Did you miss our national FFA president’s testimony before the Senate Ag Committee today? Here’s a transcript:
Written Statement for the Record
Ryan W. Best
2011-12 National FFA President
National FFA Organization
Portales, New Mexico
Leveraging Agricultural Education and FFA To Strengthen American Agriculture Through the 2012 Farm Bill
Before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
The Honorable Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman
March 14, 2012
Thank you Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Roberts and members of the committee
for the opportunity to speak with you today about something very important to me – the future
of American agriculture.
My name is Ryan Best. I have the privilege this year of serving as president of the National FFA
Organization. I was raised on a production sheep farm in Portales, New Mexico, and I’m a junior
at New Mexico State University majoring in agricultural and extension education.
As part of my FFA and agricultural education program during high school, I developed a
production enterprise around sheep and diversified livestock. For me, agriculture is an
occupation and a way of life. My family has been involved in production agriculture for seven
Production agriculture is in my blood, and that’s what brings me here today. My goal is to share
with you the perspectives of the young men and women I represent as president of the FFA.
Today nearly a million students in secondary agricultural education programs are preparing for
careers in agriculture.
The U.S. will need the best and brightest of its young people to drive the innovation and
efficiencies in agriculture that will achieve production goals and meet growing demand. We
already have in place a pipeline to attract and prepare the talent needed to grow our future.
These are the more than half-million student members of the FFA and agricultural education.
They are students like Cole Vculek, FFA’s 2011 American Star Farmer. Cole rented land from
neighbors to grow two acres of red onions. He quickly added more land to raise potatoes, and
in 2009 he added 200 acres for a corn and soybean rotation. Recently, Cole purchased a 640-
acre farm from a neighbor. He plans to acquire more cropland and add sugar beets to his
business. A fifth-generation farmer, Cole epitomizes the innovation and growth American
agriculture will need to sustain in coming years.
While many people are familiar with the FFA, less is known about the agricultural education
program of which FFA is an integral part. Today, there are 7,400 FFA chapters located in school
systems throughout fifty states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Students are preparing for
over 300 careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture, including production.
It is understandable if some believe that members of FFA—formerly known as the Future
Farmers of America—come primarily from rural farming communities and small towns. But that
is not accurate. Today’s FFA is as diverse as today’s agriculture. We are reaching nontraditional
agricultural education students in rural, suburban and urban communities, including New York,
Philadelphia, Houston and Chicago. The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences was home to Corey Flournoy, the first African American National FFA President. Today’s agricultural education reaches students from all backgrounds.
FFA and agricultural education are helping students establish successful careers in production
agriculture. Our supervised agricultural experience program provides opportunities for students
to set career goals in high school and then pursue postsecondary education and training for
entry into production agriculture and to become entrepreneurs. Wesley Davis from the Mason
County Vocational FFA Chapter in West Virginia raises farm fresh eggs as a part of his
enterprise. He says his supervised agricultural experience allowed him to see the viability of
supplying consumers in his community with fresh, locally-produced eggs. Wesley plans to turn
his project into a full time job.
FFA and agricultural education have a major role in ensuring we have the producers,
researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators to meet the challenges we face. That’s why
Secretary Vilsack invited last year’s national FFA officer team to provide him with
recommendations for the farm bill. After consulting with FFA members and stakeholders, the
officers delivered their report to the Secretary last December. It is attached to my comments,
but it comes down to these key points:
1. USDA and other federal agencies should assist beginning farmers to start or continue in
2. USDA should help transition farms from older farmers to younger or beginning farmers
who may not come from a farm.
3. USDA should help keep young people in rural communities and make rural communities
an even more important part of our nation’s economy and society.
4. USDA should strengthen the capacity of agricultural education to produce more
students who pursue production agriculture and related careers.
In closing, I want to underscore that agricultural education and FFA have been assets to
American agriculture for 85 years. Given the challenges facing American and global systems of
agriculture, investments for tomorrow must be made. The next farm bill provides an
opportunity for Congress to demonstrate that it, like FFA members, believes in the future of
agriculture “with a faith born not of words, but of deeds.”
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.