It can be hard to make a living off the land. Market fluctuations, supply chain disruptions and weather extremes mean that Texas producers are working harder than ever, often for less reward. Fewer young people are drawn to professions in agriculture, placing many family farms at risk.
The future success of the Texas agriculture economy depends on the best and brightest minds—young people from all academic disciplines and walks of life who can couple their skills with a passion for stewarding the land and growing the food and fiber an expanding population requires.
Texas agriculture has a rich and storied history. “It's important to maintain our roots,” said Cody Davenport ’98, executive director and CEO of SALE. “San Antonio is so culturally diverse and historically significant. From cattle drives of the past to the sport of rodeo as we know it today, a lot of the Western lifestyle started here.” As more people leave rural settings and move into the state’s expanding cities, there are increasing challenges in educating young people on the value of agriculture and Texas heritage.
“Students today are less likely to be involved in agriculture at home, so there is a greater need for agriculture education in other ways,” Davenport said. “We want young people to understand the importance of the agriculture economy as a whole. The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is a window into agriculture for these kids.” Through participation with SALE, students develop hard work, perseverance and a healthy competitive spirit. “Youth are allowed to compete in a fair and balanced space and are rewarded for doing well. These experiences make them better humans.”
At its core, SALE is not about what happens in the arena. It is about the hard work and preparation that students pour into their event, whether they are showing goats or building robots. The effort builds their character as well as their knowledge and skills. “What we’re doing is raising good citizens through agricultural education,” Davenport added. Since 1984, SALE has raised $223 million for that purpose, funding 21,275 youth scholarships at colleges and universities in Texas. Of those scholarships, 2,000 have been awarded to Aggies, totaling $17.8 million. Originally, SALE scholarships were reserved for those majoring in agriculture, but today, they can be applied to any degree.
Cullen Eppright '22 participating in the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo in 2014.
“Agriculture has evolved,” explained Davenport. “Now it encompasses every area of academic pursuit, from finance and engineering to education.” The agriculture sector needs a workforce with diverse skills and training. SALE scholarship recipients could become producers and politicians or CEOs and soil scientists, each with the potential to impact their chosen industry.
A network of 6,500 volunteers manages the SALE event each year. The two-week expo and rodeo with 20,000 contest entries is “a 24/7 logistical jigsaw puzzle,” said BJ Hendler ’00, a vice president of SALE. It’s a lot of work balancing his volunteer efforts with SALE and his full-time job as the chief operating officer of American Lumber, but Hendler said it is all worth it when he experiences the moving moment of presenting a scholarship to a deserving recipient.
“We need these young people to advance technology and be involved in the legal climate to perpetuate professions in agriculture. There’s an array of career options. We know that every student, no matter what they’re studying, has a role to play,” he added. “What we as volunteers hope is that they will give back and make agriculture better.”
Sarah Franklin ’11 is doing just that. Franklin majored in agricultural economics at Texas A&M, supported by a SALE scholarship. Today, she is the branch manager of Texas Farm Credit in Pleasanton and serves as a board member and chair of the livestock committee for SALE. “Why I’m doing what I’m doing is really to say thank you,” she said. “SALE has been such a big part of my life. I learned responsibility, hard work and dedication growing up through that program. Those values are part of our Texas culture. We want to keep this heritage alive.”
We know that every student, no matter what they’re studying, has a role to play, What we as volunteers hope is that they will give back and make agriculture better.
-BJ Hendler '00