Leslie Elizarraraz Perez has helped on her family's farm during trips to Mexico.
But she was eager to learn more about the industry, so the Bryan High School sophomore joined the school's academy with agriculture-focused classes and the metro area's first FFA chapter when they opened this school year. Little did she know that getting involved would shift her dream of becoming a lawyer to a career in agribusiness.
“We're going to feed the world,” said the smiling 16-year- old.
Elizarraraz Perez was one of five Bryan FFA members to celebrate National Ag Day on Tuesday at a Nebraska Farm Bureau event at Fricke Farm in Sarpy County. The event, one of three around the state with Gov. Dave Heineman and other officials, celebrated agriculture and its role in Nebraska's economy.
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Leaders used the opportunity to encourage youths to pursue careers in ag-related fields.
“Agriculture is very strong,” Heineman said, “and agriculture is going to be even stronger in the future.”
Nebraska receipts from agriculture in 2011 totaled more than $21 billion and the state had $6.9 billion worth of ag exports, with corn, soybeans, other products, grain products and hides and skins as its top five ag exports. Recent trade agreements with countries like Japan and South Korea point to only more growth.
Ronnie Green, vice chancellor of UNL's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said Nebraska already helps to feed the more than 7 billion people across the globe, and a rising global population is calling for more food production.
“We have the opportunity to meet that need,” he said.
Youths can help by pursuing careers in ag innovation or learning about ag-related technology, Green said. He's encouraged about the future of Nebraska's ag industry because of growing agricultural enrollment numbers at UNL, which are on track to be up about 6 percent from last year, he said.
Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said farmers, and also people involved in agribusiness and agriculture support systems at universities and extension offices, make Nebraska's economic framework strong. A third of Nebraska jobs are related to agriculture.
Elizarraraz Perez said agriculture's far reach attracts her. The industry's projected growth and opportunities also are appealing, she said. “It just gets you pumped up.”