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FFA members optimistic about farming's future

Brooke Wente sees farmers and doctors as similar: Both keep people alive.

“We cannot survive without farming,” the Morris, Minn., native and Minnesota FFA secretary said.

Given that, she added, she is very optimistic about farming’s future.

“Yes, agriculture is a risky business ... but the opportunity for success is very strong on the benefit side,” Wente said.

Even with success stories out there, young farmers are struggling.

A 2011 National Young Farmers’ Coalition survey found money is a major hurdle for young Americans entering agriculture.

Specifically, the survey found that getting money, mostly in loans, is hard for young farmers. They also have problems finding affordable land and health insurance.

The FFA, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America, makes an effort to show how important agriculture is, but more and more of its members are taking jobs off the farm.

Minnesota FFA Vice President Stuart Schumacher of Heron Lake, for instance, is studying at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with an eye toward being a food corporation manager. Wente is taking agriculture education courses, but said she has many opportunities in agribusiness beyond the farm.

Even if they may not become full-time farmers, Schumacher and Wente say they know the importance of the profession.

“There are a lot of technology and different programs to help prevent against risk,” said Wente, who graduated from west-central Minnesota’s Morris High School and attends the University of Minnesota. “Farmers are some of the most knowledgeable people I know. They are staying up to date with new information.”

Schumacher, from Minnesota’s southwest, said he understands that the risks of weather and natural disasters they can bring can as a deterrent to getting into the business. But he also said it is important.

“Many wars are fought over food,” he said. “Who has the food?”

One of agriculture’s major problems is that many people, even in an ag state such as Minnesota, have little connection with the farm.

“The folks in the cities don’t go home to the farm for Thanksgiving and Christmas anymore,” former state House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, told a recent farm gathering.

FFA members are working to bridge the disconnect.

“The blue jacket is the perfect starting point for a conversation,” said Wente, wearing her distinctive blue FFA jacket.

School FFA chapters, such as in Morris, are taking the farmers’ story to Twin Cities schools.

Farm students show city youths how the system works, such as how crops are planted and how milk gets to the stores.

“We take it a step further and bring in livestock,” Wente said.

Cattle producers even visit the Twin Cities to grill hamburgers at schools.

“We understand there is a disconnect of people not knowing where their food is coming from,” Wente said.

Schumacher said he fields a lot of ag questions during his time in the Twin Cities.

“I end up spending a lot of time advocating why I am going into agriculture,” he said.

Wente said there is more to agriculture than tilling fields and feeding livestock. “It is growing and there is a lot that needs to happen in order to feed the growing population.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.