The need to feed the world is to 'do something real'

September 03, 2012
  • Jeff Semler, University of Maryland Extension educator for Washington County
Submitted photo

As you read this column, schools are in session and college campuses are filled with students attending classes in order to fill their time between football games.

As I reflect on this and other things about education and America, I find we are no longer No. 1 in any category, with the exception of spending per student.

The U.S. is 14th in reading, 25th in math and 17th in science among countries ranked by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

Now, you are probably wondering, what does this have to do with agriculture? For starters, agriculture is full of math and science.

Earlier this summer, I read an article about the commencement address at Franklin Pierce University by a highly respected animal scientist, Temple Grandin, who is a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University.

Grandin obtained her Bachelor of Arts at Franklin Pierce College, earned her Master of Science in animal science at Arizona State University and was awarded her Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois in 1989.

Grandin’s achievements are remarkable because she is a woman with autism. In fact, Grandin is the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world.

During her speech, Grandin lamented about what she called “abstractification.” It describes policymakers in D.C. who have no firsthand experience with the policies they’re making.

“This is really bad,” said Grandin as she was met with a spontaneous ovation from the crowd.

Additionally, she is most frustrated that we spend more time and money litigating patents than we do inventing things. “That is beyond atrocious,” she exclaimed to yet more applause.

She capped off her speech talking about doing stuff. As a child of the 1950s, Grandin saw the Republicans building the interstate highway system and the Democrats going to the moon. She worries we’ve gone away from that, “We need to use our knowledge to get out and do real stuff. We’ve got to get back to doing real stuff,” she said.

“One thing you definitely should not be doing is being the inventor of the next credit-default swap,” Grandin said to laughter and applause. “We need to be doing real stuff that makes real change and avoid abstractification.”

Again you ask what does this have to do with agriculture?

I am addressing the high school and college students and their parents when I say, “do something real.”

 What can be more real than feeding the world? It is predicted the world will have 8 billion people to feed by 2030, and 9 billion by 2050.
At the same time, our colleges of agriculture are shrinking in enrollment and staff.

The enrollment shrink, I think, is because many only see agriculture as farming, and not as food science or agronomy or veterinary medicine.

In addition, the declining staff is a symptom of two problems.

First is the abandonment of legislatures to fund research for the public good.

The second, and one of even greater concern, is the shortage of trained professionals.

The job outlook for agricultural and food science professionals is brighter than many other professions.

So in short, as you chart your educational course, do something real and do not overlook agricultural science. Nine billion mouths to feed are counting on you.

To watch Grandin’s Franklin Pierce commencement speech or learn more about her, go to ded#! or

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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