farm to make it exciting for the students,” he said.

As for the board meeting, Stoel said a lot of the discussion focused around what’s next in consumer outreach.

“During the USFRA meeting they showed us a graphic with two intersecting street signs,” Stoel said. “One street sign read ‘technology’ and the other read ‘sustainability.’ We want to get to a point where we’re showing consumers technology is helping us become sustainable. So we’re  trying to see what that next step is going to be as far as what messaging we want to get out and what we want to talk to consumers about.”

Across America, there are still many misnomers about agriculture, from corporate vs. family farming and environmentally unsustainable vs. highly sustainable food production to the alleged mistreatment of poultry and livestock. Apart from extreme, rare examples, the U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world and serves as a model for crop production and animal welfare in the global agricultural community.

Watch the virtual field trip here.

Follow The Conversation