INTRO: More than 2 thousand Michigan Future Farmers of America have finished up their annual convention at Michigan State University. They debate agricultural issues and compete for prizes in leadership. The average age of a farmer is about 55 years old, thus the need for young farmers to replace them. The group wants the public to know that agriculture can be profitable and pump money into many related industries. But it needs access to farmland to stay viable. 250 students took their message to the state capital. Chris McCarus reports.
TRX1: All of the students have taken agri-science classes in their public schools. State representative Rick Jones said the classes will be useful because the auto industry is in decline.
AX1: “As our manufacturing goes down our agriculture becomes more important for this state. Agriculture may soon be the number 1 thing in Michigan. So we’re so happy that you’re looking to the future, you’re investing your time. You’re studying hard. And you they like to say we need cool cities. I’d like to see cool farms.”
TRX2: About 120 public school districts in Michigan offer agriculture classes. 2 FFA students from each district were represented at the capital, including 17 year old Violet Lombard. When she was 13, she started her own herd of beef cattle at her parents’ farm near Montague.
AX2: “It’s so different than when you talk to kids who may live in a city in a suburb or suburban area, they’re like oh yea we spent 200 bucks on an IPOD well I spent 1500 dollars on a cow. And it’s just the sacrifices that we make not to have the IPOD so we can have the cows to resell them an invest in the future.”
TRX3: The average Michigan Farmer is 55 years old. State Agriculture officials that’s why its important to bring young people into the industry. Violet Lombard shows picture of the animals she’s invested in.
AX3: “These are all my cows that I own. This is one that’s going to have a calf in the spring. This is another one. That’s my steers mother. This is another one that’s gonna have a calf and that’s her mother. This is the fancy one that I spent $1500 on. But she’s well worth the money. She had a calf in January.”
TRX4: Famous alumni of the Michigan FFA program include former Governer John Engler and his lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus. They first met in the FFA. Katie Eldred is from Maple Valley High school in Vermontville. She’s now MSU sophomore training to be an agriculture teacher.
AX4: “A lot of the senators and representatives here are former FFA members. We’ve had Presidents, US presidents who are former FFA members. The leadership skills that they gained from this organization are amazing. Without the cash funding it’s very difficult to get all the programs running.”
TRX5: The FFA can’t act like lobbyists. But their presence at the capital reminds lawmakers that Agriculture and it’s related activities are the state’s number 2 industry. They generate $60 billion for the economy.
AX5: “The technology. The biogenetics, like the genetically modified foods. They all are agriculture. It’s not just cows plows and sows. We encompass everything now and it’s important for people to realize that. We have tractors with GPS systems all kinds of different genetically modified biotechnology. E 85 ethanol. There’s so much more to agriculture than there used to be.”
TRX6: Several students came from the Detroit area. Urban areas support greenhouses and small animal care. Blacks, whites and latinos from all over the state show that agriculture is not confined to just whites in the country. That’s the upside. The downside is that suburbanization has spread to the country. The Michigan Association of Planning says that Michiganders are using up land 8 times faster than population growth. Farmland is often sold for development. Beau Williamson is representing California’s Central Valley. He’s visiting FFA groups around the country and was asked how Michigan agriculture compares to other states.
AX6: “Interacting with a lot of the members who live on farms. It sounds like you guys are stacking up pretty good. I’ve talked to a few of them some of the issues they say they’re facing is urbanization. There are a lot of houses and buildings going up all over the place. So that’s a struggle that agriculture in Michigan and this community face.”
TRX7: California is number 1 in agricultural diversity. Michigan is number 2. Getting water for irrigation is a big issue in California. Though, it’s not in Michigan. But low-density development is a threat even teenagers are worried about.. FFA is preparing them to find an answer to the problem. But they may not have until THEY’re 55 to do it.