The 4 R’s: Reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and rice

branding demonstration at Union Livestock Inc.
Rice Farming editor Vicky Boyd tries her hand at using an electric branding iron. Conditions were too dry to use a traditional branding iron, which is first heated over a fire. The branding demonstration was part of an Ag in the Classroom visit to Union Livestock Inc., a family-owned cow-calf operation in Northern California.

I recently sat in on one day of the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau’s four-day Ag in the Classroom program. Now in its 32nd year, it is designed to educate the educators about the importance of ag in the county and of the job opportunities the industry can offer students down the line.

Many of the participants, who grew up in the area, admit they had no idea the reach of the county’s No. 1 industry nor the types of skills and knowledge needed to farm, pack or process food.

The program has become so popular that the 30 slots fill fast and there’s a waiting list. Each day, the teachers tour four different agricultural operations and learn how they can incorporate what they see into lesson plans. Different commodity groups also offer teaching ideas and lessons that feature their particular crop.

San Joaquin County, which at one time had thousands of acres of rice, has moved into more specialty crops as water supplies grew tighter. Today, the county located just south of Sacramento is home to a mix of livestock, ornamentals, row crops, vineyards, tree nuts, and fruits and vegetables for both fresh market and processing.

Seeing this and talking to the teachers got me thinking about how the rice industry could contribute. After all, rice is a plant, and basic plant growth could be incorporated into biology classes or even basic nature lessons.

As early as kindergarten, students plant a seed in a paper cup, watch it grow and discuss in elementary terms what is occurring.

Rice also is a food and its nutritional benefits could be integrated into healthy living courses. And then there’s the crop’s environmental aspect. It provides habitat for migrating waterfowl and other animals. Discussions and lesson plans that deal with habitat loss, human intervention, weeds, insects and even water quality could be included.

But that’s just one part of the equation. The rice industry offers a myriad job opportunities ranging from crop science, pest control and irrigation management to computer technology, agriculture engineering, marketing and equipment maintenance.

Sure, learning about rice may not resonate strongly in Wyoming or North Dakota, for example, where the crop likely will never be cultivated. But it could be well received in the six rice-producing states.

Taking a page from the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, developing class lesson plans and even providing tours of rice farms and processing operations for local teachers could offer another opportunity to help educate the public about the importance of the rice industry.

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