A survey of nearly 600 Iowa FFA members finds that an increasing majority of them want to farm, raise livestock and live and work in Iowa upon completing their education. They also have an extremely positive outlook about agriculture and the opportunities it can provide to those who are willing to work hard to accomplish their goals.
The findings, garnered from a survey conducted by the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers at the 2008 Iowa FFA Conference held recently in Ames, underscores the drawing power of agriculture in helping Iowa retain some of its best and brightest young people while reinforcing the importance of high school vocational ag programs.
Of the 586 FFA students surveyed, 66% say they want to farm after completing their education; that's up 11% from a similar survey conducted in 2006. Of those, 45% want to both grow crops and raise livestock while 22% want to raise livestock in conjunction with off-farm employment. Seventeen percent want to manage a full-time livestock farm.
Nearly one in three surveyed don't live on a farm
Of those not wanting to farm, 60% of respondents (121 students) say they want to work in a related field such as ag sales, agronomy or animal science. Only 81 students or 14% of those surveyed say they plan to pursue a career not associated with agriculture.
"The number of FFA members wanting a career in agriculture is significant considering that nearly one of every three students who participated in the survey don't live on a farm," says state FFA adviser Dale Gruis. "In fact, nearly half of our Iowa FFA students come from an urban background. Yet they see farming or an ag-related career as an exciting career option. That bodes well for Iowa."
These findings are reinforced by the very favorable opinion FFA members have about agriculture's future. Of all respondents, 96% say their attitude about the profession is positive or extremely positive. Only 4% answered "cautiously optimistic" or "not very optimistic."
Next generation of farmers will be well educated
Jordann Wenzel, a member of the Cal FFA in Latimer, was one of the overwhelming majority of young people who's excited about agriculture's future. Wenzel, who lives and works on a diversified family farm in Franklin County and will graduate from high school next month, plans to attend Iowa State University this fall majoring in ag education and also studying ag business and animal science.
"You're always going to have agriculture because farmers are the ones who provide the food for a growing world population," says Wenzel. "Farmers help sustain the nation. If you don't have strong farms and people involved in ag, it would be difficult for the world to function. Iowa will always be ag-based and vital to the world. That's a future I want to be a part of."
The next generation of farmers and ag leaders will be well educated. Over 70% of the FFA students surveyed plan to acquire at least a four-year college degree, up from 67% in 2006. Also, those interested in ag want to stake their future in Iowa. About 75% of FFA members surveyed say they will live and work in Iowa upon obtaining a college diploma, up from 70% two years ago. While 16% say they would leave Iowa for a few years but return to pursue careers and raise a family, only 12% say they would leave Iowa to live and work elsewhere.
"My generation is Iowa's tomorrow," says Brandon Weilbrenner of Albia, a member of the Moravia FFA. "We know there are opportunities in ag and we know there are challenges, too. All we ask for is a chance to prove ourselves and to be able to do so in Iowa."
Other survey highlights include:
* 43% of respondents say high start-up costs are the primary obstacle for young people wanting to farm followed by the amount of work involved in farming (17%), lack of available land (12%) and inability to earn a stable income (10%).
* When asked their primary concern about raising livestock as a career, 44% indicate high start-up costs. And 26% cite risk and price volatility, 12% labor requirements, 8% regulations and 7% fear of opposition to growing their livestock farms.
*Regarding attitudes about food production, FFA members say their peers care most about food quality (38%) followed by affordability (30%), nutrition (18%) and safety (14%).
*Of those who say they want to raise livestock as part of their farming enterprise, 48% would like to be part of a family-run corporation; 33% want to operate independently while 14% desire to partner with other area farmers to raise and market livestock.
"When we grow agriculture, we grow Iowa"
Gruis, Iowa's FFA state adviser, applauds the Coalition for networking with students and helping farm families welcome the next generation of livestock farmers to the land. "We salute the work of the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers in helping both the established and new farmers grow responsibly and successfully," says Gruis. "Because when we grow agriculture, we'll grow Iowa and our rural communities. FFA members look forward to being part of that future."
The Coalition is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that has helped more than 900 farm families who raise livestock grow successfully and responsibly. It does not lobby, develop policy or maintain a membership base. CSIF was created in 2004 and is funded by the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association and Iowa Soybean Association.
NOTE: A number of FFA members from throughout the state have volunteered to speak with media about the survey and their interest in farming. To arrange an interview, call Aaron Putze, CSIF executive director at 800-932-2436.