Despite 2020 being a year of turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for students, the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) organization has continued to experience increased membership.
FFA recently announced it reached a record 760,113 members for 2020, an increase of almost 60,000 from 2019. According to a press release from the organization, the top five student membership states are Texas, California, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma.
“It’s great to see FFA’s membership increase again,” said Andrew Smith, associate director of governmental relations at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and a former FFA member and state officer. “FFA is vital to the agricultural education programs across the country. Members are able to apply the classroom experience in practical situations and participate in competitions used to teach valuable skills.”
Rising membership isn’t just happening on a national level. Virginia FFA also experienced a membership uptick in 2020. Andy Seibel, Virginia FFA executive secretary, said the organization reached 9,901 members, about 600 more than in 2019.
“It would have been well over 10,000, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a lot of schools had not finished their second semester [membership] rosters,” Seibel said.
Like many student groups and organizations, Virginia FFA found itself increasing its digital presence to reach audiences in lieu of in-person activities. Virginia FFA held its first virtual state convention in June, and 3,500 to 4,000 households tuned in.
Some school divisions allowed students to have watch parties, Seibel said, and many viewed recorded sessions on the organization’s website after the convention ended.
“I think it was very well received,” Seibel said. “I think our outreach was actually higher this year than it would have been in a normal year because when you’re in person at Virginia Tech (where the event is typically held), you can fit only so many people into the auditorium.”
And while the organization is faced with navigating a changing school environment as some school systems restrict the number of electives they’re offering because of COVID-19, Seibel remains optimistic.
“I think kids understand all the opportunities that are available in agriculture,” he said. “There’re still a lot of kids interested, and we’re getting calls all the time wanting to know what activities we can do this year.”