Six thousand FFA students gather in Ames for their annual state convention.

Cy-Town construction that limited parking availability, coupled with hot, humid and stormy weather in Ames last week, didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of thousands of Iowa’s bright young minds gathered at Iowa State University for the 96th-annual FFA State Leadership Conference.

Students from across the state shared their excitement as they watched construction crews in the beginning stages of transforming the expansive parking lot between Hilton Coliseum and Jack Trice Stadium into what will eventually become a state-of-the-art, mixed-use district with retail, restaurants, entertainment, office space, a hotel and residential living.

The development outside complemented the advancement of knowledge indoors at Hilton Coliseum, transformed into a whirlwind of activity where Iowa’s future ag leaders gathered for three days of competitions in various events such as public speaking, conduct of meetings and parliamentary procedure, with workshops, leadership activities and band/chorus performances.

For Green Mountain Garwin (GMG) FFA students Reese Dieleman and Jay Bessman, networking opportunities with ag businesses, meeting fellow students and sharing ideas were an important part of attending the conference.

“I like seeing what the other chapters do to keep their FFA chapter involved,” said Dieleman, a senior who has grown up on her family’s third-generation Double R Farms raising cattle and growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa.

She plans to study agribusiness after high school and said the opportunities FFA has provided will help with her future studies.

Bessman, a sophomore, enjoyed the career fair, where he learned about what colleges offer in ag studies, beneficial as he learns the family business growing row crops and operating a cow/calf herd. “I hope to work on my family’s farm, taking over when my dad retires,” Bessman said.

Dieleman and Bessman have been heavily involved in their chapter’s activities, including an Ag in the Classroom project that teaches elementary students about farming. For the past year, chapter members have spent each month sharing with youngsters about swine, beef and pumpkins.

“We’d teach them about what it means to be a farmer,” explained Dieleman. “Each month was a different topic.” Promoting Iowa agriculture is critical as the state’s major industry, she said. “Without farmers, where would we be?”

Isabelle Mettille’s Lansing FFA Chapter in northeast Iowa is restoring a tractor, getting it in working order. Chapter members painted it this past week and hope to have it fully operable soon. It’s these types of hands-on projects that make FFA special, she said.

“It gives us a place to start within agriculture,” said Mettille, a sophomore who said she has been fortunate to grow up on the farm and plans to study animal science, specifically beef science, in college. “Animals have been a big part of my life, and I want to continue to grow in that aspect and make in impact.”

PICTURED ABOVE: FFA students Oriah Meiners and Brooke Booth from IKM-Manning, left, and Jay Bessman and Reese Dieleman from Green Mountain-Garwin said the annual conference gave them the opportunity to network with each other and with agribusiness professionals and educational institutions. PHOTOS / BOB BJOIN


Chapter Advisor Ben Booth at IKM-Manning (IKMM) has taught ag studies for 14 years. The group’s well-rounded curriculum and community-minded activities make the west central Iowa chapter special and successful.

“We have FFA members having success in career development events, leadership development events, in their SAE (supervised agricultural experience) projects … community service, in the show ring and in the classroom,” Booth said.

Community service events highlight the chapter’s endeavors, such as the newest adventure — a senior and community improvement project day. “The senior class gets out of school and performs eight hours of community service. It has been great to see our seniors give back to the community and also learn more about civic engagement.”

IKMM Senior Brooke Booth and sophomore Oriah Meiners said the chapter has sponsored an annual FFA breakfast and morning feasts for hunters and teachers and at Memorial Day, while also manning the petting zoo at a Kinderfest celebration. Chapter members recently toured Manning’s Puck Enterprises, where they learned about the company, welding and agriculture.

“And to see the different career paths FFA members can continue with and maybe stay in the community,” Booth explained.

Booth is firmly entrenched in agriculture as a fourth-generation sheep producer, along with her dad and grandpa, operating Booth Show Lambs. She owns 20 sheep herself and plans to study animal science and genetics at Iowa State University next year. “FFA has taught me so much about speaking …, communication skills, learning about different career paths and career skills,” Booth said. “You don’t have to have livestock or live on a farm to be involved.”

As a self-described math lover, Meiners said she hopes to study agribusiness at the next level. She also hails from a farm background. Her dad and uncle operate Meiners Farms LLC, where they grow row crops and have a hay business. 

FFA offers “so much opportunity, leadership skills and friendships,” Meiners added. “There’s much more to FFA than just the farming part of it.”

Career fair

A favorite for students always is the career fair, where ag businesses and educational institutions visit with students about ag opportunities in Iowa. Career fair exhibitors say meeting Iowa’s brightest students offers a unique opportunity to share information about their businesses or higher learning institutions with students excited about Iowa agriculture.

A popular stop at the career fair was Growmark FS’s sprayer simulator, where students were able to navigate their way around a sprayer and ask questions about equipment operations. Celsey Stevenson, employment manager with New Century FS, a division of Growmark Inc., said the simulator is used for recruitment and training purposes and offers students the opportunity to learn how to drive the sprayer on the road, how to spray row crops and how the equipment operates.

Attending the career fair to visit with students is a great opportunity for New Century, she said.

“We find the value in the future of agriculture extremely important,” Stevenson said. “(FFA students) are going to be making the decisions” as they move on to college and work life, she added.

Tiffany Rave with MinnTex, a Monticello-based citrus fundraising company, said their company is popular with FFA chapters statewide as a fundraiser through fruit, meat and cheese sales. Participating in the career fair allows Minn­Tex to share more with students about its business and where the products come from, while the company in turn shows support for Iowa FFA, an important organization for students as they learn life skills.

“From a students’ standpoint, being able to be in FFA and have that exposure to things at such a young age is huge and critical to their success moving forward,” Rave said.

A year ago, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) solidified its support for Iowa’s FFA program with a $1 million pledge to youth and ag education, sharing its vision for the continued growth and success of one of the nation’s premier youth organizations.

IFBF President Brent Johnson challenged this year’s 6,000-strong group of FFA students to make an impact on their communities and agriculture at large. He recounted his father’s sound advice about how to be productive and make a lasting mark in agriculture.

“When you are at your new job and you don’t know what to do next, grab a broom,” Johnson said. “It was in that moment that several things clicked for me. Don’t overlook the little things. Be a value to others. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. How you do anything, you do everything. Grow your influence and make an impact. Look to be a productive member of your community.”

Johnson said FFA was critical to his own development, encouraging him at a young age to be productive, involved and make an impact.

“Success and growth are not found in your comfort zones, so continue to push yourselves in uncomfortable places,” he said. “Turn your intentions in actions.”

PICTURED ABOVE: IFBF President Brent Johnson challenged FFA students to make an impact, be productive and turn intentions into actions. PHOTO / CONRAD SCHMIDT