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687 receive state degrees at 95th Nebraska FFA convention

More than 7,600 FFA members from across the state attended this year’s convention in Lincoln.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

April 5, 2023

3 Min Read
Attendees talking at the 95th annual State FFA Convention
THAT’S A WRAP: The 95th annual Nebraska FFA State Convention was held at the end of March in Lincoln, with 687 state degrees conferred and numerous contests taking place, along with a large career fair. Curt Arens

The 95th annual Nebraska FFA State Convention is now in the books. Held the last week in March this year, more than 7,600 FFA members traveled from all corners of the state to Lincoln to attend, and 687 students received their State FFA Degrees during the event.

Among the highlights of the convention was the Nebraska FFA Foundation Career Fair, set up at Pinnacle Bank Arena. With about 110 booths, more than 2,000 FFA members visited the career fair to learn more about careers in agriculture and hear firsthand from future employers.

But the convention is more than career exploration. Beyond the contests, competitions, awards and pageantry, FFA members are there to serve. More than 850 members participated, in partnership with Union Bank and Trust and Mercy Meals, to provide indirect service engagement by packaging thousands of meals that will be delivered to children in need.

During the 2022 “Living to Serve” campaign, nearly 81,000 meals were packaged. This is just one example of how FFA members make a positive impact in their local communities, but the campaign during the convention allowed them to pool their efforts to make a big difference in the packaging of the meals.

Helping Hand Award

Speaking of service, FFA wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything without FFA advisors and agriculture education instructors across the state. That’s why each year, one Nebraska FFA advisor is awarded the Gary Scharf Helping Hand Award, recognizing a Nebraska agriculture teacher for what they have done in helping others, specifically in school and the community outside of the classroom and FFA.

Gary Scharf, for whom the award is named, grew up on a family farm outside of Curtis, Neb., and worked in the ag chemical industry, making a significant contribution over the years through service on the Nebraska FFA Foundation board, serving as board president in 2002-03. Scharf was a victim of an Omaha mall shooting in December 2007.

This year’s Scharf award winner was Kurt VanDeWalle, FFA advisor at the Fillmore Central FFA chapter. In the spirit of Scharf, VanDeWalle has taught for more than 20 years, leading efforts to develop the ag educators mentoring program, chairing committees and serving on boards as part of Nebraska Team Ag Ed.

According to a Nebraska FFA Foundation news release, business leader Brady Jenschke wrote that VanDeWalle is an ag teacher who “truly does not ‘see’ or otherwise realize the incredible transformative investment he has made in future generations of Nebraskans through his leadership and education of others in his ag classroom simply by doing what he does best — showing up for others, being deeply committed to agriculture, and leading with a helping heart.”

Outside of FFA, VanDeWalle has served his community as volunteer fireman and EMT. He has assisted with Ohiowa Days and is on the worship committee and is a trustee for Geneva United Methodist Church. He has also spent endless hours promoting Wilber Czech Days.

The highlights

Other highlights from this year’s state convention include:

  • More than 150 students in seventh through 12th grades participated in the Agriscience Fair, building awareness of science through research of ag issues.

  • BigIron Auctions received the Distinguished Service Award for ongoing support of Nebraska FFA, participating in fundraising auctions at Husker Harvest Days and the “BigIron Gives” online auction format — and as a longtime sponsor of the “I Believe in the Future of Ag” campaign.

  • National Chapter Award recognized Rock County Ag Education as a model for excellence in building communities for its work to launch two successful school-based enterprises, including gelato and beef jerky.

  • Students participated in 20 CDE (career development opportunities) contests, ranging from ag communications to welding, as well as a wide range of other competitions and contests related to agriculture and ag careers and industry.

  • Seven new State FFA officers were named for 2023-24.

Next year’s State FFA Convention is set for April 3-5 in Lincoln. Learn more or view each session of the past convention at

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About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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