National 4-H Week Highlights Young People's Role in Agriculture
More than a century ago, the first "head, heart, hands, and health", or 4-H, clubs were formed to help improve farming practices and farm life. While agriculture and rural values remain a large part of 4-H, the organization has grown to include young people from all background and types of communities. Through after-school programs, bilingual projects, technology clubs, partnerships with the military, and many other innovative approaches, 4-H remains one of the best hallmarks of American life.
From the group of students from Clarion, Iowa who in 1906 picked good-luck clovers and gave them to their school superintendent, which sparked the idea for the 4-H emblem, to all of the 4-H youth of today living in both metropolitan and agricultural communities, I am incredibly proud of all of Iowa's 4-H'ers.
4-H has made a tremendous contribution to youth development everywhere in America, and is the nation's largest youth organization with more than 6 million participants. All of Iowa's 99 counties have members with a grand total of 24,248 4-H members in our state. An additional 92,700 young people are reached through educational programming through school enrichment, day or overnight camps, or after school programming. The key to 4-H's success in Iowa is its current 11,840 volunteers who make the program work at the local community level.
As the co-chairman of the Senate 4-H Caucus, I serve as an advocate for 4-H and seek to give 4-H a stronger voice in Congress. Many of the youth involved in 4-H today will become our next generation of leaders, in food, agriculture and many other fields, and in organizations and governments from local to national.
The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 renewed a grant program for youth organizations including 4-H to establish pilot projects in rural areas and small towns. This, in addition to 4-H club members and volunteers, is what keeps 4-H possible.
This next generation faces a significant set of hurdles when entering the agricultural sector such as high land, energy, and equipment costs. That's why as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, I worked to address these challenges in the new farm bill.
The new farm bill expanded loan programs and increased opportunities in conservation programs for beginning farmers and ranchers. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program was reauthorized and will help beginning farmer with the training and mentoring assistance they need to help them obtain management and marketing skills, which will be vital to their future success.
The new farm bill also addresses the critical need for attracting more students to pursue careers in food and agricultural sciences. For example, the United States is experiencing a shortage of food-animal veterinarians, especially in rural areas. The National Veterinary Medical Services Act of 2003 (NVMSA) sought to address this shortage by establishing a student loan repayment program for veterinarians that agreed to work in a shortage area. However, the NVMSA program ran into a series of hurdles during the implementation process. The 2008 farm bill addressed these issues to ensure the NVMSA program becomes an effective tool for attracting youth to a rewarding career in veterinary science.
Youth today face ever-growing pressures, demands and challenges far different from those of the past. I'm confident that through 4-H, Iowa's youth will be better equipped to meet these challenges head-on.