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February 17, 2023

The Role of FFA and 4-H in Passing on the Family Farm Tradition

In honor of National FFA Week, explore how ag programs like Future Farmers of America and 4-H help keep the family farm tradition alive.

There’s a misconception going on about agriculture in this country. Many consumers believe that the industry has been taken over by corporations running “factory farms.” The truth of the matter is that farms and ranches in the U.S. overwhelmingly maintain the family farm tradition. The 2022 Ag Census found almost 88 percent of all U.S. farms are small family-owned operations, producing less than $350,000 in gross farm income. Additionally, the census found the average age of principal operators is 58 years old. An increasing number of those who run America’s family farms are likely to consider retirement soon and a new wave of farmers is needed to keep producing food for a growing global population.  

This is where programs like FFA and 4-H come in.  

What is FFA and 4-H?

Future Farmers of America (FFA) is an intracurricular student organization for students from age 12 to 21 who are interested in agriculture and leadership development.  

Many FFA members begin their agricultural leadership journey in 4-H—a youth development program with similar initiatives for students age 5 to 18.

A Closer Look at the American Family Farm Tradition

Back in 2015, AgAmerica conducted a study of our own on the family farm tradition. Over 500 growers participated in this survey, which we published the findings in a whitepaper, Families and Their Farms: Planning for the Future.  Here are some highlights we found:  

  • 74.9% of respondents’ farms were family-owned and operated. 
  • 46.4% said they have multiple generations involved in the family business, while 15.7% said they did not.  
  • 38.4% said they expect to pass the family farm on to the next generation, while 5.4% said they do not. 
  • Nearly half said that their greatest concern was ‘setting the next generation up for success.’ 

Programs like 4-H and FFA help to get younger generations interested in agriculture as a career path and set them up for a lifetime of success in ag.  

How FFA and 4-H Equip the Next Generation of Leaders

Educational programs like FFA and 4-H give young people the chance to interact with agriculture in a focused and guided format. It provides networking opportunities and firsthand experience for those who didn’t grow up on a farm.  

“Through the opportunities I had at FFA, I learned so many hands-on skills that can’t be taught in a classroom. I’m a big proponent of experiential learning, I believe we learn best through new experiences. Looking back, I learned a lot in these moments at FFA—even when I didn’t realize it at the time.”

Dalton Green, Relationship Manager at AgAmerica and FFA alumnus

The scope and depth of experiences gained as an FFA of 4-H member are quite extensive. Whether raising an animal for a competition, putting together a topic for a speech contest or traveling away from home, such programs offer a wealth of experience to our youth in agriculture. Benefits FFA and 4-H members include:  

  • Increased interest in agriculture. 
  • The opportunity to gain knowledge about different forms and sectors of agriculture outside of the one they might already be involved in. 
  • Valuable skills like public speaking, writing, organization, utilizing peer networks and advocating for agriculture. 
  • The chance for students to experience the challenges of agriculture in a positive setting, such as when raising an animal or plant to compete in shows. 

All these skills help prepare our youth to step into leadership roles in agriculture and contribute to passing on the family farm tradition. These programs also inspire and equip youth without any background in agriculture with knowledge about what it really takes to grow food safely and sustainably. 

Former FFA Members Supporting the Future of American Agriculture

As a farmer-focused organization, it’s only fitting that many of our own AgAmericans first began their agricultural journey in 4-H and FFA.  

A man standing in front of a herd of cattle during FFA Week 2023.
"The FFA has played a pivotal role in who I am today. I was able to see how the ag industry operates and the resilience of that process."Erin Smith
Senior Client Relations Manager
A large field with a water irrigation system in the background, perfect for showcasing during FFA Week 2023.
"My favorite thing about being a member of FFA was having the opportunity to deepen my roots in agriculture and my community."Milli Jones
Client Relations Manager
Two tractors working in a field at sunset during FFA Week 2023.
"The FFA has taught me so many life lessons-time management, financial responsibility, perseverance, hard work, dedication, and a healthy love of competition."Kelsey Craven
Talent Support Specialist
A picturesque corn field with a silo in the background during FFA Week 2023.
"Through the FFA, I made lifelong friends, became a more responsible and hardworking man, and now I am currently working at a company that allows me to help the agriculture industry grow and support the American Farmer."Brevyn Foreman
Deal Operation Manager
A man is standing in a misty field during FFA Week 2023.
"I am extremely grateful for my time spent in the FFA, the friends I made along the way, and the lessons that will last a lifetime."Kateland Raney
Agricultural Loan Closer

AgAmerica is a proud supporter of FFA and its mission of helping equip the next generation of American farmers and ranchers with the skills they need to succeed. 

 If you or someone you know is interested in gaining experience in an ag-focused career, visit the AgAmerica careers page to learn more about our paid internship and entry-level job opportunities. 

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