For four days last week, Louisville, Kentucky was engulfed in a sea of blue and gold. At the Kentucky Exposition Center, more than 55,000 students converged for the National FFA Convention. Founded in 1928, the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America), is committed to each individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.
Its largest annual event, the National FFA Convention, is an opportunity for high school students from across the country to come together to celebrate the organization they love, as well as the accomplishments of their fellow FFA members. The convention schedule is jam-packed with leadership and career development workshops and events, the best student agriscience fair projects in the country, an expo featuring hundreds of industry-leading exhibitors, concerts and other entertainment, and awards recognizing the top FFA members and chapters in the nation.
As a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Committee, I was fortunate enough to attend the convention last week with my fellow committee members and interact with these talented and enthusiastic young leaders. In fact, I learned that, like myself, many of our committee members started their own agricultural leadership experiences wearing the blue and gold jackets so many years ago.
The national competitions for the many FFA award programs are a major part of the National Convention schedule. One of these award programs is Career Development Events (CDEs), with contests ranging from public speaking and ag sales, to agricultural mechanics, to dairy and soil judging. The American Farm Bureau Federation sponsors one of these CDEs: the Extemporaneous Public Speaking event. Fifteen years ago, I stood in front of a panel of judges at the National FFA Convention giving my own extemporaneous speech at the national level. So, I was honored to have the incredible opportunity to be on the other side of the fence this year, serving as a judge for the finalists of the competition in which I had previously competed. I was blown away by their passion and ability.
The Expo is where colleges, FFA sponsors, ag industry representatives and various businesses and organizations set up their booths to interact with the thousands of FFA members rolling through the aisles. Using a commodity that’s not often thought about but enjoyed by many – popcorn – we worked with the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and the AFBF Public Policy Department to create a whole Farm Bureau experience in our booth. The Foundation featured a My American Farm kiosk with educational games about corn, while the Public Policy folks highlighted the importance of advocating for policies like improved transportation infrastructure to make sure that popcorn (and other commodities) can get from the farmers’ fields to the consumers’ hands. The YF&R Committee tied it all together with an opportunity to win prizes by answering popcorn and agriculture trivia. As these FFA members showed off their hoops skills and enjoyed some fresh popcorn (donated by Preferred Popcorn and grown on the farm of our very own YF&R Chair, Zach Hunnicutt), YF&R Committee members encouraged FFA-ers to continue pursuing and advocating agriculture after their high school careers come to an end. We really had a great time interacting with these future ag leaders.
It was an incredible few days. The FFA members I met last week are brightly shining lights for agriculture, and they give me no doubt that the future of agriculture will be in good hands!