One of my favorite roles as President of New York Farm Bureau is getting to meet our future farmers. There are so many young people today who are interested in agriculture, and I want to ensure that there are opportunities for them to stay inspired and learn everything they can about our industry.

Future Farmers of America (FFA) is one of the ways to keep students engaged. Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking at the state convention in Medina. I have toured chapters from Brushton Moira in the North Country down to John Bowne High School in Queens, the largest FFA chapter in New York.

Dean Norton of the New York Farm BureauPhoto by New York Farm Bureau 

Every time, I walk away impressed with the caliber of young people who are taking part. They are bright, articulate students who have a real passion for agriculture. They exhibit leadership qualities and an enthusiasm to want to know more about the world around them. The best part of all of this is that there are more and more of them getting involved.

According to New York State FFA, 40 school districts in New York reached out to the state organization since 2013 to learn how to introduce FFA and agricultural education into their schools, that’s a 38 percent increase in program interest. By the end of 2014, 10 programs were in the process of rekindling or introducing new programs. That is great news for all of us.

With such an interest, Farm Bureau and other organizations need to continue to do their part to foster this growth. In New York, Farm Bureau members have public policy that recognizes the need for FFA and other agricultural education programs. We should continue to advocate for wider support and funding, both public and private. This is especially important as school districts look to trim tight budgets.

But it isn’t just about funding. It’s also about community support. County Farm Bureaus have lobbied their local districts to start new chapters. Members have served as mentors to students and offered up farm tours. There is something that each of us can do to make sure the young people today get a well-rounded education about farm life.

It is crucial. One thing that I have seen time and time again on my chapter visits is that some of these young people don’t have a farm to go back to if they are seriously considering a career in agriculture. Granted, there are many opportunities today in our industry that take place off the farm. Whether it is in food processing, marketing or research, it still helps to have a strong farm foundation to guide them wherever life takes them.

Keep in mind, these young people are more than our future farmers. They are our future leaders. FFA instills in its members the values needed to be a leader. It teaches them to become effective communicators. And it shows them the value of networking and building relationships. The students will be the ones to carry on the message to consumers about all of the great things happening in agriculture today.

“…these young people are more than our future farmers. They are our future leaders.”Photo by kali9/istockphoto.com 

I never had the opportunity to participate in FFA as a high school student. It was because of the simple fact that my district didn’t offer it. I can only wonder about the opportunities that I missed out on. The trips I didn’t take. What were the interesting conversations that were never spoken or the friendships that I missed out on as a young person? As President of New York Farm Bureau, I want to make sure other kids who have a chance to be active in FFA don’t ask themselves those same questions when they are older.

The more we support our young people today, the more we support the future of agriculture across this state. I encourage you to do what you can. Go to a pancake feed, host a farm tour or offer to speak to an agriculture education class. It will pay dividends.

Photo by LivingImages/istockphoto.com