DECATUR, Ill. — An agriculture company is setting the foundation for the next generation of farmers, scientists and researchers by investing in education.

Inci Dannenberg, vice president of Bayer CropScience commercial operations, said innovation is addressing future concerns and challenges.

“But it’s an ever-changing future and ever-evolving dynamic in agriculture, and to keep pace with that we need to change how we look at what’s going to make up the agricultural industry’s population in the future,” Dannenberg said at a media event during the Farm Progress Show.

“We need to take a look at the next generation of farmers and also individuals who are in agribusiness so that we can be sure that we drive that innovation long term.”

In looking back to the 1980s and 1990s, agriculture lost a significant number of farmers and prospective farmers to other industries. The average age of a farmer now is about 60.

Dannenberg noted that the number of potential agriculture employees is nowhere near the amount of jobs available.

She said an ag career website features postings for 40,000 jobs, and “today we have graduated 19,000 undergraduates in agriculture — there’s a real challenge and a real gap.”

“We need to look at ways to bring more young people into farming and agribusiness,” she said.

Dannenberg said agriculture will include more women, minorities and people with a background in business, science and technology.

“The bottom line is we have to think and act differently in order to feed a hungry planet,” she said.

“Bayer CropScience understands the difficulty and the challenges of recruiting that next generation, and we are committed to doing our part in order to insure that agriculture’s future is in good hands.

“Outside of Bayer, we continue to support our traditional organizations such as the National FFA organization with support competition sponsorship, board leadership, convention participation and support at the local chapter level.”

The company also hosts national FFA officers at its Research Tri angle Park headquarters each year to meet with Bayer leadership and learn more about opportunities available to them in agribusiness.

“With the monumental challenge ahead of feeding an ever-growing (world), we need to ensure that the next generation sees the importance and understands the value of science and study in the area of science,” Dannenberg said.

Bayer is doing its part to instill a passion for science through its Making Science Make Sense program.

More than 40 years ago, Making Science Make Sense was born when Bayer volunteers began helping teachers and students embrace science the way scientists do by putting it into action.

Bayer CropScience representatives help students conduct hands-on science experiments to spark the next generation of innovators. Today, across the Bayer CropScience sites in the U.S., volunteers reach out to thousands of children through the program.

Dannenberg noted that during the Farm Progress Show, Bayer representatives visited students at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign where a Making Science Make Sense event was held.

“We can’t stop at that. We have designed and launched our own programs to ensure that we encourage the best and the brightest and make sure they’re engaged in science,” she said.

Efforts include the Graduate Recruitment and Development program, which provides tuition assistance and a research environment for students who continue their education in agricultural sciences.

Participants are selected by a team of both university and Bayer CropScience staff based on academic achievements, agricultural focus of studies, interest in pursuing a career in an agriculture-based research industry and willingness to commit to the work program.

Students who successfully complete the program are considered for full-time positions at Bayer CropScience.

The Young Sustainable Farmer award presented by Bayer also promotes agriculture’s future.

“On the farm, we are excited to recognized young farmers who demonstrate excellence in sustainable growing practice and business and environmental sustainability,” Dannenberg said. “We look for entrepreneurial individuals and new approaches to farming, environmental and other on-farm sustainability efforts, as well as economic stability and sustainability. “

The 2013 winner was Jeremy Jack, a 30-year-old farmer from Belzoni, Miss.

Bayer CropScience also is involved in efforts to promote and recruit women, minorities and people with business, science and technology backgrounds. These efforts include sponsoring the American Agri-Women, a national coalition of farm, ranch and agribusiness women association.

“Additionally, we were a sponsor of the 2012 Executive Women in Agriculture Conference in Chicago, which educates women about farm business practices, ‘agvocating,’ insurance, taxes, marketing, social media, government policy and time management,” Dannenberg said.

The company in 2012 launched its Women in Leadership Initiative. The initiative grew as a grass-roots effort to foster women’s leadership at Bayer.

The program provides networking opportunities, educational and mentoring programs, tools and other resources for female managers.

Its objectives are to identify talent within the organization while attracting top female talent; foster the advancement of women through targeted personal career plans, leadership skill-building programs and support networks; and cultivate an environment and build competencies to ensure that high-performing women have compelling reasons to stay and grow with the company.

“We can’t predict the future. We can only strive to work together on what’s ahead,” Dannenberg said. “As innovators and collaborators, we continue to address what’s to come through dialogues and discussions internally and with our stakeholders.”

“Together, we can help to ensure a bright future for farming and global food security,” she said.