Florida Youth Institute: Growing Leaders

Maddie Dvorak wants a University of Florida agriculture degree and then a farm job — on K Street in Washington D.C. At 16, she sees her handshake and her message as the best tools she has to feed the world.
We need a lot more like her. The talent pipeline for agriculture isn’t flowing quickly enough to keep pace with the rising challenge to produce more food on less land. It’s estimated that there are only 35,000 qualified graduates to fill nearly 58,000 U.S. jobs in agriculture and natural resources annually.

Maddie is the type of future leader we need to get into that pipeline. She didn’t grow up on a farm, but she’s active in FFA.

The UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has put a lot into showing Maddie the scope of agricultural jobs, the educational opportunities to prepare for them, and the professional network to put them on a career path.

She got all that at the Florida Youth Institute, a weeklong camp on campus to encourage high school students to consider a career in feeding the world – and to consider CALS as a great place to prepare for that career.

CALS Dean Elaine Turner supports FYI to help the state’s most promising students see how they can shape the future of agriculture in Florida and around the world.

What made FYI so valuable to Maddie was the participation of the Florida Farm Bureau in the program. Maddie said the FYI event with the most impact was meeting Florida Farm Bureau President John Hoblick and Farm Bureau general counsel Staci Sims. It reinforced Maddie’s interest in a career as an agriculture lobbyist. It also strengthened her intention to major in agricultural education and communication if she’s admitted to CALS in 2019.
FYI gave Maddie her first in-depth looks at an invasive plant center, a taste panel, a meat lab, a UF/IFAS demonstration farm, and the springs in a state park.

At FYI, her presentation on biotechnology in agriculture earned her a trip to Des Moines, Iowa, to attend what is perhaps the world’s leading gathering of professionals focused on agriculture as a way to lift billions of people out of poverty. The three-day Global Youth Institute is held as part of  World Food Prize events.

It’s going to take the best and brightest to keep America feeding a growing global population, even as so many American farms are turning into subdivisions. We need scientists whose discoveries improve farming and ppolicymakerswith ideas to overcome obstacles on the path from farm to fork.


There’s a compelling public interest for a public land-grant university to reach into the high school ranks to start developing talent. Agriculture and natural resources keep more than two million Floridians employed.


I can’t say it better than Maddie: “Their job is to produce food. My job is to protect their jobs.”


Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.