Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding that will bring more ag science education to museums.
The MOU was completed with the Association of Science-Technology Centers and will provide more than 500 member museums and science-technology centers with resources to incorporate agricultural science and research in their programs.
Vilsack and ASTC President and CEO Anthony Rock signed the MOU at USDA headquarters in Washington.
Under the agreement, USDA will provide ASTC with resources for programs, exhibits, and other education and outreach activities based on the department's work at its network of Research Centers, Land-Grant Universities, Tribal Colleges, Forest Service, National Arboretum, and other programs.
"USDA is at the forefront of scientific and technological research, ranging from using satellites to sense soil moisture from 400 miles above the Earth to creating biomass-based energy sources," Vilsack said.
"This partnership with science and technology centers is another step to ensuring we maintain the pipeline of students engaged in science, technology, engineering, and math education."
USDA has been focusing on energy, nutrition, trade, research, conservation, and in building a bio-based economy from the ground up. While the agency has reached a widespread audience through its extension activities, it seeks to encourage more students to consider agriculture.
"We are facing a shortage of scientists in agriculture," Vilsack said. "I want to commend USDA's Chief Scientist, Dr. Catherine Woteki, who was instrumental in bringing this agreement into being. Having developed her own interest in science by visiting museums as a young girl, she recognized the potential of museums to inspire the next generation of scientists and to help recruit them into the exciting field of agriculture. This will be a key factor in meeting the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by the year 2050."
Ag unlikely in science museums
Earlier this year, University of Florida Institute of Food and Ag Sciences research Katie Stofer released results of a survey that suggested agriculture has been effectively separated from other sciences.
According to Stofer's survey of 29 science museums in cities of all sizes across the U.S., the word "agriculture" is unlikely to appear, even though exhibits may relate to ag or ag practices.
To make the list of large science museums in the survey, the facility needed a budget of at least $10 million annually and at least 200,000 visitors. The results showed that none of the facilities included the word "agriculture" in an exhibit title or description, but Stofer says about 45% of the 316 exhibits could be categorized as "probably" agriculture related at the least, based on exhibit titles and descriptions.