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FFA on the grow in ND, nation

Cole Ketterling, Alicia Hellman, Hannah Gress. (FFA photo)1 / 4
Hannah Gress. (FFA photo)2 / 4
Cole Ketterling. (FFA photo)3 / 4
Alicia Hellman. (FFA photo)4 / 4

FARGO—Hannah Gress, Alicia Hellman and Cole Ketterling have done well in North Dakota FFA. They say the organization has provided experience and camaraderie and boosted their self-confidence.

"It's been good for me. It's good for a lot of people," says Hellman, a Harvey, N.D., native and and current North Dakota State University student.

The North Dakota FFA and National FFA Organization—which serve people interested in agriculture and leadership—are doing well, too, both growing in membership.

Gress, Hellman and Ketterling, who talked with Agweek June 5, are among the 1,400 FFA members attending the annual state convention of the NDSU campus. The four-day event ends June 7.

The Future Farmers of America was formed in 1928 and changed its name to FFA in 1988 to reflect the growing diversity of the agricultural industry. The group now has been known as FFA for 30 years, half as long as it went by its original name.

Even after three decades, many people still mistakenly assume that the organization "is only for farmers," says Aaron Anderson, North Dakota FFA state coordinator. "But we have members who go on be doctors and lawyers and a lot of other occupations, though we always like for them to be advocates for agriculture."

FFA's emphasis on leadership, personal growth and career success through ag education is boosting membership both in the state and nationwide, Anderson says.

North Dakota FFA has about 5,700 members in 85 chapters, a number that's risen steadily in recent years. The National FFA Organization now has at least 662,000 members, a number that Anderson expects to rise to 665,000 later this year. The latter number would be about 15,000 more than a year earlier—reflecting FFA's growing presence in inner-city chapters in places such as Chicago and New York.

Though some other states, such as Texas, have many more FFA members than North Dakota, those states also have much bigger populatulations. North Dakota may lead the nation, or be close to the top, in per-capita FFA membership, Anderson says.

Neither Hellman nor Gress, a Mandan, N.D., native who's attending Bismarck State College, grew up on a farm. But both enjoy agriculture so much that they plan to become high school ag teachers when they're done with college.

High school and adult ag teachers remain in short supply, boosting the job outlook for Hellman and Gress.

The outlook for ag jobs in general also is strong, further increasing the appeal of the ag education that FFA provides.

Both Gress and Hellman have each spent five years in FFA, and they say the experience has helped them in many ways. Both have risen to state leadership positions: For the past year Hellman has served as FFA state reporter, Gress as FFA treasurer.

Ketterling, a Wishek, N.D., native and current NDSU student, has spent the past year as FFA president. He grew up on a farm that raises grain and livestock and is interested in joining the operation after college.

He's also interested in becoming an ag lender; his enthusiasm for ag finance was boosted by FFA, he says.

Having an ag background is highly useful to ag bankers, especially when they're starting out, bankers say.

Ketterling, who joined FFA in seventh grade, says the organization has "given me opportunities and experience. I've had a great time and learned a lot."

He, Hellman and Gress strongly encourage other students to consider joining FFA if possible.

"Give it a try," Gress said. "It may take you out of your comfort zone at first, but you'll end up