Wallaces Farmer

How FFA influenced my career

It’s the main reason I now sit in the editor’s chair of the Wallaces Farmer.

Gil Gullickson, editor of Wallaces Farmer

April 22, 2024

3 Min Read
South Dakota FFA jacket
THE BLUE AND GOLD: It has faded a bit and is a rather tight fit, but I still keep my FFA jacket in my closet.Gil Gullickson

Sometimes, the present takes you down a pleasant ride into the past.

That was the case last week, when I attended the Iowa FFA Leadership Conference in Ames. Wallaces Farmer is an Iowa FFA Foundation donor and presented the “Reporters Scrapbook” at the conference.

I distantly followed FFA in previous career positions, but this year marked the first time I’d attended FFA events in years. In February, my wife and I attended the 11th Black Ties Blue Jackets Gala in Ankeny. Listening to Holly Schmitt, 2023-2024 Iowa FFA president (and the granddaughter of 2024 Iowa Master Farmers Mark and Diane Schmitt) call the meeting to order spurred me to flash back to my own time as president of the Langford, South Dakota, chapter.

A local farmer, Pete Waletich, had long lobbied the local school board to start a vocational agriculture and FFA program.

It finally did my senior year. I immediately devoured all the offerings of the program. We learned about crops, livestock, public speaking, parliamentary procedure — the list went on and on!

Our teacher, Floyd Lehman, gelled well with my FFA buddies. He knew the area well, for he married a Langford graduate who was friends with two of my older cousins. We each had a proficiency project for that year. Mine was raising 20 acres of wheat on my family’s farm.

I’d helped during harvest with tasks such as driving trucks and shoveling wheat, but I had never planted. I skipped a day of school in April to plant wheat, with my dad at my side to answer questions. After a couple of rounds, I got the hang of when to engage the plow and make sure wheat was coming out of the drill. I remember that day more than any other of my time in high school.

That single year of FFA also inspired me to pursue an agricultural education at South Dakota State University and eventually end up at Wallaces Farmer as editor. In fact, the wheat check later that year helped me pay for that first year at South Dakota State University.

Changing times

Much has changed with FFA since my high school days. Nary a female made up FFA chapters back then. Now, thankfully, young women are a vital part of vo-ag programs and FFA.

FFA isn’t just farm centric anymore, either. It’s reached out to students in urban and suburban areas. Even Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines — as suburban as you get — has an FFA chapter.

I had a good visit with Joshua Remington, executive director of the Iowa FFA Foundation. In Iowa, FFA is rocking, as membership has swelled to 19,249 FFA members from 260 chapters.

Still, not all is rainbows and puppy dogs. The National Association of Agricultural Educators has noted mounting losses of ag educators since 2015. Iowa alone has lost 204 agricultural educators to retirement and other pursuits. Almost one-half of net instructor losses have occurred within the past two years. The teacher shortfall limits opportunities for future agricultural leaders.

To address this shortage, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation has pledged $1 million to the Iowa FFA, with a portion dedicated to its “All in for Ag Education” strategic initiative. Besides recruiting, training and retaining agricultural educators, the initiative aims to bring access to ag education to 100% of Iowa high school students by 2029.

Who knows what exciting new technologies and strategies FFA students will bring in the future? With initiatives such as the “All in for Ag Education” aimed at developing the next generation of agriculture leaders, I can’t wait.

About the Author(s)

Gil Gullickson

editor of Wallaces Farmer, Farm Progress

Gil Gullickson grew up on a farm that he now owns near Langford, S.D., and graduated with an agronomy degree from South Dakota State University. Earlier in his career, he spent 13 years as a Farm Progress editor, covering Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Gullickson is a widely respected and decorated ag journalist, earning the Agricultural Communicators Network writing award for Writer of the Year three times, and winning Story of the Year four times. He is a past winner of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ Food and Agriculture Organization Award for Food Security. He has served as president of both ACN and the North American Agricultural Journalists.

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