Genes are glowing, DNA is being transformed, fish are swimming, eggs are hatching and the students in the Brookwood High School Agriculture Department are excited about the new opportunities that lie ahead. The Agriculture Department at Brookwood High School, located in Tuscaloosa County, was the recent recipient of the 2012 Career and Technical Education Agriculture Cluster Innovative Grant. The provisions of the grant established and incorporated a new Animal Science Program into the curriculum starting this fall. The program will give students the opportunity to learn about animal science with an emphasis in aquaculture science and animal biotechnology. In addition to offering these new animal sciences at Brookwood High School, the courses will also be offered via ACCESS (Alabama, Connecting, Classrooms, Educators & Students Statewide) Distance Learning Video Conferencing Instruction to Robert C. Hatch High School in Perry County. Students at both schools will learn through intriguing, innovative instruction while participating in hands-on experiences complete with real industry simulative laboratories. The addition of the Animal Biotechnology Course both through ACCESS Distance Learning and in the regular classroom/lab will allow students to gain essential training in the field of animal biotechnology and the aquaculture industry to ensure students are career ready in their area of the state with the potential to enter the animal biotechnology or aquaculture industry workforce in Alabama.
"The protein of the future" is how a scientist has described the aquaculture industry and its ability to produce food for the expanding population. Currently 85 percent of our nation’s fish is imported; this leaves the United States susceptible to bioterrorism, dependence upon foreign food sources, and a decrease in innovative animal biotechnology within the aquaculture field. However, our state is filling the need of the aquaculture industry, and it is a growing and viable sector of agriculture in our local region as well as the state. Alabama currently ranks second in the nation for catfish production and has over 25,000 acres of water dedicated to aquaculture, yielding over $102,000,000 in value.
Tuscaloosa and the surrounding counties host approximately 95 catfish farms in Alabama. These farms make up 35 percent of the total catfish production of Alabama. Experts have stated there is a need for skills and knowledge from animal biotechnology; in addition, those workers who have skills required to work within the industry are a must to ensure aquaculture continues to be a sustainable and competitive business in Alabama and abroad.
As a Career and Technical Department, we value the support and insight businesses and industries provide us. This endeavor is no different. We currently have three entities that have agreed to work with us to provide on-the-farm training as well as internships to our students. They are Harvest Select, the largest catfish processor in the state; Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries; and the Army Corps of Engineers. In addition to these organizations, Auburn University, the University of Arkansas, Gadsden State Community College, Alabama Cooperative Extension Services, Catfish Heaven, ALFA and the Alabama Catfish Producers are supporting our efforts at starting an animal science program with emphases in animal biotechnology and aquaculture. The various resources the before mentioned are providing include professional development, field trips, guest speakers and industry specialists. The aquaculture industry, colleges, businesses and community are strongly committed to the success of our program.
Students recently participated in a field trip to Harvest Select at the end of September. This experience allowed students to gain meaningful information about what is going on now in catfish production in Alabama. Students also had the opportunity to meet up with Robert C. Hatch High School to meet face-to-face with the students who they meet while using ACCESS Distance Learning Video Conferencing.
Agriculture education teacher Whitney Donaldson said, "This was a great way for our students to not only meet each other but for each of them to see how the aquaculture industry works in Alabama … (I) hope students will gain knowledge that will help them gain a job in the field."
The students of Brookwood and other agriscience programs in Alabama will be able to take advantage of many science and biotechnology opportunities this school year through the Alabama FFA Association. Alabama FFA will be offering proficiency awards for students completing a research Supervised Agriculture Experience project. There will also be an Agriscience Fair Competition in conjunction with the Alabama FFA Convention for students to display agriscience research projects they have conducted throughout the school year.
For more information about the Alabama FFA Association, please visit www.alabamaffa.org.
Chris Kennedy is a Central District Specialist with Alabama FFA Association.