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FFA: Developing Our Future Leaders In Agriculture

Developing Nebraska youth through FFA program to promote agriculture.

As I wrote this entry, Lincoln streets were teeming with "Blue Coats." The state FFA Convention was in full gear and 3,700-plus FFAers from across Nebraska were taking part in the activities and festivities.

FFA is one of the best, if not the best, youth organization in America. It produces young men and women with confidence in their own abilities and the drive to do well in college and in the careers that follow.

I had the privilege of helping judge several ag proficiency contests during the convention earlier this month and I also presented the winner of the "emerging ag technology" proficiency category with a plaque. Nebraska Farmer sponsors that particular award. It was doubly enjoyable this year considering Nebraska Farmer was recognized during the evening awards program for its long-time support of FFA.

FFA is healthy in Nebraska, despite the steady merging of small town high schools. There are nearly 7,000 members in 148 chapters in the state. FFA is welcoming new chapters, too. In the past four years, new chapters have been formed in more than a dozen high schools.

FFA isn't just for rural students. One of the newest chapters is at Bryan High School in Omaha.

Nebraska FFA produces leaders, here and nationally. One, Brennan Costello of Gothenburg, is a national FFA officer this year.

But FFA is just one of the many programs in Nebraska focusing on agriculture awareness and education for youth.

Nebraska's ag commodity groups sponsor mentoring programs for students to get them acquainted with ag industries and ag leaders. The Nebraska Pork Producers Association has had a mentoring program for several years. Corn and soybean organizations combined to form a mentoring program this year, patterned in part after what the NPPA has done. At UNL, the Beef Industry Scholars Program selects each year a class of ag college students to expose them to the various beef industry sectors and to state and national issues. The programs are laying the foundation for our next generation of leaders.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture selects more than a dozen bright students each year as part of the Nebraska Ag Youth Institute.

I've visited with the students in these programs. They are bright, eager and give you confidence for the future of agriculture in Nebraska and the nation.

Nebraska shines, too, in 4-H.  There are 140,000 youth enrolled in 4-H in Nebraska. One in three age-eligible youth is involved in 4-H, the highest participation rate in the country. Not all 4-H projects are geared specifically to production agriculture, but regardless, members at a young age work on projects that focus on self-confidence, teamwork, leadership and future opportunities.

Nebraska Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom and Ag Pen Pal programs bring agriculture to urban classrooms. The Pen Pal program links classroom to volunteer farm and ranch families.

Young urban students, particularly those in Lincoln and Omaha, can get a taste of what agriculture means to Nebraska through Ag Festivals conducted by UNL Extension and supported by Nebraska farm commodity groups. A few weeks ago, I attended such an event in Lincoln where fourth-graders from several Lincoln elementary public schools learned first-hand from Extension educators about livestock and grain crops. Those students were fascinated by the livestock shown at the festival and by what Extension folks told them about diversity and breadth of Nebraska agriculture.

Another Ag Festival for Omaha-area fourth-graders is held in the fall at the UNL Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Mead.

When fourth-graders from throughout Nebraska visit the State Capitol Building each spring, some are given an "Ag Sack Lunch" and information about agriculture in a program sponsored by NPPA, the Nebraska Soybean Board and Nebraska Corn Board. It's estimated 5,000 fourth-graders received the lunch and a positive message about agriculture each year.

UNL ag students have demonstrated their own initiative through Husker Food Connection, an annual one-day event they started in 2012. At the UNL City Campus, those ag students and sponsoring organizations inform non-ag students about agriculture and where their food comes from. 

Believe me, the programs and their young participants are all needed to defend agriculture and to educate consumers about modern agriculture, food production and "where their food comes from."

In today's world of misinformation and outright fabrications created by special interest, anti-agriculture groups, agriculture outreach to students must begin early in their school years. Nebraska has plenty of opportunities to provide that outreach. But it takes volunteers to make these efforts work, so whether you're an individual or a leader of an organization, get involved to make sure the program continue to be effective.

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