Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Louisiana with my Administrator, Elanor Starmer, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and visit Southern University and A & M College (Southern), an 1890 Land Grant University and Historically Black College. Located on Scott’s Bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, LA, the campus covers 512 acres, with an agricultural experimental station on an additional 372-acres just north of the main campus. It is at this university that AMS began a strong partnership in the mid 1980's to help establish a Beginning Agricultural Youth Opportunities Unlimited (B.A.Y.O.U.) Program.
BAYOU provides an opportunity for high school students to gain “first hand” knowledge about career opportunities in Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences and related disciplines. With more than a third of career federal employees projected to be eligible for retirement in 2017, programs like B.A.Y.O.U. cultivate and nurture agricultural professionals for the future.
I was encouraged to hear the survival story of the program, since its beginning, almost 30 years ago. When the program first began, it thrived for years, producing some of the top agricultural professionals, sending them off to attain postgraduate degrees and work for USDA and the private industry. However, a time came when the program went dormant and lost the level of support and participation that made it a bright spot for recruiting youth in agriculture on the campus of Southern.
In 2008 and through new leadership, the B.A.Y.O.U. Program was revived and is, again, a beacon for young people looking to find a solid career path in agriculture. This summer, 29 students participated in B.A.Y.O.U., 11 were graduating seniors. Out of those 11, all committed to pursue careers in agriculture through Southern University. That's outstanding! And through its support of the program, AMS had a role to play in that success.
Hopefully, some of those students will become future scientists, agricultural economists, policy analysts, or administrators at USDA one day. Having such diversity represented in our workforce is essential to delivering programs and services in a way that represents and serves all communities.
AMS is committed to developing youth for careers in agriculture, as well as strengthening the partnerships with 1890 Land-Grant Universities. As we continue to ensure diversity in our workforce and the delivery of our programs and services, we value the relationships that have been established through the USDA-1890 Partnership.