Leading Agriculture into the Future
By Governor Pete Ricketts
February 25, 2020
Governor’s official photo here.
Nebraskans have been growing crops and raising livestock for centuries on multigenerational family farms and ranches across the state. While agriculture has always been central to our way of life, agricultural practices are constantly changing. Our ag producers are the most innovative in the world. We invent and adopt new technologies, find better ways to plant fields and feed livestock, and adjust our operations to meet shifting consumer demands. To continue to bolster our international growth and innovation in agriculture, it’s imperative that we connect the energy, creativity, and education of the next generation to great opportunities in the industry.
This week, it’s National FFA Week, which allows us to highlight one of the best pathways to careers in agriculture and related fields. At schools throughout Nebraska, FFA is preparing the next generation for leadership in our state’s number-one industry. FFA students learn by doing and grow by serving. Through hands-on involvement in agriculture and related fields, they’re gaining valuable skills and insights that will benefit them throughout their careers. Recently, I hosted state officers and members from the Nebraska FFA Association at a State Capitol ceremony to celebrate FFA Week. I was impressed by their maturity, optimism, and the well-spoken way they talked about their college and career aspirations. I wish all Nebraskans could have met these fine young men and women and seen their excitement to grow our state.
FFA has a rich history in our state. The Nebraska FFA Association started in 1928. It was the sixth state FFA group chartered by the national FFA organization. Nebraska FFA membership continues to rise, with nearly 10,000 members at around 190 chapters this year. Nebraska has one of the fastest growing FFA state associations in the nation in terms of the number of new chapters being added. Nebraska FFA added nine chapters in the last two years, and it plans to add at least six more this year.
Over the years, FFA has expanded to recruit members who did not grow up in agriculture. This is really critical to bridging the urban-rural divide in our country. Take for example Luke Krabel, a member of the FFA chapter at Adams Central High School and a state vice president for FFA. He gave remarks at the ceremony on behalf of FFA where he shared his story. Luke did not grow up in a farm family. His dad works in construction, and his mom teaches. Even so, Luke developed a passion for agriculture through his involvement in FFA and his summer work as a detasseler. He plans to study civil engineering so that he can assist ag producers with soil and water management. Luke is just one example of the hundreds of young Nebraskans who has gained an appreciation of agriculture, even though their immediate family upbringing was not on a farm or ranch. FFA has been a key program to bring students like Luke into closer contact with agriculture.
Luke’s plans to be a civil engineer are a good reminder that agriculture offers a diversity of career options. While we often associate agriculture with the corn growers and cattlemen who directly produce commodities, the industry has a host of different job opportunities. Careers in agriculture span a wide range of fields—robotics, finance, science, manufacturing, economics, and more! Consider just a small sampling of the hundreds of professions in agriculture: horticulture instructors, irrigation engineers, crop market analysts, ag aviators, groundwater geologists, soil scientists, plant ecologists, entomologists (insect scientists), microbiologists, livestock veterinarians, butchers, meat inspectors, harness makers, machinists, welders, diesel mechanics, and grain elevator operators. In fact, agriculture creates far more highly skilled jobs than there are qualified workers to fill them. The USDA estimates that nearly 60,000 high-skill jobs come open each year in agriculture, yet only 35,000 graduates are available to perform them. For students with an interest in agriculture, there are plentiful opportunities to find rewarding, well-paying work.
FFA is not only helping to grow agriculture, but they are developing engaged citizens. During the floods last year, FFA members stepped up to help their communities. FFA chapters from Verdigre, Osmond, and Crofton volunteered to clean up the community of Verdigre. They cleared debris from the football field, power-washed bathrooms, and cleaned mud off of equipment and bleachers. In Columbus, members and alumni of the Lakeview FFA chapter gathered supplies for farmers in need and provided meals to volunteers who had come to the community to aid the flood relief efforts. The FFA motto is “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.” In the aftermath of the floods, Nebraska’s FFA members proved that they take the last part of this motto to heart.
I invite Nebraskans to support their local FFA chapters, and to be advocates for our future leaders in agriculture and related fields. If you are already involved, I encourage you to attend the FFA annual convention which will be April 1-3, 2020 in Lincoln. If you would like to know how to join FFA or start a chapter at your school, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244. Together, we can connect the next generation to great opportunities in our state, and grow Nebraska!