Note from the Friday Footnote Curator: This will be the last Friday Footnote for 2019. Enjoy the Christmas Season. Spend time with family and loved ones. See you in January.
Just about every time you turn on the television there is news about the President of the United States. Dr. Jim Connors at the University of Idaho has researched the connection between the FFA and Presidents. How many Past, Future, or Current Presidents do you think have spoken at the FFA convention? Dr. Connors will enlighten us. It is nice having Jim back as the guest columnist. So take it away Dr. Connors.
Presidents & National FFA Convention
The FFA was only 25 years old when the relationship between the Presidents of the United States and National FFA Conventions began. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first President to speak to FFA members. He spoke at the 25th Anniversary convention in Kansas City, MO in 1953.
Over the years, presidential candidates, current Presidents, and former Presidents all made their way to the National FFA Convention to speak to FFA members. A list of the Presidents who have spoken at the National FFA Convention is below in Table 1.
Presidents of the United States and National FFA Conventions
|1953||26th||Dwight D. Eisenhower||1st President to speak at the convention.|
|1957||30th||Harry S. Truman||Spoke at the 1957 convention after leaving office in January.|
|1968||41st||Richard M. Nixon||Candidate Nixon spoke at convention just prior to the November 1968 election.|
|1974||47th||Gerald R. Ford||Speech broadcast live on network television.|
|1975||48th||Jimmy Carter||Candidate Carter spoke at convention one year before being elected President.|
|1978||51st||Jimmy Carter||Only former FFA member ever elected President.|
|1987||60th||George H.W. Bush||Vice President Bush spoke at convention in 1987, one year before being elected President.|
|2018||91st||Donald J. Trump|
First sitting President to speak to convention since Jimmy Carter in 1978.
Figure 1: President Eisenhower was awarded the Honorary American Farmer Degree
after speaking at the 25th Anniversary Convention.
State Presidents’ Conference – Washington, DC
In addition to speaking at National FFA Convention, many Presidents have hosted the State Presidents’ Conference which took place in Washington, DC each summer for State FFA Presidents and other state officers. Most of these events took place in July and were held in the White House Rose Garden.
It was at this event in 1979 that President Jimmy Carter challenged the FFA to help with the impending energy crisis gripping the country (The President’s Challenge, 1979). Carter said:
“I today ask you…to take the lead among all other youth groups in the United States in the war for energy security. I am asking every FFA chapter in this country to get involved…in conserving energy and in finding new ways to use it more efficiently. It has to come from you. I cannot do it for you. Are you willing to accept the challenge?” (p. 16)
Figure 2: State President's Conference - July 1977
Figure 3: State President's Conference - Juuly 1982
President Jimmy Carter is most notable as the only former FFA member ever elected to the office of President of the United States. Carter grew up on a rural peanut farm in Plains, Georgia. As a youth in the 1930s he attended Plains High School, enrolled in vocational agriculture class, and joined the Plains FFA chapter. Carter stated that, “The first elected office I ever held was as secretary of the Plains Chapter of the Future Farmers of America. I still have a great respect for that organization and for the industry of agriculture” (Bye, 1977, p. 20). The National FFA Officers even walked along with a covered wagon from Indiana in President Carter’s Inauguration Parade on January 20, 1977 (FFA in Inaugural Parade, 1977). In his book An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (Carter, 2001) Carter wrote:
“There was certainly no assurance that I would ever go to the Naval Academy, so I prepared for other future possibilities. The most natural would be as a farmer, so, along with more than half the other boys in high school, I concentrated on the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program. We took classes in the care and management of draft animals, beef and dairy cattle, hogs, crops and pastures, forestry, poultry, farm equipment, and other related subjects, such as pest control and food processing. In the workshop, we practiced carpentry, blacksmithing, welding, and furniture making. Our agriculture teacher worked closely with each of our fathers to ensure that our work at school was compatible with what was being done on the farm.
The FFA was a tight-knit organization at school, state, and national levels. We had competitions all the way up in public speaking, record keeping, the raising, showing, and judging of prime animals, and other crafts important to a successful leader in agriculture…We derived a lot of unexpected advantages from this combination of academic and practical instruction. I was one of the FFA officers at school, have been to national conventions, and am an honorary lifetime member. The agricultural studies have been of great benefit to me, especially during my time in politics.” (p. 216-217)
Figure 4: State President's Conference - July 1979
Political Party Platforms & Candidates Positions
While the Future Farmers of American has always been closely associated with Washington, DC and elected officials, it has always been a non-political organization. Elected officials and candidates for office from both ends of the political spectrum have met with FFA members and officers and spoken at FFA events. However, prior to the 1976 Presidential election between President Ford and Governor Carter, The National Future Farmer Magazine published an article titled Candidate Face-Off: Picking a President (1976). The article included information about both candidates and both the Republican and Democratic Agriculture Platform points.
The FFA has had close connections with Presidents of the United States since its founding in 1928. In past Friday Footnotes we looked at the connection between the Future Farmers of America organization and President George Washington (3/29/2019) and President Thomas Jefferson (4/12/2019). These connections with Washington and Jefferson remain to this day.
Since 1953, the FFA organization has been a favorite audience among modern-day Presidents and Vice Presidents. Seven Presidents, Vice Presidents, or candidates have spoken at the National FFA Convention. Often these speeches coincide with upcoming elections. Presidents, being the politicians that they are, clearly see the benefits of connecting with young people involved in agriculture and their parents, a strong voting block across the country.
Presidents have also welcomed the state FFA officers attending the State President’s Conference each summer in Washington, DC. Another opportunity for elected government officials to address many future farmers, agribusiness professionals, and agricultural leaders.
- Have your agricultural education students research the agricultural platforms of the two political parties (Democrat and Republican). Hold a class discussion about the components of the party platforms that related to agriculture, natural resources, rural development, etc.
- Have your agricultural education students research the announced candidates for the 2020 Presidential Election to determine what their platforms say about the future of agriculture in America.
Bye, G. (1977, February-March). His Ag Teachers Remember…Jimmy Carter. The National Future Farmer, 25(3), p. 20-21.
Candidate Face-Off: Picking a President (1976, October-November). The National Future Farmer, 25(1), p. 62-63.
Carter, J. (2001). An hour before daylight: Memories of a rural boyhood. New York: Touchstone.
FFA – Built on the Spirit of ’76 (1976, June-July). The National Future Farmer, 24(5), p. 26-27.
FFA in the Inaugural Parade (1977, April-May). The National Future Farmer, 25(4), p. 16.
The President Speaks to FFA (1977, October-November). The National Future Farmer, 26(1), p. 43.
The President’s Challenge (1979, October-November). The National Future Farmer, 28(1), p. 16-17.