A Tradition of Service and Leadership

This column appeared in Farm Policy Facts in celebration of National FFA Week.

Every year, FFA shapes the next generation of young leaders. It’s the perfect blend of classroom, hands-on and leadership activities that prepares students for success in whatever they choose to pursue.

I know this from my own experience as a former member of the FFA chapter in Cheyenne, Oklahoma, a long, long time ago. The training, activities and relationships from those four years undoubtedly helped shape my perspective and prepare me for public service.

There was public speaking and, of course, we spent a lot of time discussing livestock breeds and various health issues. We also discussed how you manage a business as a young farmer or rancher starting out. All of those skills serve a purpose and I rely on many of them to this day in both Washington and on my ranch back home.

Two of those years, I attended the national convention. It’s an amazing experience, packed with more blue and gold jackets than you’ve ever seen. It made me proud of where I came from and I discovered the overwhelming nationwide reach and influence of FFA.

My experience in FFA taught me the significance of staying engaged in your community, whether it’s through volunteering, running a business or even serving as a representative in government.

It also taught me to treat failure as an opportunity to grow and success as an opportunity to help others.

In fact, one of the hardest elections of my political career occurred in 1978 when I was a senior in high school. After serving as chapter president for two years, I ran for the Oklahoma State FFA reporter position. A long and hard fought campaign left me in third place…out of three candidates.

Despite finishing last, I will say – with an unshakable farmer’s optimism – that I forced a runoff election. No matter how small it was at the time, I played a role in the process. This is the enthusiasm and confidence FFA inspires within its students.

My initial foray into politics, and the more successful campaigns that followed, helped prepare me for the largest political undertaking in my life: passing the 2014 Farm Bill. As Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, this enormous undertaking truly revealed the importance of working together to find common ground.

For many outside of our trade – and believe me when I say I’ve had to do quite a bit of educating – there is a lack of understanding or appreciation for the hard work and painstaking preparation that goes into meeting our country’s nutritional needs. So many people in our country take the production of our food and fiber for granted.

As Chairman my overall philosophy was very simple: give producers the tools they need to generate the most abundant and affordable food supply in the world. I believe we can only accomplish this monumental task when we build our case for American agriculture. It’s one thing to throw around stats and numbers to prove your case but nothing quite compares to the compelling stories and accounts of farmers and ranchers.

Fortunately, our future ambassadors for agriculture are in FFA right now. FFA helps students write these stories. And this week is a wonderful opportunity to amplify these experiences through social media.

FFA is rooted in practicality but it has evolved into so much more. For many in rural America it’s a way of life, it’s the values of hard work and selflessness ingrained in our culture. FFA is a tradition 88 years in the making, and I can’t wait to see what the next generation of FFA students has in store as they build on the success of this extraordinary organization.

Rep. Frank Lucas represents the Third District of Oklahoma. He is a member and the former chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. He also serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and is Vice Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

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