As FFA evolved over the course of its nearly 90-year history, a critical need arose in agriculture: the importance of attracting young men and women to careers related to science, business, engineering and math (STEM). Today, the organization is prepared to be the conduit to STEM careers by supplying FFA members who will be the next plant pathologists, ranchers, veterinarians, consumers and civic leaders. FFA is very much in the business of growing leaders, strengthening agriculture and building communities.

The training needed for success in STEM fields is facilitated through school-based agricultural education using a 3-component model encompassing high school classroom and laboratory instruction; experiential, work-based learning and participation in FFA with its conferences, online experiences, recognition programs and local chapter activities. Each component prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resources systems.

Two great illustrations of our work in STEM are the National FFA Agriscience Fair and the FFA Star in Agriscience award, two programs within FFA that highlight the role of science in agriculture. Students who participate are top-notch and empowered to develop projects that deal with everything from genetics and diseases to food science and environmental protection. During the annual National FFA Convention & Expo, selected finalists are questioned and judged on their agriscience knowledge, quality of research and presentation. These two programs demonstrate how local FFA chapters help educate and hone our members’ skills and awareness of STEM careers.

It is critical that FFA award and recognize our members’ success in the areas of STEM. We will continue to infuse STEM concepts into our national events and award programs. In addition to technical stills, we also sharpen and measure power skills, those interpersonal abilities critical for organizing and running productive teams and companies.

All signs suggest that agriculture is heating up, and we know that job opportunities are plentiful. With world population projected to grow from 7 to 9 billion people by 2050, we will need agriculture to feed, clothe and provide sustainable energy for to meet our needs. Increasing agricultural output will require innovation and new technologies, hence the emphasis on STEM education.

Nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture and related job openings are expected in the U.S. each of the next five years, but we’ll only have about 35,000 graduates in food, agriculture, renewable resources or the environment each year to fill them, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University.

By working with partners such as AgriNovus Indiana and AgCareers.com, our strategic partner for career success, FFA hopes to illuminate the path to careers in agriculture. Other relationships allow us to amplify our voice in the education realm. As a member of the STEMConnector’s Food & Ag Council, we will leverage our collective wisdom and resources to take steps that create and connect to careers in food and agriculture.

FFA members are making an impact on agriculture in the United States and throughout the world. By helping these students develop their potential for leadership, personal growth and career success, we ensure American agriculture will have talent it needs to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

W. Dwight Armstrong is the CEO of the National FFA Organization, the premier youth development organization for agricultural education students that provides life-changing experiences for its members.  The mission of the organization is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.