History was made last week at the 91st Iowa FFA Leadership Conference, as Hilton Coliseum in Ames played host to the largest attendance in the conference’s history. An estimated 6,500 Iowa FFA leaders, representing 235 chapters, took over the coliseum and adjacent Scheman Building April 14-16, easily beating last year’s record-setting attendance of 6,104.

“Membership is growing across the state,” said Joshua Remington, executive director of the Iowa FFA Foundation. “Today is the culmination of a lot of [the students’] hard work. [They]are being recognized for their achievements.”

That high attendance and state-wide engagement translated to a huge outpouring of support in the form of canned goods, pet food, snack bars and other items destined for flood-stricken portions of western Iowa. More than 5,000 pounds of food was collected at the conference with the goal of supporting those impacted by flooding.

Many FFA members also used the conference as an opportunity to catch up with friends and visit with prospective colleges and employers.

Mattisen Hill and Allie Pierson, both sophomores at Ballard High School in Huxley, met up with Kristian Sanders, a junior from Cardinal High School in Eldon, at the conference after first meeting last year at the Iowa State Fair.

“In FFA, we have a lot of members at our high school,” Pierson said. “We’re all connected by one thing ­­— our interest in agriculture. Plus, the people in FFA are just so nice.”

Eric Weuve, an ag faculty member at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, said many of the FFA students who join his program enter college ready to lead and step out of their comfort zone.

“Anytime kids can be involved in a student organization, such as FFA, it’s a plus,” he said. “They are prepared to be leaders and more able to think outside the box. It allows them to hit the ground running in college.”

The 2018-19 Golden Owl Award, which each year honors a high school ag educator, was given to Brad Taylor, an agriculture and science teacher at Roland-Story High School in Story City.