FFA – Past, Present and Future

On May 3, 2010, National FFA Advisor Dr. Larry Case announced he will retire at the end of the year. Case has been a fixture at national FFA conventions and in the world of agricultural education since his appointment as National FFA Advisor and Program Specialist for the U.S. Department of Education in 1984. A former FFA member from Stet, Missouri, Case started his career as an agriculture teacher in 1966. When he says farewell on Jan. 1, 2011, his last day with FFA, he will have devoted 45 years of his life to agricultural education. We asked Case to give us his viewpoint on the past, present and future of FFA and how he envisions the future of farming.
 
I’m somewhat biased when it comes to FFA – I’ve devoted decades of my life to agricultural education and the National FFA Organization. So, of course I believe FFA is the best organization for young leaders. Period.
 
But don’t take my word for it. History has shown us that agricultural education and FFA are important, vital and relevant to the changing industry of agriculture and our changing world. Many of you are familiar with this history: The Land Grant College Act demonstrated the importance of agricultural education at the college level, and the Smith-Hughes act provided funding for high school courses in agriculture. Then, in the 1920s, the Future Farmers of Virginia was founded and flourished. Other states followed suit, and in 1928 the Future Farmers of America was founded.
 
The founding of FFA took place in the Old Baltimore Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. The Kansas City Royal Livestock show had been inviting students to attend for several years. FFA was founded by the 33 young farm boys attending the livestock show in 1928. That first meeting became known as the first National FFA Convention, and the organization’s relationship with Kansas City and the Kansas City Royal Livestock show would remain strong for decades.
 
Virginia Tech teacher educators Henry Groseclose, Harry Sanders, Edmund C. Magill and Virginia state agricultural education supervisor Walter S. Newman are the adult supervisors credited with founding the Future Farmers of Virginia. Dr. C.H. Lane was the first national FFA advisor (the first “me”), and most current and former FFA members know that Leslie Applegate of New Jersey was the first national FFA president. At the National FFA Center, there is a hall of national officers, where photos of all the officer teams dating back to young Mr. Applegate are on display.
 
After 1928 it didn’t take long for the organization to acquire official colors, awards, the creed and jacket. The colors – National Blue and Corn Gold - were adopted in 1929. The first American Star Famer award was also presented that year. The FFA Creed, written by E.M. Tiffany, was adopted at the 3rd National FFA Convention. By the way, do you know what the E.M. in E.M. Tiffany stands for? It’s short for Erwin Milton Tiffany. The lines of that creed have been recited by greenhand FFA members for decades:

I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds - achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.

I believe that to live and work on a good farm, or to be engaged in other agricultural pursuits, is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny.

I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others. I believe in my own ability to work efficiently and think clearly, with such knowledge and skill as I can secure, and in the ability of progressive agriculturists to serve our own and the public interest in producing and marketing the product of our toil.

I believe in less dependence on begging and more power in bargaining; in the life abundant and enough honest wealth to help make it so--for others as well as myself; in less need for charity and more of it when needed; in being happy myself and playing square with those whose happiness depends upon me.

I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.
 
 
And then there was that iconic blue corduroy jacket. In 1933, the boys from Fredericktown, Ohio, arrived at the national convention wearing matching blue corduroy jackets. The rest, as they say, is history. By the 1930s, FFA boasted more than 100,000 members.
 
The sheer numbers of FFA members were impressive, and people in the highest positions of power took notice. President Dwight Eisenhower addressed the 25th National FFA Convention in 1953, and other U.S. Presidents would do the same in years to come. President Truman spoke to the group as a former president, but the others took time from their schedules to address FFA members as sitting U.S. Presidents. Few other youth organizations have enjoyed such noteworthy attention.
 
In addition to those who have spoken to FFA at the convention, several Presidents and other political leaders have hosted FFA members at the White House and the U.S. Capitol. President George H.W. Bush addressed FFA members at two separate conventions – in 1987, when he was Vice President, and 1991. The U.S. Presidential visits were a visible indicator of the organization’s increasing prominence. 
 
In 1950, the 81st Congress of the United States, recognizing the importance of the FFA as an integral part of the program of vocational agriculture, granted a Federal Charter to the FFA. In 1998, the 105th Congress of the United States reviewed and passed technical amendments. This shows through the revisions as Public Law 105-225.
 
The “National Future Farmer” published its first issue in 1952. Today, the magazine is known as “FFA New Horizons.” In 1953, FFA was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp, and in 1959 the National FFA Center in Alexandria, VA., was dedicated.

