By Abbey Nickel, National FFA Convention & Expo Newsroom Reporter
Providing FFA members across the nation with opportunities for growth and success is the primary purpose of the National FFA Foundation.
FFA members might not realize just how many individuals are responsible for the success of the foundation and the National FFA Organization as an entirety – and during the 86th National FFA Convention & Expo, these people are continuing to advocate for FFA and agricultural education.
Sponsors were recognized throughout the second day of convention and during the third general session – where it was announced that the National FFA Foundation has raised a grand total of $18.2 million over the past year in support of the National FFA Organization.
However, Elin Miller, chair of the individual giving council, reminded the audience that it wasn’t just about the money raised – but rather where that money was going.
“It’s not about the number. It’s about the fact that because of their support, another member can put on a blue jacket, another member can participate in a CDE, and another member can go to college,” Miller said.
During the week of the 86th National FFA & Expo, sponsors have been attending workshops, mingling with FFA members and assisting with career development events in an effort to continue to advocate for agriculture.
Mark Schweitzer, director of intermodal and international freight at Archer Daniels Midland Company, says that advocating for agriculture is one of the strongest needs in our country right now. He also says that FFA members are the ideal demographic to help with the task.
“Not everyone wants to get into agriculture because of the cows and plows mentality that seems to go along with it – but that’s not all of it. We have a story to tell, and it starts with our young people. It starts with FFA members, and it needs to start now,” said Schweitzer.
Schweitzer says that agricultural advocacy is in a greater demand than ever because of the negative image that is often painted to represent agriculture today. He says that one of his goals is to encourage FFA members to help repair that image, and craft a more positive one.
“Bottom line, we need to be good stewards for agriculture. Some of the negative portrayals of this industry today really frustrate me. We need to fix that, and that’s why I’m here. To promote, and to encourage these young folks to tell their story of what they’re doing in this industry, because it’s far from negative,” Schweitzer said.
Craig Bacon, member of the 2013 National FFA Foundation’s Sponsors’ Board as well as senior vice president of research and development at Tyson, says that Tyson is just one of many companies working to advocate both for FFA and agricultural education during the convention.
According to Bacon, Tyson has been assisting with the judging of both the meat and poultry CDEs, and the company is also a sponsor of the poultry and swine proficiency awards.
Bacon says that now is a greater need than ever for outside support.
“As the National FFA Organization grows, the need grows. That’s really all there is to it,” Bacon said. “I’m hopeful that this week we will get more sponsors on board when they see just how much this organization has grown.”
Chris Ready, sponsors’ board member and director of the f U.S. Food and Marketing Group at Elanco says that the National Convention & Expo creates an ideal opportunity for companies to recruit potential future employees.
“This week is a great recruiting tool for us,” Ready said. “But besides that, our company shares similar values and visions as FFA. Our primary driver is supporting out future leaders and promoting agriculture.”
Several members of the sponsors’ board emphasized that the impact the National FFA Organization was a primary influence for their continuing support, including Schweitzer.
“If I can somehow help someone learn, grow, or change for the better – that’s everything to me,” said Schweitzer. “I’ve seen the transformation in young folks because of FFA, and that’s powerful.”
Abbey Nickel is a junior studying journalism at the University of Findlay. This year, she’s reporting on the convention and expo as part of the National FFA Convention & Expo Newsroom Crew.