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COLUMBUS

Wisconsin had the honor this week to host the National FFA President Taylor McNeel as a part of the National FFA Week celebration.

Taylor McNeel is junior at Southern Arkansas University where she's studying agricultural business.

On Feb. 24, McNeel spent the afternoon with about 120 agriculture students from Bellville and Mount Horeb. On Feb. 25 she continued her tour of the state, stopping at Columbus High School where she met with Columbus FFA officers and met the officer team from nearby Lakeside Lutheran High School.

McNeel also made stops at several other schools during her busy week, traveling with Wisconsin's FFA officer team and a host of other FFA advisors.

While in Columbus McNeel told students, 'FFA focuses on developing students' potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success. So we look at students coming into an agricultural education class regardless of their background in agriculture. (We) really want to develop them to have a successful, fulfilling life. Hopefully they go into a career in agriculture, but if not, at least they'll have the life skills to be able to have that awesome life.'

Describing FFA as it is in 2016, McNeel says 46 percent of members are now women and only 60 percent are from rural areas with 9 percent of the members nationwide coming from large cities.

She believes there are many opportunities in the field of agriculture that go well beyond production agriculture. McNeel points out that there are over 300 career options out there related to agriculture.

McNeel is from Vilonia, AK where she served in her local FFA and concentrated on goat production and diversified livestock production. She served as Arkansas's state FFA president in 2013-14. Her goal after completing her term as national FFA president is to return to South Arkansas University and then work on agricultural policy and governmental affairs for agriculture and to pursue international agriculture.

In addition to talking with students, McNeel continued to tour the state, promoting the agriculture industry and the importance of leadership and other career building skills.

The state FFA officer team traveled with McNeel, helping to share the FFA story.

State President Sally Albers grew up on a Prairie du lac beef, pig and crop farm. She says her dad has always been her role model and he was very involved in FFA. In addition, her school's ag teacher and FFA advisor is a close family friend who inspired her to get involved.

While 4-H and FFA are similar in the life-lessons they teach youth, Albers notes that FFA is different because it is inter-curricular based in schools. She sees it as an organization that benefits youth way beyond building interest in agriculture.

'It builds confidence and develops leadership and speaking skills,' Albers said.

Bryce Krull, Lake Mills, state vice president, agrees.

He has always had an interest in politics and believes there are not enough people with a true knowledge of agriculture involved in state and national government.

He was particularly impressed with the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. through FFA and says he hopes to eventually use the leadership skills and public speaking skills he developed through FFA to get elected to a public office where he can make a real difference.

When he completes his term as state officer Krull says he will immediately head out to California where he has accepted an internship at an international livestock genetics company.

He plans to continue his formal studies through on-line courses before returning to Wisconsin to finish school at UW-River Falls where he studies pre-law and marketing and communications.

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