Skip to content

2014 New AES Research Projects – 217

COL00217 – Multistate Agricultural Literacy Research

Sponsoring Institution: National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Project Director:

Michael Martin
Assistant Professor
(970) 491-6949
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Non-Technical Summary:

Agriculture impacts the food, health, economy, environment, technology, and well-being of all. By 2050 the world’s population is projected to reach 9 billion people requiring agricultural production to double–with less land and water–while sustaining our planet. More food will have to be produced in the next 50 years than the past 10,000 years combined. A growing world population relies on agricultural systems to meet basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. The U.S. agricultural sector annually accounts for 1% ($159 billion) of the $15.9 trillion U.S. GDP. While this percentage appears to be low, it should be noted that, as a country, the U.S. has the largest economy in the world (Central Intelligence Agency, 2013). The current 1% of the U.S. population working on farms is supported by nearly 21 million agricultural sector related U.S. workers, or about 15% of the total U.S. workforce (Goecker, Smith, Smith, & Goetz, 2010).

Annually, there are about 54,000 jobs in agriculture but only about 29,000 students are graduating in directly related agricultural degree programs, consequently creating a 45% gap. (Goecker, et al., 2010). With only 1% of the U.S. population actively engaged on farms and 15% in related careers, a majority of consumers–youths and adults–do not have a fundamental understanding of agriculture or how it impacts their lives. In addition, as agriculture has become more specialized, even those engaged in agriculture may know little about the resources and other inputs used to produce food, clothing, and shelter outside of their purview. In order to meet the challenges of the future, it is imperative that young people and adults become informed, “agriculturally literate” consumers, advocates, and policy makers regarding agricultural issues.

In 1988, the National Research Council of the National Academies appointed a committee of agricultural educators and researchers to determine the future direction of agricultural education. The committee published its findings in a report titled, Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education. In this report the committee stated that “Agriculture-broadly defined-is too important a topic to be taught only to the relatively small percentage of students considering careers in agriculture…”(National Research Council, 1988, p. 8). The committee also published these two important findings: 1) “Most Americans know very little about agriculture, its social and economic significance in the United States, and particularly its links to human health and environmental quality,” and 2) “Few systematic educational efforts are made to teach or otherwise develop agricultural literacy in students of any age. Although children are taught something about agriculture, the material tends to be fragmented, frequently outdated, usually only farm oriented, and often negative or condescending in tone” (p. 21). This committee recommended that “Beginning in kindergarten and continuing through twelfth grade, all students should receive some systematic instruction about agriculture” (p. 20). The committee envisioned that “an agriculturally literate person would understand the food and fiber system and this would include its history and its current economic, social and environmental significance to all Americans” (p. 8).

The objectives in this proposal outline work for five years. Upon completion, stakeholders will have agricultural knowledge data, and several program initiatives will have been evaluated. These results are necessary as a baseline to initiate decision-making that “moves the needle” toward an agriculturally literate society. It is noted, however, that while this work can be done through a multistate effort over the next five years, a long-term approach, as identified by phases over the next 15-20 years, will be necessary to measure long-term impacts.


  1. Phase I Objectives: 1) Assess agricultural knowledge
  2. Assess attitudes and perceptions concerning agriculture
  3. Evaluate existing agricultural literacy programs (identifying programs initiatives that relate to increases in agricultural literacy outlined in the Logic Model outcomes)


Quantitative and qualitative research methods will be used to accomplish each of the Phase I objectives. Criterion reference instruments (developed from the National Agricultural Literacy Matrix) will be created to assess current knowledge associated with agricultural literacy priorities and educational standards (Phase I, Objective 1). Content of these questionnaires will be further validated by experts composed of key stakeholders representing agricultural businesses, commodity organizations, public relations firms, government agencies, and educators. The goal of this process will be to identify constructs and question items. Items will be developed for targeted populations with consideration given to reading level and other relevant factors. These instruments will be adaptable to various forms of data collection such as questionnaires, online tools, and interviews. Populations to be assessed will be defined by factors such as age, education, geographic location, career area, population density, and affiliation or familiarity with agriculture.

As data are analyzed, special attention will be focused upon differences between and among these groups. In addition, researchers will use these data to identify factors contributing to or inhibiting knowledge about agriculture. Quantitative measures including semantic differentials and items with Likert-type scale response choices will be used to assess attitudes and perceptions about agriculture (Phase I, Objective 2). Items for these assessments will be developed through a thorough review of relevant literature and consultation with researchers in agricultural education and agricultural communications.

Additional approaches for gathering information to assess attitudes and perceptions will include having subjects interpret and reflect upon visual images, analyze content of case studies, and participate in focus group forums.

Target Audience:

The audience is pre-K children through adults within a variety of states.


  • Identify existing agricultural literacy instrumentation
  • Review the Agricultural Literacy Logic Model outcomes for the development of instrumentation among identified group
  • Design instruments and data collection strategies to achieve the research outcomes toward targeted groups–primarily K-20 and consumers
  • Report findings from studies at milestone/research meetings
  • Publish results in peer-reviewed journals

Expected Outcomes:

Provide evidence-based findings to stakeholders and agricultural literacy program leadership to improve program delivery and resources that when implemented will result in continual behavioral changes.

Keywords: agricultural literacy

Contact CSU Equal Opportunity Privacy Statement Disclaimer

2018 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523 USA