The next generation of U.S. farmers will face challenges such as adapting to climate change and finding ways to feed a growing world population, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told some 10,000 FFA members Thursday morning at the first general session of the 2014 National FFA Convention and Expo here.
Vilsack identified several challenges facing American agriculture, encouraging FFA members to work toward resolving those challenges.
“FFA, you are the future of agriculture, you are the folks who can embrace these challenges, you are excited to meet them,” Vilsack said.
He pointed out the increasing median age of American farmers, resting at 58 in the most recent census of agriculture, means attracting and retaining young people for “this extraordinary calling” is imperative.
“We are a strong and powerful nation, in large part because we have the most productive farmers in the world,” Vilsack said. “It’s up to you to ensure there is going to be a next generation of farmers prepared to take on that challenge.”
Vilsack noted the future generation of farmers needs to include more women farmers. The most recent census of agriculture showed increasing percentages of women in farmer operator and owner categories. He asked FFA to build on that trend, pointing out that half of all FFA leadership are young women.
“We want women to be engaged in agriculture and FFA must lead that effort,” Vilsack said.
Climate change is another challenge facing agriculture, Vilsack said. He praised FFA’s commitment to science, saying agriculture education’s science-focused elements can build scientists ready to address the fallout of climate change.
“This generation of those related to agriculture have a unique opportunity to help figure out how we adapt to climate change,” Vilsack said.
The secretary referenced USDA’s recent establishment of climate change hubs, which will study the vulnerabilities of agriculture related to climate change.
“As you continue your education, it’s going to be vital that you embrace this challenge,” Vilsack told the assembled FFA members. “The world is depending upon the United States, and the United States is depending upon you to help us figure out how we continue to meet the needs of a growing world population.”
Vilsack lastly identified the challenge of feeding the growing world population.
“FFA has done a tremendous job of working with us at USDA in dealing with the issue of hunger in the United States,” Vilsack said. He pointed out expanded programs such as summer feeding for school students, school nutrition and school breakfasts.
The secretary pointed out that 300 million children around the world go hungry each day and the rest of the world looks to the United States to lead efforts in resolving world hunger.
“If we don’t, we’ll be less safe,” Vilsack said. “You, your children and you’re children’s children.”
Roughly 62,000 FFA members converged on Louisville, Ky., this week for the 87th annual National FFA Convention and Expo. Members attend leadership workshops, compete for agriscience and Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) awards and participate in delegate sessions establishing policy for FFA. Members also compete for the national Star awards in agriscience, agribusiness, farmer and agricultural placement, and national officers are elected after an extensive interview process.