FFA has faced major changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, including national leadership transitions and new virtual opportunities.

At a Northwest Agricultural Show virtual session Tuesday, FFA panelists talked about changes within the organization.

Despite COVID-19, they said, FFA’s membership is growing. Moving to virtual and hybrid formats has been challenging but has opened new opportunities for students. On the national level, FFA’s CEO since 2016, Mark Poeschl, resigned in mid-January and the organization is expected to announce a new CEO by mid-summer.

“A lot is changing this year,” said Briana Tanaka, former FFA student and the event moderator.

When Poeschel stepped down last month, neither he nor the organization commented publicly on his reasons for leaving.

“It’s been my distinct honor to serve in this role since August 2016. I know I haven’t always made everyone happy; I know there have been challenges we have faced during my tenure, but my intentions have been for the best interests of FFA and our student members,” Poeschel said in a statement at the time.

In the virtual session, Brian Field, president of Harvest Capital Company and chairman of the National FFA Foundation’s President Advisory Council, told attendees that Poeschel left FFA “on very strong financial footing and poised for the future in a way that we’ve never seen before — very, very strong, and very fiscally ready to expand.”

Now, Field said, “a CEO search is going on.” Field said he anticipates FFA will announce a new CEO around July.

In the meantime, he said, “FFA is alive and well and in very good shape.”

According to panelists, FFA has around 776,000 members and continues growing — even during the pandemic.

Grace Adams, a recent high school graduate and Oregon’s current FFA president, said although she sympathizes with people’s frustration with COVID-19 lockdowns, she’s tired of people assuming her year “sucks.” In fact, Adams said, it’s been an amazing year for FFA.

Adams said she’s been able to teach virtual agriculture curriculum to students across Oregon, build a wider network, organize “safe” business and industry tours and even hosted an online statewide leadership camp.

“It’s been a different experience,” she said, citing challenges. “But we’ve also had new opportunities.”

Not all FFA students come from a rural background. One of the panelists, Isabelle James, said she grew up in an urban community and estimated she’s never had a backyard larger than about 20 by 20 square feet.

“FFA opened me to ag,” she said.

Joining the organization opened her mind to a whole world of career possibilities. She said her heart is currently set on becoming a veterinarian.

Field agreed that FFA has helped students, regardless of their backgrounds, succeed in agricultural careers. He said that as virtual options continue to expand, he expects the organization to continue thriving.

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