Learning to do, doing to learn, learning to live, living to serve. The FFA motto gives members 12 short words to live by as they experience the leadership opportunities provided by  the national organization.  Those same 12 words were meaningful counsel to me, and an extraordinary group of peers from across the country, as we began a search for the next CEO of National FFA.

Over the past seven years, FFA experienced tremendous growth under the leadership of then-CEO, Dwight Armstrong. Dwight focused on enhancing FFA’s visibility, strengthening leadership opportunities for students and elevating career opportunities in food and agriculture. The organization has seen continued membership increases over this period with 629,327 student members today in grades seven through 12 in one of 7,757 local FFA chapters throughout the United States.

Headquartered in Indianapolis and now committed to holding its annual Convention in the city through 2024, National FFA has a significant economic impact locally. Over 64,000 attendees make their way to Indianapolis for the Convention, contributing $36 million in annual economic activity.

Although the organization was thriving, that didn’t keep change away. In late 2015, Dwight announced he would retire in 2016. As chair of the National FFA Foundation Board of Trustees, I knew we had big shoes to fill as we conducted a national search for the next innovator, the next talent developer,  and the next servant leader.

On August 1, it was announced that Mark Poeschl  would be the new CEO  of both the National FFA Organization and the National FFA Foundation. I’m excited to say that National FFA has found that right leader for this next period ahead for the organization. Not only does Poeschl bring extensive leadership  in the agriculture industry, as a former member of FFA and even president in his home state of Nebraska, it is clear he bleeds "blue and gold" for FFA’s students and agricultural education professionals.

Poeschl’s previous experience as the vice president, group director of stakeholder engagement for Cargill’s  Animal Nutrition business  affords him a strong background in global business, customer service, finance, and IT.

Poeschl’s management and leadership experience will mesh well with the  mission of FFA and enhance its vision to grow leaders, build communities and strengthen agriculture. He is a visionary leader who will be committed to student success within agricultural education and has clearly demonstrated in his professional experiences his abilities to collaborate, innovate, communicate and lead.

I am confident he is up to the task, and it is admittedly a big one. In the next five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the agricultural industry will have more than 60,000 job openings annually, and an estimated 22,500 of those openings will not have highly skilled graduates to fill them. National FFA is well positioned to help fill this gap.

Finding our future food and agriculture professionals will take more collaboration among  our universities, industry and government partners and economic development organizations like AgriNovus Indiana. The task is daunting as food and agriculture competes  with other industries and other geographies for top talent in IT, engineering, accounting, science, communications, management and other disciplines to fill careers in plant science, animal nutrition, food and health, high tech ag and other agbiosciences fields.

I am confident that Indiana is on a path to filling that talent pipeline in food and agriculture, which will have an enormous economic impact on the entire state and many of our rural communities that are home to food and agriculture employers. It’s an exciting time for Indiana’s food and agriculture sector.   With visionary leaders, an energized economic development platform around the agbiosciences,  strategic partnerships and vital collaborative efforts, we are laying the groundwork for Indiana to become "the go-to state" to grow talent and innovative solutions in this prominent and dynamic industry.  

Beth Bechdol is president and CEO of AgriNovus Indiana and Director of Agribusiness Strategies at Ice Miller LLP. 

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