This year, the Missouri Corn Growers Association and the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council will award four $750 college scholarships to graduating high school seniors and two to college juniors.
The scholarships, which will go to students in Missouri who major in agricultural areas at Missouri colleges and universities, are incentives to keep Missouri’s best and brightest agriculture students in the state as they continue their education, said Brent Rockhold, chairman of the Missouri Corn Scholarship Committee.
“We want to provide students in agriculture the opportunity to get a quality education,” Rockhold said. “It’s a way to get our young people to come back to the rural areas they are leaving.”
In the past eight years, 40 scholarships have been awarded. Since they were initiated, the scholarships have grown in amount and number. The six available this year will be awarded based upon students’ need, accomplishments and intended field of study within agriculture.
Rockhold said the scholarship committee will be most interested in students specializing in agronomy because of the lack of other scholarships available in that area.
The Missouri Corn Merchandising Council and the Missouri Corn Growers Association are funded by contributions from Missouri corn farmers. The organizations seek to protect opportunities for Missouri farmers through lobbying legislative action on government policies that improve profitability, said Fred Stemme, communications and marketing director for the Missouri Corn Growers Association.
Stemme and Rockhold said they were concerned about the trend of Missouri youths from rural farming communities leaving those communities and the farming life in search of different opportunities.
“Farmers on our board of directors saw a continued trend of youth leaving agriculture, and while we realize this is continual and six scholarships alone are not going to buck that trend, we have increased awareness among other governmental entities for the importance for younger people to stay in agriculture,” Stemme said.
Rockhold said he thinks that although the number of people who make a living farming has continued to decrease, the overall agricultural field seems to be growing. He said ethanol plants create jobs and value-added opportunities to the producers. In addition, Rockhold thinks there is an increased need for young people interested in agriculture to receive higher education.
“The percentage of kids going to school for agriculture is less than for other departments, but that is a growing number,” he said. “Agriculture has changed enough that there is so much more need to be able to understand new technologies and new farm policy set by the government than there was before.”
Robert McGraw of the MU Department of Agronomy said he agrees that the number of people working on farms has been declining for some time — not just in Missouri, but nationwide.
“Definitely less than half of my agronomy students go back to farming,” he said. “Many go on to graduate school, work for the government or big businesses.”
Although on-farm workers might be decreasing in number, crop production does not mirror this trend. Missouri Agricultural Statistical Services reports show that in 2003, $756 million in corn harvested for grain alone was produced, and production had been on a steady incline since 1993. Even more corn was produced in 2004.
Advancements in farming technology and changes in production methods have made these numbers possible. James Richard Peeper, who won one of the scholarships as a high school senior in 2000, worked on a farm that his family rented since he was in middle school, his mother, Mary Peeper, said. He went to Northwest Missouri State University for horticulture and agronomy and works for a landscaping company.
“James really wanted to get away from the farming life because of the economy,” Mary Peeper said. “It’s hard to make a living farming.”