Monday, March 24, 2008

FFA celebrates 80th with pride — and promise for the future

Oregon FFA executive secretary Mike Stebbins and Oregon FFA state president Sheryden Root accept the Excellence in Education award presented to the state FFA organization by Oregon director of agriculture Katy Coba during the Ag Progress Awards Dinner in Pendleton on March 18.

Chances are, if you’re involved in agriculture or have attended an agricultural event, you’ve seen the familiar blue jackets, or perhaps interacted with or been helped by a member of the National FFA Organization.

Across the country, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, there are 7,358 chapters and almost 501,000 members in the organization that is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.
Their motto since 1928 has been “learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, and living to serve.”

There is a good chance that FFA members will continue to serve agriculture, even long after they are no longer members.

In Pendleton this week, the state annual meeting gave enthusiastic members a chance to demonstrate their speaking skills, agricultural production and marketing knowledge, and their science projects to help agriculture in the future.

Members shared how they work on their parents’ farms, doing such hands-on things as developing grass seed varieties and eliminating exotic weeds, and breeding and raising sheep and cattle for sale. But they also showed their work on science experiments, such as extracting oil from the invasive weed Scotch broom and turning it into biofuel.

Known as Future Farmers of America until 1988, FFA has continued to grow and adapt to the changing times and challenges.

This was one of the reasons the state FFA was honored just a few days earlier by the Oregon Department of Agriculture with an Ag Progress Award.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture noted, when the Excellence in Education Award was presented, that FFA has “more contemporary ag programs (that) are now capturing the attention of students, including greenhouse and nursery operations, landscape management, and agri-business. These new fields reflect the diversity of Oregon agriculture and forestry, and have resulted in an increase in the number of students involved in Oregon FFA following years of decline.”

“Any student in grades 7 to 12 who is enrolled in an agriculture course at a public school may join FFA,” explains national FFA literature. While many people might assume FFA is mostly rural teenagers, that’s not the case. More than 70 percent of its membership “are from rural non-farm, urban and suburban areas,” according to FFA’s website.

However, the organization remains a strong influence on the goals it has focused: to develop leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.

While each week the kids learn about agriculture in classrooms, meetings and even attending agricultural shows, the success of FFA has a lot to do with the passion and involvement of the members, their advisors and the agribusiness community that has helped support the program for so many decades.

It has become a win-win for all sides. The agribusinesses have been able to influence and hire bright, talented, well-educated, confident and eager FFA members to help the industry for the future. Most importantly, these teenagers have shown how passionate they can be about agriculture — whether or not they will remain in it after they graduate.

In the West, there are many agricultural business leaders that proudly share they have been involved in the past with FFA, or currently have children that are FFA members, and they are praise the influence of the organization.

Oregon FFA state president Sheryden Root, when she accepted the ODA award from director of agriculture Katy Coba on March 18 in Pendleton, talked about how she and state officers traveled around the state this past year to “every single FFA chapter” — an impressive accomplishment, with the 104 chapters scattered around the state serving more than 4,600 members.

Root talked about what she met: “A truly amazing group of students that are excited about agriculture, that are ready to make a difference in the industry.”

In Oregon, as well as the other Western states, indeed the agriculture industry will benefit from the difference this next generation will make from their involvement in FFA.

(More online: To see more on the FFA annual meeting in Pendleton, including a photo gallery, see coverage in For more on national FFA, see

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