October 29, 2019

National FFA Convention To Host Record Number Of Members Amid Changing Industry

Members of the National FFA Choir sing a medley of state anthems at the organization's opening luncheon. - Erica Irish/WFYI

Members of the National FFA Choir sing a medley of state anthems at the organization's opening luncheon.

Erica Irish/WFYI

The 92nd Annual National FFA Convention opened in Indianapolis Tuesday amid the sounds of a choir singing state anthems and conversations about the future of agriculture.

More than 70,000 members from around the country are expected to attend the four-day event at the Indiana Convention Center. That’s a record for the National FFA, formerly called Future Farmers of America, which specializes in professional development for young people interested in careers in agriculture.

National FFA CEO Mark Poeschl said the new record is due in part to the organization’s efforts to show how the agriculture industry is relevant to students who live in urban neighborhoods.

“While 60% of our FFA chapters are located in rural areas, that means 40% of our chapters are located in urban areas,” Poeschl said. “We see higher incidents of students that are in urban chapters than we did 10 or 20 years ago.”

National FFA Officer Jordan Stowe of Alabama said efforts by student leaders to promote diversity and inclusion aided the growth. This is the 50th year women have been allowed to join and, in 2017, student delegates voted to change the formal dress code to allow women to wear pants instead of skirts.

But there are other dimensions of diversity and inclusion Stowe said her team promoted in their year as officers that she hopes to see continue as their replacement officers are selected this weekend.

“Being able to celebrate really important things like the LGBTQ community has been a big passion of mine,” Stowe said. “And my team and I actually had the idea this year to deliver opening ceremonies or have some members deliver opening ceremonies in Spanish to highlight our members that don’t speak English as a first language.”

It’s this diversity, Poeschl added, the agricultural industry — and the young National FFA members preparing to enter it — needs to find creative solutions to new problems. In a panel at the convention’s opening luncheon, he noted the National FFA is enhancing its focus on the intersections between agriculture and technology to address an impending world food insecurity crisis called the “2050 Challenge.”

The “2050 Challenge” entails the increasingly complicated reality food producers will face in feeding everyone as the world’s population swells to 9 billion people in the coming decades.

“We have to continue to look at ways to remain relevant, and to continue to evolve as agriculture evolves,” Poeschl said. “We can’t wait for every five years to try to change things. It’s a continuous process.”

The National FFA plans to hold its annual convention in Indianapolis until 2031.

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