I have the distinct honor of serving on the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Sponsors Board. In all truthfulness, my service is selfish on behalf of our industry. I want to ensure the poultry and egg industry gets its fair share of FFA students into their workplaces. These are young people already in agriculture’s corner and who already know the “soft” skills so often missing today: showing up for work on time, knowing how to speak in public, the ability to disagree agreeably, etc. And, half of the 650,000 FFA students do not go on to a collegiate four-year degree. That means when they finish high school, they are ready for work or technical school, with growth potential, and we are desperate for such talent.

Historically, many of these students have gone back to the farm, but we need our share directly in the industry, and can offer benefits like insurance coverage and vacations that are typically better than what’s available at most farms.

The other half does go on to college. Sure, some study poultry, animal or food science, but others study engineering or accounting, or communication, or business management, or marketing, or a host of other diverse majors. The point is, we have thousands of former FFA students graduating from college every year. They are ag-friendly. They have skills we need. And, we have not historically recruited our share. We need to change that.

One of the things that has impressed me most about National FFA is the willingness to adapt and find a method to connect students to our industry. We are a longtime co-sponsor of the Poultry Career Development Event (CDE) at FFA, and the winners are named each year at the FFA Convention. Four years ago, through our USPOULTRY Foundation, and with National FFA’s blessing, we started bringing the top 11 finishing teams to IPPE. Two years ago, we began co-sponsoring the Food Science CDE, and brought those top 10 finishing teams to IPPE as well. This year, we invited the National Officer Candidates, which are typically college sophomores, to not only the IPPE, but also our College Student Career Program during IPPE. At each and every step of the way, National FFA has been nothing but supportive in helping expose these bright young minds to the myriad opportunities that await them in our industry.

If you ever find yourself wondering where the next generation of leaders is coming from for our industry, I urge you to spend just one day at the National FFA Convention (this year, in Indianapolis, Oct. 24-27). The 60,000 corduroy blue jackets on the trade show floor will ease your mind. We, along with several of our member companies, have a booth on the floor, again, to help ensure we get our fair share of this outstanding talent pool.

Many of you, or your companies, already support FFA on the local or state level. But, like a multi-plant company will have a corporate office to supply essential centralized functions, so does the National FFA support the local and state chapters. Beyond FFA, many of you and your companies support many worthy, charitable causes. But I urge you to look at National FFA not as a charitable contribution, but instead as an investment in the talent pipeline needed to carry your company into the future.

Your engagement will ensure a return on this investment. NP