URBANA, Ill. – Youth from six different states will convene at the University of Illinois campus Feb. 4-6 for the 2022 National 4-H Council Ag Innovators Experience. Illinois 4-H staff will lead hands-on training, tours, and educational sessions for 40 4-H youth leaders.

"The Illinois 4-H team has participated in the Ag Innovators Experience in past years, but this is our first time as the lead developer for this nationwide grant” says Mark Becker, University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development specialist. “This grant opportunity, funded by Bayer, reaches over 7,000 youth around the United States yearly and is an opportunity to engage young people in the role that the science and practice of agriculture can play in addressing the biggest challenges that our society is facing.”

Conference organizers will design and deliver a three-day student leadership training to equip youth to return home and lead the Ag Innovators Grant Activity in their respective states. In this year's activity, youth will engage with ag technologies throughout history, understand selective breeding, and explore the use of drones in ag, as well as GIS/GPS technology, to better understand emerging career opportunities in agriculture that will help feed a world population, expected to reach 9.3 billion by 2050.

The conference is about education and training, but also empowerment.

“This generation is coming of age in a world facing many challenges, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless,” says Adam Davis, U of I Crop Science department head. “With over 50% of Earth’s habitable land area managed in agricultural production, innovation in agriculture represents one of the most powerful tools for addressing many of the grand challenges facing society, and it can help us make progress towards a more sustainable future.”

Opportunities for local youth and families to participate include a special pilot session of the Unlock Ag Innovations activity on Feb 5 from 3 - 5:30 pm. Those interested can find out more information by emailing Mark Becker at mbbecker@illinois.edu.

Katie Buckley, McLean County will lead a dynamic team of 4-H educators, including Donna Nuger of DuPage County, Shelby Carlson of Knox County, Sara Marten of Montgomery County, Alcha Corban of Woodford County, and Kristi Stout of Pulaski County to pilot these initiatives both in Illinois and nationwide. 

This conference will be developed in collaboration with the University of Illinois Siebel Center for Design, Department of Crop Sciences, Agricultural & Biological Engineering, and the Center for Digital Agriculture.

About Illinois 4-H: Illinois 4-H is the flagship youth development program of University of Illinois Extension and administered through the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. 4-H grows true leaders, youth who are empowered for life today and prepared for a career tomorrow. The hands-on approach in 4-H gives young people guidance, tools, and encouragement, and then puts them in the driver’s seat to make great things happen. Independent research confirms the unparalleled impact of the 4-H experience, demonstrating that young people are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. 

About Extension:  Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. 

SOURCE: Mark Becker, 4-H Youth Development Specialist, mbbecker@illinois.edu

WRITER: Carissa Nelson, Media Communications Manager, 4-H State Office, carissa7@illinois.edu