Agriculture’s voice should ring loud and clear in the years to come — in schools, in Washington and from the farm — if FFA has anything to do with it.

Feb. 16-23, was National FFA Week, and FFA state officers and members fanned out across America to build membership and promote the organization’s considerable leadership-building skills.

On Feb. 18, the Tennessee Association FFA state officer team arrived at Agricenter International in Memphis, which is funding the organization’s FFA Passing Literacy OnWard (PLOW) program for three years.

The group included Chelsea Doss, president, Christiana, Tenn., Rebekah Clark, vice-president, Drummonds, Tenn., Kelsey Ross, secretary, McEwen, Tenn., and Lauren Rogers, reporter, Brighton Tenn. Also accompanying the group was National FFA president Zach Kinne, Eagleville, Mo.

Clark, who is studying agricultural communications and agriculture education at the University of Tennessee, Martin, says that anyone, whether they have an agricultural background or not, can benefit from FFA. “They can learn about agriculture and if they like it, become more experienced at it. There are also opportunities that aren’t agriculture-related, like developing leadership skills and meeting people. Some people don’t want to join because they feel like they have to be a farmer. Now, that’s not what it’s about.”

Clark was raised on a farm in west Tennessee, although the family did not depend on farming as its major source of income. She says FFA “has helped me talk in front of people without getting too nervous. It taught me parliamentary procedure skills, and has made me a more well-rounded person. I’ve met so many people. It’s been such a great organization for me.”

Doss is an agricultural education major at Tennessee Tech, whose first experiences of agriculture came after joining FFA. “I’ve learned a lot of things about agriculture that other kids are not privy to growing up. That knowledge is irreplaceable, but more importantly, FFA builds leaders. I want to use the knowledge from FFA to insure that agriculture education never gets erased from curriculum in schools. That’s my goal.”

When asked why students should consider joining FFA, Doss said, “It gives you so many opportunities, whether you come from a farming background and want to judge livestock or dairy cattle, or if you come from a non-farming background and can compete in parliamentary procedure or job interview contests. It also connects you with other young people who intend to be successful in the future.”

Ross, majoring in agricultural education at the University of Tennessee, Martin, learned about responsibility early, working with cattle in the fifth grade, “so I can actually get my hands dirty and do some hard work, which you wouldn’t think by meeting me.

“When I got to high school, public speaking was an extremely important part of FFA for me,” she said. “I feel so much more comfortable with myself now. I am a much more confident person than I could have ever imagined. Those are very important things for helping me be a success in life. The responsibility has definitely helped me out in college.”

Rogers, a plant biotechnology major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has grown from a “shy freshman” to a person comfortable speaking in front of a few thousand people, thanks to FFA. “I also found my career choice, plant biotechnology, through FFA. Overall, I’ve grown as a person so much from FFA. It has really prepared me for the future.”

Kinne, who was elected FFA national president last October, was raised on a registered Angus seed stock operation in northwest Missouri. “Growing up in production agriculture has definitely given me the technical skills of how to raise quality cattle. Once I got into FFA, I was able to combine the technical skills with the personal, communication and writing skills. I learned how to think on my feet and even more importantly, I was able to integrate knowledge from English, science and math into real world applications in agriculture.”

Kinne, an agricultural economics major at the University of Missouri, Columbia, has been interested in policy “ever since I went to a Washington leadership conference and became fascinated with how policy shapes what happens on a global level. I’m hoping to couple my grassroots knowledge of production agriculture with economics and a career in policy to help make a difference on a local level.”

Agricenter is contributing $1,500 per year for three years to FFA’s Tennessee chapter for funding of its PLOW program, for promoting ag literacy. The Tennessee chapter hopes to take the PLOW program nationwide.

Agricenter president John Charles Wilson, himself a former FFA state vice-president, told members of FFA gathered at the Agricenter, “You probably won’t know until you’re older what FFA will have done for you. What I learned about parliamentary procedure and public speaking contests gave me skills that have lasted my entire life.

“It helped me to move up in other agricultural associations. When I became president of the Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts, the skills that I learned in FFA that helped me to stand out from other people.”

The National FFA, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America, is a national youth organization of over 500,000 student members, all preparing for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.

The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com