Limestone County in 2019 looked markedly different than it did 50 years ago. Fields of cotton and livestock continue to be gobbled up by new industries and residential developments featuring homes with all the latest amenities.
Local agriculture officials concede there are challenges, but also believe the ag industry is stronger than ever thanks to new technological advancements and a focus on the business side.
“It's more than just sows, cows and plows,” said Dr. John Wilson, director of the Limestone County Career Technical Center.
To that end, the tech center is offering a new course this year, Advanced Agriscience, which will cover more than a dozen topics related to agriculture. Some of those include ag technology, large and small animal production, plant science, soils and fertilizers, forestry, veterinary science, precision ag, greenhouse management, agribusiness, ag economics, agriscience, aquaculture and landscape.
Wilson and instructor Lauren Graham said the class has been in the works for a while. They both believe it's a unique offering and will serve as a way to get students interested in the multifaceted career field.
While it's being taught at the LCCTC, it's aimed at students at Athens High School who may have never been exposed to ag classes like students who attend Limestone County Schools.
“We have ag programs at the six base (county) schools, but this does not mirror that. In the future, those (ag classes) will serve as prerequisites for this course,” Wilson said. “We'll do some recruitment at (Athens High School) and we'll have some county students who want to pursue advanced agriscience.”
Wilson and Graham will make a presentation at Athens High School Tuesday, the first day of school.
“We'll have a bottle calf there when they come to school,” Graham said.
The presentation about the class also coincides with the formation of Athens High School's first Future Farmers of America chapter, for which Graham will serve as an advisor.
What they'll learn
Wilson and Graham said students would be surprised to learn how many different avenues agriculture can provide. Graham said while residential developments are being built on former farmland, those developments also rely on agriculture expertise for landscaping and selecting turfgrass.
“My brother does crop prescriptions, which uses soil samples and grid maps,” she said. “Those prescriptions (tell a farmer) what kind of insecticides can be put on a crop, whatever the crop may be.”
She added students who take the class would be eligible for a career in the ag industry after graduating from high school or they may decide to further their education at a two-year or four-year college. The program will work with both the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University's experiment station in Belle Mina as part of the course.
It's the hands-on aspect of the course Wilson said that would appeal most to students who have little-to-no experience with anything related to agriculture.
“We'll have three days of theory and two days of clinics where they get on a bus and go to a farm or the experimental station,” he said. “The places we'll take them will blow their minds.”
In November, a state veterinary expert will bring a simulated cow and calf and give a lesson on animal husbandry. Other visits will include a new state-of-the-art fertilizer at the Alabama Farmers Cooperative on U.S. 31. They will also learn more about state-of-the-art equipment being used on local farms.
“It's not just plain old farm equipment anymore,” Graham said, adding engineering is becoming more commonplace in the agriculture field.
Wilson said technology plays an important role in agriculture now, and the reliance on engineering and biotechnology will grow as challenges do.
“One of the biggest challenges is the loss of cultivated land, especially right here (in Limestone County),” he said. “What we're having to do is produce more crops and livestock on less land. We have to be innovative.”
The new course can only accept 48 students — 24 in the morning session and 24 in the afternoon. There is an annual fee of $50, which covers FFA membership and lab supplies.
Athens High School students interested in signing up for the course should contact school counselor Cliff Smith. Those with question about the course can contact Graham at email@example.com or 256-233-6463, ext. 60625.