When the FFA national convention first came to Indianapolis, it was funny for some of us to watch local TV reporters struggle with the name. Some kept calling it the Future Farmers of America, even though the organization had dropped that title almost a decade before. Others kept calling it the FAA. As the convention returns to the Circle City for the next 9 years, most locals have become familiar with the sea of blue jackets even, if for the most part, they remain clueless about what the organization is really all about. The theme of this year’s convention is transform. While this refers to how FFA members can transform their lives, it also refers to how the organization is transforming its identity.
The FFA organization continues to set new membership records. With 20,000 new members and 102 extra chapters in its active roster, the National FFA now boasts a new record-high student membership of 649,335. That is 3% higher than its 2015 membership of 629,367. Also, the total number of FFA chapters increased from 7,757 to 7,859. Much of this growth is coming from the non-ag sector. You can now find FFA chapters in rural areas and urban communities.
As Jane Stevens with the Indiana Soybean Alliance told me, “These young people are not only the future farmers, but the future scientists, engineers, and veterinarians that the agriculture industry needs.” As she pointed out, these are the people who are going to figure out how we are going to feed the world in the next 50 years.
National FFA President Taylor McNeel said the organization is transforming as fewer and fewer members go back to the farm but more and more contribute to the explosive innovation taking place in agriculture today. She astutely pointed out that we are producing food much differently than we were 20 years ago, when most FFA members were born. Over the next 20 years, this change will continue, and it is those young people wearing the blue jackets on the streets of Indianapolis this week that will drive much of that change.
So perhaps the FFA should become the FAA, the Future Agriculturalists of America. Well, OK, perhaps this might not work since the federal government has a lock on the FAA thing. But it would be nice if people would see the blue jackets as more than just farm kids, but rather as the future of the world’s food supply.
By Gary Truitt