Nebraska ag teacher shortage could threaten future of industry

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – A nationwide teacher shortage could be threatening the future of agriculture in our state and beyond.

Nebraska schools are struggling to fill agriculture education positions and say the state has a crisis on its hands.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln said it has 70 openings throughout the state for agriculture education positions, the most on record.

It is worried about the long-term effects that a shortage of teachers could have on the industry.

“High school ag programs really serve as the funnel; they’re the start of the talent pipeline, and there are not enough students entering agriculture,” said Matt Kreifels, coordinator of UNL’s agricultural education program. “If we start to see the instance where schools can’t find teachers, that pipeline is actually put at risk, and that could have dramatic impacts for the ag industry across this state and across the country.”

It’s a perfect storm.

More high schools are adding or expanding agriculture programs, but more teachers are retiring, and not enough students are joining programs amid the pandemic.

In 2010, there were 133 high schools across the state that offered ag education programs or FFA chapters. Now, there are 203.

Nebraska now has a lot of programs but not enough teachers to teach them.

“If schools can’t find teachers and they struggle year in and year out to find emergency certified people, that we’re afraid they might think about cutting their agriculture programs,” Kreifels said. “And we know the schools don’t want that, the communities don’t want that, but we just need more teachers.”

If schools were to cut programs, then fewer people might get into the business, which means fewer people to fuel Nebraska’s largest industry.

So UNL has hired three faculty members around the state to recruit students and also help retain current staff.

Kreifels said some schools have even offered sign-on bonuses to get students into the ag classroom.

“We’ve known that we need more teachers because of the increase prior to the pandemic, the increase in the number of schools that want agriculture, and so we have really initiated a statewide campaign to attract more people into the profession,” Kreifels said.

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