Turnout for FFA Leadership Conference Indicates Bright Future for California Agriculture

Nearly 7,500 students attended the event, while FFA membership is over 103,000

If this year’s state FFA Leadership Conference is any indication, the future of farming in California looks bright.

Some of the nearly 7,500 FFA members who attended this year’s FFA Leadership Conference filled the floor at the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in Sacramento. Registration for next year’s conference will open on December 1.

A record 7,416 middle- and high school students attended this year’s conference in Sacramento, said Katie Otto, executive director of development for the California FFA Foundation. She said the FFA as a whole is growing as well.

“Membership grew to over 103,000 statewide this year, and the conference is keeping pace,” she said. “The FFA Leadership Conference is the largest youth conference in California and it’s one of the most affordable student conferences at just $165. Thanks in part to sponsors like Farm Credit, we can make sure that FFA has the ability to enhance opportunities for the students and to support our chapters.”

Jacob DeBoer, Senior Regional Marketing Manager with American AgCredit and California FFA Foundation Board Member, noted Farm Credit has been sponsoring FFA for years.

“In addition to supporting programming throughout the year, our sponsorship helped fund many scholarships and awards presented to FFA members at the conference this year in recognition of their achievements in 2023,” DeBoer said. “Farm Credit knows FFA members represent the future of ag in California, which is why we are currently committed to providing $250,000 over five years to help FFA fulfill its mission.”

Farm Credit organizations members AgWest Farm Credit, American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit are proud supporters of FFA. The organizations are part of the nationwide Farm Credit System – the largest provider of credit to U.S. agriculture.

The four-day conference celebrates the success of FFA members through awards for a wide range of ag-related activities and work-based learning projects. Scholarships and distinguished service awards are also presented. Participants also could choose from seven live general sessions, educational leadership workshops, networking opportunities with alumni and industry professionals and a career and trade expo.

Otto said FFA is thriving in California for several reasons, but it all starts with high school ag teachers – something she knows from experience.

“I was shy and quiet as a high school freshman and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in FFA in the first place,” she recalled. “But an ag teacher encouraged me to participate in the FFA Creed competition, and I did well. I made it to sectional and then regional and was in the state finals and I was hooked. That ag teacher saw something in me and took the time to make me realize there are opportunities and ways to engage in agriculture.”

Among those opportunities are the ability for students to travel, to gain skills and to meet people who can make a difference.

“For each student who participates in a Field Day or a speaking contest, the judges and coaches are alumni or people who work in the industry. It’s likely they may approach you and ask what your plans after high school are. It becomes a self-feeding pipeline,” she said.

And the ag-related career paths are nearly endless, she added.

“We realize ag is broader than boots in the field. Few FFA members will work on a farm, but they might become a formulator at a feed company, an embryologist, a pest control advisor, or an accountant working for an ag-related company. These are all jobs that influence the food and fiber chain,” she said.

Kevin Ralph, California president of AgWest Farm Credit, praised the diverse educational opportunities FFA provides its members.

“FFA currently provides educational opportunities in seven pathways – agricultural business, agricultural mechanics, agriscience, animal science, forestry and natural resources, ornamental horticulture and plant and soil science,” Ralph said. “Like Farm Credit, FFA recognizes that the needs of California agriculture are always evolving, and we’re pleased to be able to help make these opportunities available to so many young people.”

Ag education consists of a three-pronged learning model designed to engage and educate all types of students. It includes classroom and laboratory instruction, work-based learning for students not planning on attending a four-year university and student leadership experience through FFA.

Otto said despite headwinds facing California agriculture, she expects FFA to continue to grow and evolve with students and industry. She cited drone technology and agriscience as two program areas expanding to meet demand.

“As FFA approaches our centennial in 2028, the future of the industry, ag education and FFA looks bright,” she said.

Next year’s conference will be held April 3-6 in Sacramento. Registration will open on December 1.


About Farm Credit: 

AgWest Farm Credit, American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com

About the California FFA Foundation:
California FFA Foundation serves more than 103,000 California students and strives to make a difference in their lives by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. To learn more about the California FFA, visit calaged.org.