Telling Tales In School

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Surpassing all expectations, young students are hungry for the story of seed.

In six months, the American Seed Trade Association’s First the Seed Foundation’s “Grow: A Seed Career Program” reached over half a million students in 48 states, far surpassing the original goal by more than five times. The latest market research data, released at the end of April, has the foundation’s President beaming with pride. “We reached half a million students this first year with the message of the seed industry – that’s pretty powerful,” says Thomas F. (Bud) Hughes of Verdant Partners. “We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far … but we think there’s still a lot to do and lots of students to reach. It’s a very important and noble cause for our industry.”

The growing recruitment shortage in the seed industry makes reaching the nation’s youth critical if seed companies want to attract new talent down the road. In 2008, the foundation focused on reaching students in high school and college showing the urgency of attracting young talent to fill an estimated 52,000 new jobs per year. “We were hearing repeatedly that we were not getting enough plant breeders, field scientists and so forth coming into the industry,” says Hughes.

The creation of the not-for-profit First the Seed Foundation has been important for the entire seed industry because the foundation has been tasked with presenting the opportunities this high-tech industry has to offer as well as generating interest and excitement about a little known and often misunderstood sector of the ag business. “With biotech coming to market and the whole evolution of the genomics industry, historically, we have not done a good job of telling our own story,” says Hughes.

Tell Your Own Tale
This sentiment is echoed by Ann Jorss, Program Manager and Vice President of Finance and Administration for ASTA. “The seed industry has a story to tell and if we don’t tell it somebody else is going to tell the story for us and it might not be what we want to be told,” says Jorss.

First the Seed has been telling tales in school ever since the launch of its web site in June 2009 and its career handbook and DVD kit, “Grow: A Seed Career Program,” last October. The response was unexpected.

“Once our career kit went out we got calls from career counselors asking for somebody to come to their schools to talk to students for career days – we weren’t prepared for that,” Jorss says. Overwhelmed by so many requests for personal appearances – and stories about seed – Jorss admits the next step for the foundation was somewhat reactionary.

Feed the Hungry
A natural offshoot of the career kit, the Ambassador’s Program will answer the demand for information about the world of seed – a demand that seems to be growing according to Hughes: “There was a hunger out there for this type of information.” Industry professionals from all over the U.S. will tell the tale of this exciting, fast-paced and growing high-tech industry in person with videos, slide shows and print materials at school and university career days this fall. “We support these ambassadors, give them a presentation and talking points and make them feel more comfortable presenting to students,” notes Jorss.

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