FRESNO, Calif. — Calling the 5,000 assembled FFA members “the most important audience I speak to on an annual basis,” California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross told the students that they represent the promise and the possibilities for California agriculture.
Ross addressed FFA members during the Monday general session of the 86th annual State FFA Leadership Conference in Fresno. She encouraged them to be the next problem solvers for California agriculture and tackle water use and renewable energy issues.
“No one is better equipped to help with these challenges,” Ross said. She acknowledged the lack of trust in government and asked the students to be engaged, involved and informed in keeping society open and free.
Noting recent victories for FFA, Ross said students should recognize how effective they were in telling their story in an effort to keep agriculture education funding in the state budget. Though return of funding is not ensured, state budget committee members were unanimous in voting to retain the incentive grant school districts receive for agriculture education. The outcome won’t be known until next month during the May “revise” of the budget. The long awaited Ag Plates for California will also be coming soon and provide revenue for FFA chapters.
“You are the best equipped young people I know,” Ross told the agriculture students. “We need you and your belief in the future.”
On the final day of the conference, FFA members elected their state officers for 2014-15. Tulare Western senior Dipak Kumar was elected president, Sierra Bryant of Templeton was elected secretary, Haley Warner of Altaville-Bret Harte was elected vice president, Ellen Van Noy of Grass Valley Nevada Union was elected reporter and Luis Sanchez of Gonzales was elected sentinel.
Conference delegates also voted on ballot proposals. One of the most controversial — changing the women’s FFA uniform to include dark hosiery to conform with the national uniform — was shot down for at least the second time. Delegates did pass a proposal to increase the number of agriculture teachers on the State FFA board from 6 to 12 and passed a proposal to allow the state FFA advisor to determine the state FFA degree verification process.
Students also discussed recruitment and marketing FFA to middle school students and planned outreach events for state and local government leaders.
The conference included a career fair for students, giving them the chance to speak with representatives of state universities and community colleges. Schools on hand for the fair included Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Colorado State in addition to California universities.
The most inspiring parts of the conference are the farewell speeches from the outgoing state officers. Outgoing state secretary Gabrielle Franke, from Galt, asked FFA members to “open the door” for incoming members and make them a part of the FFA family.
Also completing their terms in office were State President Riley Nilsen from Nipomo, Vice President Valerie Canas from Santa Maria; State Treasurer Gage Willey from Nicolaus, State Reporter Sheldon Overton from McArthur and State Sentinel Hunter Berry from San Jacinto.
Star awards were presented to FFA members with Supervised Agriculture Experience projects that were exceptional. Named State Star Farmer was Joshua Allen of Firebaugh. Star in Ag Placement was Collin Fernandes of Tulare. Star in Agribusiness was Loren Mumby of Firebaugh. Star Reporter was Kaela Cooper of Templeton.
Nearly $30,000 in scholarships were awarded to FFA members during the conference.
Nicole Crouch of Galt and Cierra McClure of Lodi were awarded $1,000 scholarships from Actagro. The Almond Board of California awarded $1,000 scholarships to Brady Colburn, Rebecca Metz, Jesus Rios, Noah Sa, Scot Swan and Madison Zittel.
The Jerry L. Biggs Memorial Scholarship of $1,000 was awarded to Sierra Bryant. Betty Bushong Memorial Scholarships of $1,000 were awarded to Anna Gomes and Travis Vazquez. Jerry T. Davis Honorary Scholarship of $1,000 was awarded to Katie Fernandes. The $750 Paul Freitas Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Chase Steele. Hartford Insurance Scholarships were awarded to Trey Johnston, Tony Lopes and Cassidy Steenbock.
Mabel Jacks Memorial Scholarships went to Francesca Arnaudo, Andrew Francis and Haylee Saldivar. Byron J. McMahon Memorial Scholarship went to Christopher Sharp. The Dorothy McMillen Memorial Scholarship went to Caitlin Lopes. Vanessa Soto was awarded the Dean McNeilly Scholarship. Jaimie Lynne Pettey Memorial Scholarships went to Mackenzie Hurley, Briane LeBeau and Caitlin Stevenson.
Zenith Insurance Co. sponsored two $3,000 scholarships and two $2,000 scholarships. They were awarded to Dipak Kumar, Kelsey O’Donoghue, Mathew Ruby and Ashley Therien.