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FFA provides talent pipeline for industry, trains youth to advocate for agriculture.

John Hart, Associate Editor

September 3, 2019

4 Min Read
Discussing ways to better engage young people in agriculture during the BASF National Partnership Day at BASF headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C., are from left, Mark Poeschl with FFA; Ebony Webber with Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences; Marcus Hollan with Cultivating Change Foundation; Ellen Thompson with National Teach Ag Campaign; and Mark Stewart with Agriculture Future of America. John Hart

How do you best engage young people, cultivate them and educate them so they will be interested in agriculture?

“One of the things we do is provide a talent pipeline for the industry,” explains Mark Poeschl, chief executive officer of FFA, speaking at the BASF National Partnership Day Aug. 21 at BASF Headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Poeschl was part of a panel of organizations BASF partners with to develop and train future leaders in agriculture. Joining FFA’s Poeschl on the panel were Mark Stewart with Agriculture Future of America; Marcus Hollan with Cultivating Change Foundation; Ebony Webber with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences; and Ellen Thompson with National Teach Ag Campaign.

Future Farmers of America was founded in 1928 by a group of young farmers and is known by the iconic blue corduroy  jacket worn by members. In 1988, the name of the organization was changed to FFA to reflect the growing diversity and broad nature of agriculture. FFA membership is now evenly split between young men and young ladies. In 1969 young women were able to join. 

FFA Today

Today, FFA has 700,170 members in 86,000 chapters across the country. Poeschl notes there are eight million former FFA members across the country, many working on the farm or  pursuing careers in agriculture. Forty-five percent of FFA members are in urban areas.

In addition to training young people for agriculture careers, FFA focuses on teaching young people to tell the story of agriculture. Poeschl emphasizes that FFA doesn’t tell them what to say, but how to say it. FFA teaches them to be advocates  for agriculture. Social media is critical.

“Young people get their information primarily from their mobile device. The average age and gender of our FFA Facebook audience is a 34-year-old female; 24-year-old young adults are the primary perusers of Students get their information from Snapchat, from Instagram and from each other,” Poeschl said.

“Until earlier this year, FFA was required by law to publish a magazine, and while we still do, you’ll see that evolve over the next couple of years because students aren’t out there reading their New Horizons magazine they get in the mail. We are trying to figure out those unique ways we can communicate with students. We also listen to young people on our messaging. Our national FFA officers give us a lot of advice on social media and how we connect with students,” Poeschl said.

The National Teach Ag Campaign is an initiative started in 2009 by the National Council for Agriculture Education and the National Association of Agricultural Educators to address the nationwide demand for school-based agriculture teachers. Executive Director Ellen Thompson said the group works to recruit and retain high quality ag teachers.

“For 10 years, we have increased the number of students going into agricultural education, increasing the number of students that are graduating with an ag degree and going on to be teachers. Seventy-five percent of our graduates are going on to be teachers,” Thompson said at the BASF forum.

“Agriculture teachers form a unique bond with their students. They help them become passionate about agriculture and develop individuals who are problem solvers,” Thompson said.

Agriculture Future of America was founded in 1996 by R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. and other agribusiness leaders. AFA offers leader and career development training and academic scholarships for men and women pursuing careers in agriculture-related fields.


“Young people want to make a difference. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” said AFA President and CEO Mark Stewart. “Customizability is a big thing. Young people today have always been connected to technology and things have to be customizable to their interests.”

Stewart said AFA works to develop the professional skills of its members, encouraging them to act like entrepreneurs in all they do.

Cultivating Change Foundation was founded by friends Marcus Hollan and Jesse Lee Eller with the mission to value and elevate LGBT agriculturalists through advocacy, education and community. Hollan said it is critical for companies such as BASF to cultivate their employees beyond their specific job functions.

“People want to know that when they go into a company they are going to be cross trained and developed beyond their job roles,” Hollan said, mentioning Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airways, who said “what if we spend all this money training our employees and they leave us? What if we don’t and they stay.”

“We need to think about how we are developing people when they are coming in. They want to be developed; they want a skill set. They want experiences that sharpen their professional skills and exposure. If they don’t get this, they are probably going to leave,” Hollan said.

Ebony Webber, chief officer of operations for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, says her group’s mission is to promote academic and professional advancement for minorities in agriculture. And like FFA, the use of social media is vital for its work.

“I have two young boys myself. Everything they consume is about YouTube. When you are creating content, you need to bounce your ideas off young people,” she said.

About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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