By Doug Graves
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The National FFA has announced a record-high student membership of 760,113. The Indianapolis-based organization saw an increase of nearly 60,000 members this past year alone.
The reasons for the rise in membership are many, FFA officials say: career opportunities, the desire to give back to others and inclusion, just to name a few.
“Over the years we’ve continued to grow a little bit each year,” said Kristy Meyer, National FFA Communications Manager. “There are several factors going on here. One factor might be the interest in how many careers are found in agriculture. Kids are learning it’s so much more than simply production agriculture. We believe that this generation is understanding that.”
A key tool used by FFA and its members is AgExplorer. National FFA and Discovery Education have joined forces to create this robust, comprehensive career resource to help prospects explore the broad range of careers within the industry of agriculture. Opportunities for FFA members include agribusiness, agricultural education, animal systems, biotechnology, environmental services, food products and processing, natural resources, plant systems, and power, structural & technical systems.
“There are more than 250 careers found in agriculture and we think this generation is understanding that,” Meyer said. “They’re looking at FFA realizing there’s many things FFA can prepare them for.”
The top five student membership states are Texas, California, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. Meyer also adds that Georgia and Oregon has become affiliated with FFA, meaning that every student who is ag education automatically becomes an FFA member. Meyer said other states are driving to achieve automatic membership for their students as well.
“One of the things that FFA strives for with its students is service learning, and that means giving back to the community. We’re seeing that with this generation of students. We think that sparks an interest in students that they can get involved in an organization in which they can give back to the community.”
Interest in FFA and agricultural education continues to grow, as well as the number of new chapters. This year, the organization has more than 115,831 Latino members, more than 40,000 Black members and more than 12,000 members who are American Indian and Alaska native.
Forty-four percent of the membership is female. FFA chapters can be found in 24 of the 25 largest U.S. cities.
As FFA continues to grow in size, so does the diversity of its membership, and that’s something Mark Poeschl, CEO of the National FFA Organization and the National FFA Foundation is committed to furthering.
“We want to ensure that FFA remains a welcoming place for young people of all races, genders, sexual orientations and walks of life,” Poeschl said. “We’ve certainly made great strides in recent years. For example, we’re continuing to see more and more young ladies joining FFA, and although we’re primarily known as a rural organization, we’re steadily reaching students in urban areas. Forty-four percent of our current members are from non-rural communities.”
Poeschl demonstrated his commitment to growing the organization’s reach by collaborating with the Cultivating Change Foundation (CCF), a San Francisco-based nonprofit with a mission “to value and elevate LGBTQ agriculturists through advocacy, education and community.” The CCF was founded in 2015 by former FFA members and state officers, Marcus Hollan and Jesse Lee Eller.
Poeschl attended the Cultivating Change Summit in 2017 and 2018, and he said he walked away inspired seeing others who share his commitment to making agriculture more inclusive.
“The future of FFA is being built on inclusion and equity,” Poeschl said. “We want to create a level playing field for young people who have in interest in agriculture as well as an environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing.”