Agriculture news

Read FFA National Officers

Meet the newly elected 2020-21 National FFA Officers

Students from Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Missouri were elected by National FFA Delegates today to serve as 2020-21 National FFA Officers.

These members were selected from 38 candidates vying for the honor. Candidates take part in an extensive online interview process with the National FFA Officer Nominating Committee leading up to the selection. The new team was announced during the sixth general session of the 93rd National FFA Convention & Expo on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Doster Harper, an agriscience and environmental systems major at the University of Georgia, was elected national president.

Anna Mathis, an agricultural communication major at the University of Arkansas, was elected national secretary.

Paxton Dahmer, an agricultural education and leadership major at the University of Missouri – Columbia, was elected central region vice president.

Miriam Hoffman, an agribusiness economics major at Southern Illinois University, was elected eastern region vice president.

David Lopez, an agricultural communications major at California Polytechnic State, was elected western region vice president.

Artha Jonassaint, a government and global health major at Harvard, was elected southern region vice president.

Each year during the National FFA Convention & Expo, six students are elected by delegates to represent the organization as national officers. Delegates elect a president, secretary, and vice presidents representing the central, southern, eastern, and western regions of the country.

This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the event was held virtually.

National officers commit to a year of service to the National FFA Organization. Throughout their year of service, the officers will interact with business and industry leaders; thousands of FFA members and teachers; corporate sponsors; government and education officials; state FFA leaders; the general public; and more. The team will lead personal growth and leadership training conferences for FFA members throughout the country and help set policies that will guide the future of FFA and the next generation of leaders.

The National FFA Organization is a school-based national youth leadership development organization of more than 760,000 student members as part of 8,700 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Read soil health benefits

New tool kit shows economic soil health benefits

American Farmland Trust launched online access to the methods, tools, and training resources they used in developing case studies featuring soil health successful farmers in its Quantifying the Economic and Environmental Benefits of Soil Health project funded by a USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant.

Becoming all the more evident this year, farmers face enormous challenges. Extreme weather, a trade war, and pandemic-related market disruptions have made it difficult for many to make a living. In a normal season, farmers work just to maintain yield, keep costs under control, and try to improve the profitability of their operations. And, now we are asking farmers to respond to society’s call to improve environmental outcomes like water quality and help to mitigate climate change. Soil health practices like cover crops, no-till, and nutrient management can help address these challenges. However, despite farmers’ belief in the science underpinning the practices, they are often reluctant to change management techniques without knowing how much the practices will cost and what the financial benefits will be.

“AFT encourages our fellow conservationists to use this suite of tools and training resources to produce their own case studies demonstrating the economic and environmental benefits of soil health,” said Michelle Perez, AFT water director. “Our hope is that farmers, who have been considering adopting soil health practices, will find the economic evidence quantified for a farmer in their area, sufficiently compelling, to get them to ‘say yes’ to trying the soil health practices.”

Specifically, partners will be able to use AFT’s Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool, an 11-tab Excel-spreadsheet tool, to evaluate the costs and benefits of soil health conservation practices including no-till or reduced tillage, cover cropping, nutrient management and conservation crop rotation on row crop farms that have adopted any combination of the practices, ideally for more than four years and within the last 10 years. The tool presents the net economic benefits in a partial budget analysis table and an estimate of the Return on Investment, or ROI, in the soil health practices. The R-SHEC Tool and the case studies that AFT published underwent a review by five NRCS Economists, five NRCS Soil Health Specialists, three university economists, among other experts.

Materials explain how to use the R-SHEC and how to identify and interview a soil health successful farmer to obtain the data needed to run the tool. Additional resources are provided to instruct conservationists how to estimate the water quality and climate benefits associated with the already adopted soil health practices using USDA’s Nutrient Tracking Tool and USDA’s COMET-Farm Tool, and then how to assemble all the findings and present them in a compelling two-page case study. A six-part series of training videos provides instructions on each aspect of the process. To access the methods, tools and videos, click here.

In spring and summer 2021, AFT will release several new tools:

  • An almond version of the R-SHEC tool that aids estimation of the economic effects of almond-specific soil health practices such as conservation cover, nutrient management, mulching, and compost application.
  • A Predictive Soil Health Economic Calculator (P-SHEC) Tool that will enable conservationists to partner with farmers who are “on the fence” about soil health practices to estimate the potential short-term and long-term economic effects of an investment in practices which will hopefully give the farmers the information they need to overcome their apprehension.
  • An online, user-friendly, web-based version of the R-SHEC Tool.
Read dairy grants

Dairy grants available to help farmers improve profitability

Dairy producers who are looking to improve profitability, create a transition plan, or plan a major business transformation are encouraged to apply for one of three team grant opportunities available through the Center for Dairy Excellence’s On-Farm Resource Program. The 2020-21 team grants allow dairy producers to establish on-farm teams and take advantage of professional consulting and mentorship resources. The application period opened in October 2020, and limited dairy grants are available on a first come, first serve basis.

“The team program really helped us when we got into the planning and details. When we had everyone, including our veterinarian and bank, around the table, we actually changed some of our initial ideas because of the discussion we had with the team,” said Reid Hoover of Brook-Corner Holsteins in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, a previous grant recipient. “It was exciting to hear from different people who were going to help us in the future describe where they thought we should go. It was very helpful.”

The Center for Dairy Excellence offers three types of team grants: Dairy Profit Team, Dairy Transition Team, or Dairy Transformation Team. Each team consists of industry experts and trusted advisors, and the Center leverages funds provided through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide these grants to individual farms.

