I have been teaching agriculture for five years and have been a Farm Bureau member for about the same amount of time. Yet for some reason, I haven’t made it to the FFA Farm Forum, where these worlds collide, until this year. I think I was waiting for the right group of juniors or my calendar to fall in the right way.
Overall impression? It was pretty cool. I admit, I was a little worried it would be a little one-sided and push one vision of advocacy and agriculture on the students, but that was far from the case. There was something for everybody there, and my student who has very little agricultural connection enjoyed the conference and learned a lot.
The opening keynote by Mid-West Farm Report staff member and past state FFA officer Reba McClone was simple, upbeat and relatable to the students. She shared how in her life she has had to pivot in unexpected ways but each pivot has brought new opportunities. My students, and others I talked to, said that they loved her talk and her ability to connect with the audience. The other keynote by past state FFA officer Nate Zimdars offered a great vision of how our paths may wander but remembering our agricultural roots will keep us steered in the right direction.
The variety of industry representation and perspectives presented was great. From the broad spectrum of agronomy and energy-related careers offered through Insight FS to the more conservation and academic mindset of the UW-Stevens Point Soil Science Department, students were able to learn of and about careers that may have never even occurred to them before. Students asked very thoughtful questions in the sessions about the future of the industry in terms of profitability and sustainability.
Finally, Farm Bureau really portrayed itself well to students. Even my students, who hear me talk about Farm Bureau all the time, learned a lot about the organization and life in Farm Bureau after FFA. WFBF’s Director of Local Affairs , Steve Boe, and Reba McClone each held sessions on hot topics in agriculture and how to handle them from an advocacy and policy standpoint. It was great to hear students want to engage on the issues that have a lot of bearing on the future of the industry. WFBF President Joe Bragger also held a general session, and it was pretty special. He talked about Farm Bureau and why he values it, but really used the opportunity to show how much Farm Bureau values FFA by highlighting various activities from chapters in his area and then let students from other parts of the state take the microphone and talk about the good things they were achieving. He ended by leading the group through a discussion activity surrounding agriculture issues and communication.
Throughout the conference the vibe was very welcoming and relaxed, which is a contrast to the hectic pace of many other FFA events. The sessions and social activities even felt a little more like the Young Farmer and Agriculturist Conference than other leadership events. I wasn’t sure what to expect or whether my students from non-farm backgrounds were going to enjoy it, but they were both very glad they went and learned a lot. I’m grateful that WFBF sponsors this event to help our students see the depth and breadth of agriculture, the issues that affect it, and both their and Farm Bureau’s place in affecting the future.