Thursday, February 07, 2008

Illinois Agricultural Education Students Move Ahead with Move to Online Business Records

RANTOUL, IL – Illinois agricultural education students now have the opportunity to use online technology to maintain their real business records for various entrepreneurial projects – projects ranging from agricultural product sales to turf management, and projects that contribute millions of dollars to the Illinois economy each year.

“Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE) projects are an integral part of agricultural education, and allow students to gain valuable work experience, explore career opportunities and make money for college and living expenses,” says Jay Runner, coordinator, Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education (FCAE). “In 2005, the 9,905 students in Illinois that had an SAE project, earned a cumulative $9.6 million.”

Jim Craft, Illinois FFA executive director, says the move to online record books this year from the previous CD-ROM version allows agricultural education students and instructors to spend more time strategizing business and marketing plans and managing the projects rather than passing paper copies back and forth for corrections.

“You can adjust errors, pull data out and place comments directly in the records. The whole process is interactive and of great benefit to students and teachers,” says Craft. “The big picture benefit for Illinois agricultural education in 2006 will be our ability to quickly determine the financial impact these students have on various economic sectors.”

Craft says by the latter part of 2006, agricultural education officials will be able to access aggregate records and summaries of specific data related to student SAE programs. For example, officials will pull up the number of statewide beef production projects, and be able to gather such information as pounds of beef produced statewide, student profits and hours worked, while keeping student names and personal information confidential.

“We will be able to calculate the economic impact in every SAE area, including not only production agriculture, but urban agriculture projects that include horticulture, landscaping, food science and other businesses. It will be dynamic data, and something we can share with interested industries,” he says.

An Early Beginning in Business
Elisa Bentz, Cullom, Ill., was one of 10 students from across the country who received the National Agri-Entrepreneurship Award last fall at the National FFA Convention. The award program recognizes young people who start or are planning to start businesses.

Bentz owns and operates EZ’s Butterfly Boutique, an enterprise that processes agricultural products into personal care items, including lip gloss, scented soaps and bath salts. Bentz started her business when she was in the seventh grade. She grew the business through advertising and attending craft shows in Illinois and surrounding states to market her products. She also sells through local craft stores and her own website.

“Throughout the years, I have worked to increase my production and the enterprise’s profitability,” she says. Bentz is a freshman at Black Hawk Community College, where she is pursuing two degrees in equestrian and horse science.

Jared Lee was awarded the National Agricultural Proficiency Award for entrepreneurship in turf grass management. Lee started a lawn mowing business in fourth grade. He has expanded the business to nearly 80 lawn contracts, manages several employees and repairs his own equipment. The Seneca Township High School graduate is pursuing a degree in turf management, landscape design and installation at Joliet Junior College.

Lee’s high school agriculture instructor, Jeff Maierhofer, says managing such businesses online helps students and instructors alike to spend less time on accounting and more time on analyzing businesses. “Students are more comfortable in what they are doing with these records, and the interaction enhances their learning experience,” he says.

With more than 22 million people working in more than 300 careers in science, business and technology, agriculture is the nation’s top employer. About 25 percent of the civilian workforce in Illinois is employed in agriculture. Roughly 69 percent of Illinois’ job growth is related to agriculture, and nine percent growth is projected in the next decade.

The statewide agricultural education team includes the Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education (ILCAE), the Governor-appointed Illinois Committee for Agricultural Education (ICAE), the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Illinois FFA and its associated groups, Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers (IAVAT), Illinois Association Community College Agriculture Instructors (IACCAI), University Council, Partners For Agricultural Literacy, and FCAE.
The team works to help ensure a successful social, economical and environmental future for the state with
K-adult education programs in support of Illinois’ largest industry, agriculture.

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