COLUMNISTS

The sun is setting, but the future is bright

Ben Styer
In preparation for the 93rd Wisconsin FFA Convention, the 2021-2022 State FFA Officer team had a day full of photography and filming at Rustic Occasions event barn in Loyal.

Ten short months ago, I began my first column for the Wisconsin State Farmer with the first words of the FFA Creed; “I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds…”

Today, as I begin my final column as the Wisconsin State FFA President and reflect on the greatest two years of my life, those words written by E.M. Tiffany have never seemed more true. Over the past two years serving as a state FFA officer, I have traveled roughly 40,000 miles, built connections with teammates who have become best friends, met hundreds of outstanding people throughout our state and nation, and developed a stronger belief in the future of agriculture.

After a whirlwind of a final session at the 92nd Wisconsin FFA Convention, my new teammates and I had a board meeting before heading home to organize our lives for the next year. Only a few days later, we reconvened and hit the ground running with “Base Camp” training.

Throughout the summer, we met as a team nearly every week for training and planning in preparation for a busy fall. Once September hit and we understood schools’ game

plans for the year ahead, we reintroduced Fall Leadership Workshops and chapter visits, both of which are staples of FFA in the dairy state. Between these activities, fall conferences, the 94th National FFA Convention & Expo, and chapter events, the fall schedule filled up quite quickly.

As I’ve shared throughout the year in my columns, events continued from there with more training in December, the infamous Halftime Conference in January, and a few more chapter visits sprinkled throughout the winter. FFA week came soon after in February, and then the hustle and bustle of Career Development Events, Leadership Development Events, and banquets began!

This only scratches the surface of what the year has entailed for Wisconsin FFA. However, as I reflect on the beginning of the year, I am still in awe of the growth that has taken place.

Students have embodied growth throughout the last year. From the nervous seventh grader who learned what FFA was this year to the anxious senior who just graduated, the past year has been growth focused. For many, this was the first entirely “normal” or fully in-person school year since the 2018-2019 year.

As students adjusted to being back in the classroom gaining hands-on experiences through agriculture education, they became more engaged, and their knowledge and skills grew too.

The proof is in the numbers. This year, Wisconsin FFA has seen an increase in total state membership, the number of proficiency award applicants that recognize students' Supervised Agricultural Experiences, and even the number of students earning their State FFA Degree. Much of this growth can be attributed to those at the forefront of agricultural education: the agriculture educators and FFA advisors.

Although it has been a challenging year, FFA advisors have grown immensely too. Just as plants grow after a thunderstorm, challenging times initiate growth.

Since this was the first year fully in-person for many school districts, advisors had a challenge in front of them to not only deliver a top notch education to their students, but to also build back the momentum of their FFA programs. Advisors continue to adapt and persevere for their agricultural programs, and the results are evident.

Banquet season is wrapping up as many FFA chapters have an end-of-year banquet to celebrate members' achievements. The New London FFA held their annual banquet a few weeks ago.

At the 93rd Wisconsin FFA Convention, we will be recognizing over 120 FFA chapters throughout the state that have grown their chapter’s membership by at least ten members since last year. Agriculture educators continue to step up to challenges, and as we approach this year’s State Convention, I could not be more grateful for their guidance, generosity, and experience.

As a result of the members and advisors impacting us, some of the people who’ve grown the most this year are my teammates. At the beginning of the year, we were strangers to one another, sometimes lacked confidence in ourselves, and were eager, but anxious for the year ahead.

Today, I am proud of the way my teammates have united together into confident leaders. The last year has challenged us mentally, physically, and emotionally, but there is no doubt every one of my teammates is a more impactful and intentional leader today than they were in July. Their growth is inspiring, and I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such driven individuals.

Thank you, FFA members, for continuing to set the bar higher and higher in your growth. Thank you, advisors, for guiding students across the nation and leading with wisdom. Thank you, teammates, for making the most of this year of service.

As the sun sets on this unforgettable year, I am grateful for every person who is part of the Wisconsin FFA community. It is because of the people in the agriculture community that I believe American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life. The future of agriculture has never been brighter, and for that, I am grateful. Thank you for believing in the future of agriculture and making this year the journey of a lifetime.

Ben Styer

Ben Styer is president of the 2021-2022 Wisconsin FFA State Officer Team