“Whether farms are looking to identify bottlenecks that are hurting profitability or develop a plan that smooths the road for transitioning to the next generation, our team grants provide an outside perspective that can be extremely beneficial when making decisions that impact the future of your operation,” said Melissa Anderson, Programs and Operations Manager at the Center for Dairy Excellence.

Hear from dairy farmers who have used the program, and learn more about each type of team grant:

  • Dairy Profit Teams: The Profit Team’s function is to serve as a group of advisors for the farm, addressing challenges and identifying opportunities for greater profitability. Dairy farms can receive up to $1,500 in reimbursements for paid team members and discovery-related costs. 
  • Dairy Transition Teams: This team is designed to help farms develop a transition or succession plan. The grant covers up to $3,500 of the cost of paid team members, discovery-related costs and attorney expenses.
  • Dairy Transformation Teams: This option allows producers to establish a team to help plan and execute a major business transformation. Farms can receive up to $3,500 to establish a team to help plan and work through their transformation. (Manure storage facility improvements do not qualify as eligible Transformation Team projects.)

On-farm teams consist of the farm’s most trusted advisors, with a facilitator designated to coordinate meetings and workflow. Farms with existing teams or those who want to establish a team to work in an advisory role can receive reimbursements for paid team members and discovery-related costs.

For all grant programs offered by the Center, program participants must demonstrate industry and farm commitment by documenting in-kind and financial match contributions to the program reimbursements received. Farms must complete an application and submit the required $100 application fee to participate in the advisory teams.

Limited grants are available for the 2020-21 year and are available on a first come, first serve basis. Once approved, farms can utilize the grant to be reimbursed for any qualified expenses incurred from July 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021.

Visit their website to apply online or download a printed application.

Read star awards

National FFA awards 4 members with 2020 Star Awards

Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with American Star Awards for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education.

The American Star Awards, including American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement, and American Star in Agriscience, are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of an SAE. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows students to learn by doing, by either owning or operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business, or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.

Related: Stay up-to-date with all the news from the 93rd National FFA Convention & Expo here.

American Star Farmer

At first glance, Cole Ketterling seems like a typical American farmer. He raises beef cows for his supervised agricultural experience (SAE) with Wishek FFA in North Dakota. He grows corn, soybeans, spring wheat, and sunflowers on a rotation. But his time with FFA has taught him a unique, valuable skill: welding. Ketterling said he mostly puts his welding skills to repair broken equipment, but he also uses it for building fencing and other useful structures.

Ketterling’s beef cattle SAE got its start when he was just a kid backgrounding his father’s cows to make them ready for placement in a packed feedlot. From there, he bought his own cows and began renting land for raising cattle and crops. Ketterling said he started with 39 acres and currently farms on “about 1,000 acres” in 2020.

Ketterling recently graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in ag economics, and he has started working as an ag loan officer in his hometown. He is still farming, though, and he said he has two paths to choose from for his future.

American Star in Agribusiness

Blake Kirchhoff owns and operates a haying business called Blake Kirchhoff Custom Baling for his supervised agricultural experience (SAE) with Superior FFA in Nebraska. Blake’s business does more than spinning hay into bales, though — he helps local farmers get in contact with buyers for their hay bales too.

After he graduates from Kansas State University with an agronomy degree, Kirchhoff said he wants to run his haying business full time. He added that 2020 has been a surprisingly good year for his business despite the COVID-19 pandemic because more people are starting gardens under quarantine.

American Star in Agricultural Placement

Working with animals is second nature for Will Shelby of Madill FFA in Oklahoma. Raised by a veterinarian, Shelby experienced his future career early on, starting his placement supervised agricultural experience (SAE) as a veterinary assistant in his father’s large-animal practice.

“Growing up around it, I kind of had an idea as to what I wanted to do,” Shelby said. “The older I got, the more I realized that maybe there’s a lot of different routes you could go in veterinary medicine that I wasn’t even aware of when I was younger.” Then, Shelby went on to work as a veterinary assistant at a practice in Cushing, Oklahoma last year.

While his father’s career helped Shelby figure out his future, he said FFA helped him develop character, leadership skills and a strong work ethic. In his final year at Oklahoma State University, Shelby is preparing to attend veterinary school to practice large animal veterinary medicine in rural Oklahoma.

American Star in Agriscience

Agriscience is a family affair for Nicole Stevens. Scott Stevens, her father and FFA advisor at Yukon FFA in Oklahoma, encouraged his children to participate in the National FFA Agriscience Fair. Through her years in FFA, scientific research became a bonding point for the father-daughter pair. Starting in eighth grade and going into college, Stevens has been involved in various types of agriscience research, from plant science to animal science. 

In her most recent research experience, Stevens studied ruminant digestion. Using cannulas to insert and remove feed samples in cattle stomachs, the project measured digestion processes to formulate more cost-effective feeding practices. This is particularly important, Stevens said, because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the cattle industry. Stevens hopes to take her research experience to the classroom. After earning her master’s degree at Oklahoma State University, Stevens will teach agricultural education for a few years and then return to school for her doctorate

Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. were nominated by a panel of judges, who then interviewed the finalists this fall. Four were named winners during the 93rd National FFA Convention & Expo, which was held virtually. Winners received cash awards. Case IH, Elanco Animal Health, and Syngenta sponsor the awards.

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