National FFA Convention and Expo

Equipment companies including major donors such as John Deere show off new equipment and devote countless hours at the annual National FFA Convention and Expo.

Permit me a little time to write about my experiences with FFA. While I am not an FFA alumnus, for the past 30 years or so I have been privileged to volunteer as a judge and committee member for, in my opinion, one of FFA’s most rewarding Career Development Events, the Marketing Plan CDE.

According to the FFA website, “participating FFA members are challenged to develop critical thinking skills and effective decision-making skills, foster teamwork, and promote communication while recognizing the value of ethical competition and individual achievement.”

The Marketing Plan CDE is described as “helping participants develop practical marketing skills while creating and presenting a marketing plan for a local agribusiness. Teams research and present a marketing plan for an agricultural product, supply or service in front of a panel of judges. This CDE allows students to explore and prepare for possible careers in agrimarketing.”

As you might imagine, all this takes a tremendous amount of volunteer hours and, of course, donations from sponsors. Our current CDE sponsor, the Context Network, has been with us for a few years now. They provide much-needed funding, along with company employees who volunteer and bring a great amount of knowledge and experience to our competition.

The Context Network certainly is not alone in their support of the FFA. A wide variety of companies, including many ag equipment manufacturers, continue to see great benefits in being a part of the youth development programs FFA has to offer.

Again, the FFA notes that “contributions to FFA support our nation’s youth both inside and outside their classrooms. For sponsors, brands can reach more than a half-million student members, more than 8 million alumni members, and more than 11,000 educators. For individuals, many wish to give back to the organization that made such a positive difference in their lives, and in the lives of others.”

The National FFA Foundation website lists nearly 150 sponsors and donors, including equipment providers CNH, Case IH, New Holland, AGCO, Caterpillar, Kubota, Mahindra, Yamaha Motor Company, Briggs & Stratton, Cummins, Kuhn North America, Lindsay Corporation, STIHL and The Toro Company.

One company, John Deere, sits at the highest donor level, that of platinum sponsorship. I talked with Amy Allen, manager of corporate sponsorship at John Deere to get a better understanding of Deere’s long-standing support of FFA.

“John Deere has sponsored FFA for more than 75 years,” says Allen. “John Deere recognizes the value FFA brings to young people by providing leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education. In addition, many of our employees are former FFA members and have donated their personal time to assisting local chapters and events.”

Allen outlined some of the specific ways John Deere has contributed to FFA.

“In the past, John Deere has contributed to the FFA Living to Serve Platform that inspires FFA members to put leadership into action through service activities and prepare them to be leaders in agriculture and other professions,” she says. “Through the years, we’ve sponsored scholarship programs, farm business management career development competitions, and international leadership seminars for state officers.

“We were also one of the first corporate partners to form an FFA Alumni and Supporters Chapter. Today there are nearly 400 John Deere employees across the U.S. who volunteer to coach, mentor and train FFA chapters.”

John Deere has displayed at the National FFA Convention and Expo, as do many other companies, colleges and non-profit organizations.

“We bring equipment, and dozens of John Deere employees in a variety of roles attend and support the convention each year,” Allen said.

On local and regional levels, you’re sure to find equipment dealerships of all brands providing support to FFA chapters. They, too, find real value in FFA’s approach to training and developing the leaders of tomorrow.

I have found it rewarding, as well.

Michael Gustafson has written for and about farm equipment companies, their products and dealerships for more than 40 years, including 25 years with John Deere. He lives on a small acreage in Dennison, Ill.