A survey of over 200 Iowa FFA members finds that an increasing majority of them want to farm and live in Iowa upon completing their education. They also have an extremely positive outlook about agriculture and the opportunities it can provide to those who are willing to work hard to accomplish their goals.
The findings, garnered from a survey conducted by the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers at the 2011 Iowa FFA Conference held in Des Moines on April 14-15, highlights the exceptional role agriculture can play in helping Iowa retain some of its best and brightest young people while reinforcing the importance of high school agricultural education programs.
The FFA Organization helps students develop interpersonal skills, build character and learn leadership skills. Contrary to the suggestion that there is a "brain drain" occurring from the state, 79% of Iowa FFA members indicate they plan to live and work in the state upon completion of their education. And 76% of survey respondents plan to obtain at least a 4-year college degree.
High school-age students today are excited about agriculture's future
"Getting a college degree is very important to me. I believe it is my responsibility to learn and understand other points of view so that I can be a well-rounded citizen and leader," says high school junior Becky Cook, from a central Iowa grain and livestock farm. The Hubbard native is currently serving as secretary for the South Hardin FFA Chapter. She adds, "The state of Iowa has so much to offer young people, especially those interested in agriculture. FFA is helping develop leaders that will be able to help shape the future of our state and nation."
Cook isn't the only one who is excited about agriculture's future. In fact, 97% of Iowa FFA members say they have a positive or very positive attitude about the future of agriculture in the state.
The survey finds that 91% want to pursue an ag-related career, which is up from 77% in 2005 (the survey's inaugural year). Of the 210 respondents, 78% indicated they would like to farm after completing their education and 83% of those would like to raise livestock. "I've always loved being around cattle and I love raising crops," says Orient-Macksburg sophomore Tom Walter, who plans to return to the family farm someday. "I have wanted to farm since I was a little boy and I will probably stick with it."
The Prescott native was raised on a cattle and row-crop farm and joined FFA as soon as he could. He has successfully competed in the Conduct of Meetings and Ag Issues Career Development Events. After getting a college education, Tom has no intention of leaving the state. "I've been here all my life. Iowa has good, rich soil and good land to raise cattle."
Other survey findings include these interesting trends in thinking:
* Of those wanting to farm, 44% say they would grow crops and raise livestock, 26% raise livestock and work part-time off the farm, 13% raise livestock only, 10% raise crops and work part-time off the farm and 7% grow crops only.
* When asked what business arrangement they would prefer if they were to raise livestock, 52% want to be part of a family-run corporation, 33% farm independently and 15% either partner with area farmers or raise livestock on contract.
* Of f the respondents, 70% live and work on a farm, and 30% do not. Of those that live on a farm, 73% have crops and livestock, 15% livestock only, 8% crops only and 4% other.
* Although only 70% of survey respondents live and work on a farm, 91% want to pursue an ag-related career.
* When asked about the primary obstacle for young people wanting to farm, 42% said start-up costs are too high, 21% the amount of work involved in farming, 15% risk and unpredictability, 12% lack of available land, 7% inability to earn a stable income and 3% absence of benefits.
* FFA members were asked to gauge the concerns of their peers about the food they consume. Forty-one percent said affordability was of greatest interest, up 11% since 2009. Another 41% said quality of food, 13% nutrition and 10% safety.
What is the Coalition To Support Iowa Farmers? How does it help?
CSIF is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization launched in 2004. Member organizations include the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Turkey Federation and the Midwest Dairy Association.
The Coalition has assisted nearly 1,500 farm families who raise livestock, dairy and poultry choose good sites for new barns and feedlots, follow all rules and regulations, protect air and water quality and enhance neighbor and community relations. The organization does not lobby or develop policy. Farmers wanting assistance are encouraged to contact the Coalition at 800-932-2436 or go to www.supportfarmers.com. There is no cost for CSIF's advisory services.
Editor's note: the CSIF survey of FFA members has been conducted six times: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006 and 2005. A trend-line analysis of the most frequently-asked questions is available online.