If you thought FFA membership was declining due to fewer farms and a lack of support for ag programs at high schools around the state, you would be wrong on both counts.
According to Jeff Hicken, state FFA adviser with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, membership hit a 29-year high this year in Wisconsin with 19,000 FFA members. And if you were anywhere near the Alliant Energy Center in Madison June 10-13, you may have noticed a sea of blue and gold jackets. That's because attendance at the Wisconsin FFA State Convention set a record with 3,513 people attending the four-day event.
And the excitement doesn't end there. Hicken reported that two schools, Fall River and Milwaukee-Vincent, chartered new FFA chapters this year.
Some of you may be scratching your heads wondering how this is possible. Well I think there are a number of reasons more kids are joining FFA at a time when farm numbers are dwindling.
There are a lot of jobs in agriculture and the need for students to pursue ag couldn't be stronger. One in 10 jobs in Wisconsin is ag-related. Agriculture for the most part has enjoyed prosperity in the past six years.
Agri-businesses are hiring students with college degrees in a variety of fields including agronomy, dairy science, engineering, food science, animal science, biology, horticulture, genetics, wildlife ecology, soil science, ag-business management, ag and applied economics and others.
Students are being attracted to high school ag programs and FFA due to the leadership opportunities and opportunities to participate in activities and programs that build their self-confidence. It's a wonderful thing to see a kid blossom before your eyes after mastering a skill such as prepared public speaking or dairy judging and oral reasons.
Despite budget cuts due to drastic cuts in state aid to public schools, there is a lot of local support for high school ag programs and FFA from businesses, parents, students and farmers.
And last but not least, I think more and more kids are joining FFA because there is a lot of enthusiasm in FFA right now.
Whether they are attending an FFA leadership retreat, telling agriculture's story to hundreds of fourth graders attending a Day on the Farm, showing a pig or a dairy heifer at the county fair, practicing for a District FFA Extemporaneous Public Speaking Contest, or attending an agricultural career fair, FFA is fun, relevant and confidence-boosting for kids. That's why FFA is thriving in Wisconsin.