For over 40 years, Fox Valley Technical College has rolled out the welcome mat for FFA chapters across the state.
Each year, four sites around Wisconsin host the Career Development Event (CDE), a contest, based on current industry standards, where FFA members can demonstrate the knowledge and skills gained from classroom instruction, their SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) and FFA activities.
This year FVTC was joined by fellow host sites Janesville, UW Platteville and UW River Falls. Qualifying teams will move on to the state contest in late April.
'It's wonderful to see students coming each year and getting excited about an industry that's been around for a long time. It's great that they also get a hands on look at the latest technologies and the latest innovations that are bringing back a little more excitement to the ag industry,' said Chris Jossart, FVTC Marketing & Public Relations Services official.
Variety of events
Throughout the day, FFA members circulated around the campus, testing their knowledge in more than a dozen areas, including ag mechanics, agronomy, dairy cattle, dairy products, farm business management, floriculture, horses, junior dairy cattle, livestock, meats, poultry, sales, vet science and wildlife.
'The variety of events here today give FFA members an idea of the diversity in the ag industry,' said State FFA Officer Brenna Bays.
Fellow state FFA officer Jared Retzlaff says the exposure to the wide range of contest areas give students the opportunity to hone career sets that may benefit them later in life.
'They may also discover a career that they want to be a part of,' Retzlaff said. 'Programs offered here at FVTC is just as important as a four-year university. This is a nice way to let FFA members know that these opportunities are also available at technical colleges.'
Ag Department Head Randy Tenpas said the thriving ag program at FVTC wouldn't nearly be as successful without the partnerships it has cultivated along the way.
'We partner with UW Platteville because they have some program areas that we don't specialize in including dairy and food science,' said Tenpas, adding that partnerships with local ag industry employers and ag organizations are also key. 'We cannot have the skills sets or the technology, equipment or expertise to be successful without partnerships, and that includes high school ag programs and advisors. They're key to helping students know and understand career paths.'
Many students enrolled in ag programs at FVTC today are former FFA members that participated in CDE. Lead Horticulture instructor and landscape architect, Jim Beard has invested much of himself in the students that have passed through his classroom during his 40-year teaching career.
'These young people are the future of the human race and are going to take care of this planet when we're no longer here,' Beard said. 'I always tell my students that they will know how to make a living when they leave here, but they make that living by what they learn and make a life by what they give.'
Wisconsin Technical College Board member Becky Levzow applauds school officials and staff for the investment they have place on ag education.
'Farming today is so different from the way our grandparents did it. But we can't farm like that anymore,' Levzow said. 'These kids need to have business skills, hands on training and learning because that's how they go home and become more efficient and profitable.'
Future's so bright
In addition to the FFA CDE, FVTC also celebrated National Ag Day with guest speakers and a panel discussion that included industry leaders, ag employers, farmers, businessmen and more. Radio personality Mike Austin lead the discussion which included several key topics including employment needs and marketable skills sets, upcoming trends in ag, the importance of communication and ag careers.
While job skills are critical, Keith Braun, Director of Milk Procurement for Agropur, said attitude is equally important.
'School provides the basis for your knowledge, but what it more important is having a passion for what you do and carrying that with you throughout your career,' Braun told FFA members. 'And remember to be knowledgeable about advances in technology and be an advocate in your field.'
Deputy Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Jeff Lyon told the crowd of 800-plus FFA members there's never been a better time to seek a career in agriculture.
'There's a great future in agriculture today unlike when I started my professional career in the 1970s. When we talked about feeding the world back then, it fell on deaf ears; no one paid attention to us,' Lyon said. 'Today, everyone wants to know where their food comes from and shares a growing concern about feeding the world's population.'
Austin gave parting advice to students to expand their horizons and to think critically and openly.
'No one ever built a statue to a critic but rather of problem solvers. It's good to identify a problem but don't be afraid to come up with solutions and don't be afraid to fail,' Austin said. 'Progress and better days come because of those.'