How about 65,000 blue jackets?

It was an amazing experience to see so many young people interested – and involved – in agriculture assembled in one location.

In October, I had the chance to attend my first National FFA Convention since I was in high school. Witnessing a sea of blue corduroy jackets was breathtaking and inspiring.

My only regret is that it took me this long to find my way back to the FFA national convention.

As a kid, 40 years ago, I was active in FFA and 4-H. I was the Derry FFA chapter president and received my state degree. My children were active in both of these outstanding youth organizations. And I look forward to seeing my grandchildren begin their ag education journey, if they choose.

What struck me most about my experience in Indianapolis for the FFA convention was the optimism and enthusiasm these young folks have for the future of food and farming.

It’s no secret that farm checkbooks have seen better days. As a dairyman, 2015 and 2016 milk prices have given me much to worry about and many new gray hairs.

It’s only natural for folks like me to become jaded. We wake up every morning to farm, only to find new regulations, more constraints, misinformed media campaigns and low commodity prices.

I’m not saying that I’ve grown sour on agriculture’s prospects, but in the daily bump and grind of farming, it is sometimes difficult to see the forest through the trees.

Thankfully, I received notification in late summer that the Pennsylvania FFA state officer team had nominated me to receive an honorary American degree, and I was invited to Indianapolis to receive the award with 134 others. As you know, October is a difficult time for a dairyman – or any farmer – to leave the field and take a road trip.

But I’m grateful for the reason to make the trip.

As anyone who’s been honored to receive an honorary American (or state) degree would agree, I don’t think I’ve given back to FFA as much as I’ve gotten out of the organization.

I didn’t realize it then, but the experiences afforded to me and my peers through the FFA have made such a lasting impact on my life and on my farm.

I was honored to receive the honorary degree plaque, but did so with humility and a greater commitment to the young men and women who will take over the responsibility of growing, transporting, processing and marketing food for the planet’s rapidly growing population.

To be part of an event where the future of farming was so energetic, so lively, so motivating, it helped me again see the larger picture.

Growing food and feeding communities is less about the present, and more about the future. These kids (young adults) are keenly aware of today’s global commodity prices. They understand, firsthand, the unfair criticisms often aimed at today’s farm families.

But they’re excited and prepared to shoulder the responsibility of growing more food on less land than we did.

They’re going to embrace technologies and practices not yet developed to leave a smaller environmental footprint than today.

Having served as a local 4-H leader for decades, and getting to know state FFA and 4-H officer teams over the years, I’ve witnessed this enthusiasm firsthand.

But to see 65,000 young people sharing that energy and passion is a game changer.

I am confident that our vocation is in good hands, and I am excited to see the innovation they will bring to food and farming.

I hope that you’ll join me and the Farm Bureau in supporting our young people in agriculture and the organizations that are committed to helping them grow into tomorrow’s leaders.

Read more: FFA Provides Training Ground for Agriculture and Leadership