Future farmers glimpsed at FFA

By Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association.

The sea of 60 thousand high school students in blue jackets roaming the convention center in Indianapolis in late October offered a glimpse into the future of U.S. food production.

Each year the annual convention of the FFA (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America) brings together thousands of farm kids and other students with a passion for agriculture. Through the decades, the usual players in conventional agriculture have largely underwritten FFA activities.

There is a visible transformation in the look and feel of FFA these days. Somewhere between the Monsanto Whack-a-Mole pavilion and the John Deere exhibit in this year’s convention hall, I joined a small group of local buffalo ranchers to host the National Bison Association booth, where we were swamped for three days with young people eager for information about a future in the bison business.

That’s good news for us. The growth in demand for bison meat means that we need a new generation of ranchers who share our passion for raising and marketing buffalo.
But it is more than just the bison business. Growing numbers of these future farmers are looking for an alternative to the treadmill of conventional commodity production. They want to be a part of agriculture that connects with customers, and that rewards quality and conservation.

Horizon Dairy, Organic Valley and the Rodale Institute all had a significant presence at this year’s FFA. Convention workshops now contain sessions on future opportunities in organic agriculture.

That’s good news for all of us. We in the natural food business too often fixate on short term supply/demand issues. Long-term growth in our sector requires young farmers with a commitment to producing natural and organic products. Investments in organizations like FFA and 4-H are really investments in the future of our business.

Dave Carter is the executive director of the National Bison Association and principal of Crystal Springs Consulting, Inc. He maintains a small herd of buffalo in Colorado.

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