In the segregated South, under the “Separate but Equal” doctrine, the New Farmers of America flourished as an organization similar to FFA but specifically for young African-American students of agriculture. Like FFA, the NFA caught the attention of Presidents and politicians.
 
In the 1950s, dissatisfaction grew with the “Separate but Equal” doctrine, leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One year after that act, the NFA merged with FFA, ending four decades of that important organization and bringing new members to FFA.

Just five years later, the organization would celebrate another important milestone, which the “National Future Farmer” greeted with the headline “Girls Admitted.” That headline is short, sweet and to the point, isn’t it? The first young women to serve as national FFA convention delegates in 1970 were Patricia Krowicki and Anita Decker. 
 
In 1982, Jan Eberly became the first young woman to serve as national FFA president, setting a trend that continues today. FFA has about 37 percent female members, but young women hold nearly half of all chapter and state leadership positions. You can see that reflected in today’s national FFA officer team as well.
 
The National FFA Alumni was founded in 1968, during the same period of expansion that saw the NFA merger and the admission of women into the organization. I cannot overstate the importance of this support group that exists solely to assist local FFA chapters and lend support for the organization nationwide.
 
In 1988, the organization changed its name to “The National FFA Organization.” That
wasn’t to diminish the importance of farming, but to embrace the 299 other careers in the diverse industry of agriculture. The 1990s marked an additional period of tremendous change for FFA. The National FFA Center relocated to Indianapolis and the annual national convention moved to Louisville, KY. The convention moved to Indianapolis in 2006. Many of you know that the convention will rotate between Louisville and Indianapolis for the foreseeable future. 
 
As we think about FFA today, the organization looks different than it did. The first American Farmer degree recipients were all male and Caucasian. Today, the organization is proud of the increasing number of women, Hispanic and African-American members. The classroom has changed, too. Valuable teacher instruction continues to be augmented and supported by hands-on practical experience and supervised agricultural experiences, or SAEs.
 
Just think about all the ways technology has changed education in general, agricultural education and FFA. From books to computers to DVDs, e-mail and YouTube, technology has marched steadily forward. 
 
Modern students of agriculture are comfortable in a lab coat and operating GPS equipment. There are FFA Proficiency winners today who make more than I do. And, like the industry and the nation, FFA continues to evolve as a thoroughly modern organization relevant to student success.
 
The national FFA convention is the capstone event of the National FFA Organization. From its humble beginnings with 33 farm boys, the event has grown into the nation’s largest annual student convention. More than 53,000 members, advisors, sponsors and guests come together each fall to celebrate all things FFA.
 
I said at the beginning of this article that FFA is simply the best organization for young leaders. Our sponsors and leaders in agriculture agree. FFA provides students with real-world skills they can translate into real-world success. FFA members learn how to run a meeting; they learn how to speak in public. FFA members learn to work in teams and master the critical thinking skills necessary in today’s global economy.
 
Where will FFA take us tomorrow? As agriculture continues to evolve, technological advancements in the sustainable production of food, fiber and natural resources will be a global necessity. We are already producing more with less, and that trend will only be amplified in the decades to come.
 
You’ve all heard the facts and figures. Global agriculture and global interdependence requires a sustainability plan. The Baby Boomers are retiring, and we’re not graduating enough agriculture students to fill the jobs they’re leaving. The amount of arable land in the United States continues to shrink, even as the farmers and ranchers working that land produce greater amounts of food, fiber and energy. Consider the skyrocketing populations in developing countries. The global need for adequate nutrition is staggering already, and it will only increase with the projected population growth. 
 
It’s estimated the world’s population will balloon from 6 billion today to an estimated 8 to 9 billion in 2050. When you consider agriculture on a global scale, it’s clear to me the industry will have to become more efficient and effective than ever before in order to meet the demand. And, access to water will be key not only to agriculture, but to survival for billions of the world’s citizens.
 
What will the farm of the future look like? I must say I don’t know for sure. But, I’m excited to imagine tractors that will plow, plant and harvest without a driver. I expect there will be advancements in the ways we care for livestock and process and package food. Perhaps we’ll become more efficiently able to harness waste products from plants and animals and turn them into energy. 
 
Agriculture and FFA will be facing these and other challenges in the decades to come.
I believe today’s young FFA members will grow into tomorrow’s producers, processers, marketers and industry leaders. Just like you, they are the future. They, and others like them, will determine where the National FFA Organization heads tomorrow. I’m excited to take a back seat now and go along for what I’m sure will be a thrill ride. I personally can’t wait to see where these young leaders take us.