Excitement about the fut­ure of agriculture was evident as some of the brightest young minds in Iowa gathered for the annual FFA State Leadership Conference last week at Iowa State University in Ames.

Take Bria Schwind and Megan Stern, for example, from the 140-member Boone A&M FFA Chapter, who couldn’t rave enough about their own chapter’s activities as well as the leadership conference and Iowa agriculture in general.

“I always love the career fair,” said Schwind, who plans to study biology and animal science at Des Moines Area Community College and Iowa State University on a pre-veterinary medicine track. “You get to talk with colleges and businesses you may want to work with in the future.”

Added Stern, who will study equine management at Ellsworth Community College, “It gives students the opportunity to scope out ideas for colleges and things they may want to do.”

North Union’s Rebecca Hammond plans to become a conservation officer, studying parks and natural resources at Kirkwood Community College. She, like her Boone counterparts, praised the career fair portion of the convention as very beneficial. 

“It gives us a chance to meet with colleges and explore our options,” she said.

Career fair

While the leadership confer­ence gathers Iowa students to­gether for competitions in various events such as parliamentary procedure, conduct of meetings or public speaking, there are also workshops, leadership activities and even an FFA band performance. The career fair is a favorite for all students, as well as for educational institutions and ag businesses.

Career fair vendors see meeting with the sharp FFA students as a unique opportunity to visit one-on-one with Iowa’s finest.

Brandon Maxwell, general manager of Titan Machinery at Blairstown, said he’s extremely impressed with the students, who ask plenty of questions.  

“A lot of kids really trying to focus on career paths,” he said.  “We’ve had some good conversations with them.”

Iowa Wesleyan University’s Gail Kunch said it’s the first time her institution has presented at the conference.

“This is really the first year we’ve gotten to talk with students,” explained Kunch, a biology and agribusiness instructor.  The COVID-19 pandemic sidelined in-person events during the program’s initial onset.

She said Iowa Wesleyan is a small school where students can get a four-year degree with a hometown feel.  With a 20 to 1 student to teacher ratio, students don’t get lost in the shuffle. “(They) will see better opportunities for hands on activities.  That’s a big deal.” 

(Photo above: Bria Schwind, left, and Megan Stern from Boone A&M FFA said they are excited about the growth of their program. The career fair at the state convention last week was a highlight of their experience. PHOTO / BOB BJOIN)

Giving back

A sea of blue FFA jackets filled Hilton Coliseum for the three-day conference, sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Iowa FFA Foundation, with chapter booths lining the concourse outlining proud activities from the various schools.  

The Boone FFA chapter showcased what was called "The Big Event" community service project this year, providing 168 hours of community service by FFA members in the form of raking, shoveling, cleaning and painting.

Other chapters teamed with communities on various events such as feeding farmers a meal during the busy harvest season, manning a haunted house fundraiser, raising money for cancer research and awareness, or setting up an elementary nature-scape event for youngsters.

Merle Stauter and Brady Schumacher from Lake City especially liked fellow chapter Rockford FFA’s “build a fishing pole” event highlighted at the conference. “That’s a great idea,” said Stauter. “It’s pretty cool to see what the other schools are putting together.”

Schumacher said the conference reinforces why so many students choose to participate in FFA. 

He mentioned his chapter’s food plot, where they grow and monitor three brands of corn and soybeans.  

“I fly the drone so we can check our waterways and go over the field,” he said.

The common theme at the conference was that it’s these types of opportunities that make FFA special.  

North Union’s Hammond wondered where else she would get to estimate corn yields, learn about measurements and the diameters of corn cobs.

“Or why all the kernels in the cob are even,” she said.