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USDA Officials Tell National FFA Officers to Become Leaders, Risk Takers

By Wayne Maloney, Office of Communications

Officials from USDA and the Department of Education met at the Agriculture Department yesterday with National FFA student leaders from across the country.  The students are visiting Washington, D.C., for the annual National FFA State President’s Conference.

Among those addressing the students was Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier, Dr. Roger Beachy, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager.

Dr. Beachy noted that the world’s population continues to increase, and the generation represented by the FFA leaders will be challenged to double food production with a limited amount of water and land.  He also said that while the students should specialize in a chosen field, they should always be aware of how their area fits into “the context of the world.”  Dr. Beachy and Ms. Dann-Messier also took a moment to acknowledge the work of Dr. Larry Case with the Department of Education, who is planning to retire after 40 years of work, much of it with the National FFA.  Ms. Dann-Messier said she is impressed by the National FFA’s “strong leadership skills.” She called on the students to be effective communicators, and to seek advanced degrees.

Under Secretary Tonsager told the students that what is needed most is leadership. Rural America, he said, is losing population, and it is up to young leaders to “turn that around.” The Under Secretary noted that with support from Congress and the Obama Administration, funding is being provided to improve infrastructure in rural America, but it is up to a new generation of leaders to “put the pieces together.” Biofuel production, he said, is one of the “single greatest economic opportunities” in history for rural America.  That, coupled with broadband, will help make rural America a better place.  Under Secretary Tonsager concluded his remarks by challenging the students to become “educated advocates, community leaders, willing to take risks and make choices.”

One of the student leaders on hand for the event was Lydia Shumaker, of Palmer Alaska. A recent graduate of Palmer High School, she lives on a farm in the Mat-Su Valley about 50 miles north of Anchorage.  Her father raises vegetables and also has swine and dairy cows. She said her association with the National FFA is “the best thing that ever happened to me, giving me leadership and communications skills. I would recommend FFA to every student in the nation.” Ms. Shumaker says she plans to pursue a degree in animal sciences and wants to be a veterinarian. Before she does that, she plans to participate in the Market Beef competition at the Alaska State Fair.

USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager addresses National FFA officers from around the nation at the Department of Agriculture’s Whitten Building.

USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager addresses National FFA officers from around the nation at the Department of Agriculture’s Whitten Building.


Lydia Shumaker, a recent graduate of Palmer, Alaska High School and a FFA officer, says her association with the FFA was “the best thing to ever happen to me.”

Lydia Shumaker, a recent graduate of Palmer, Alaska High School and a FFA officer, says her association with the FFA was “the best thing to ever happen to me.”

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