A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
As our world evolves and technological advances propel us forward at lightning speed, one constant remains – agriculture. No matter how smart our cell phones become or how large our television screens grow, agriculture persists as the economic, social, and environmental binding force.
According to the New York State Agriculture and Markets website, about 20 percent of New York State’s land area, or more than 7 million acres, is farmland. There are nearly 36,000 family farms producing some of the world’s best food. Agriculture is a major driver of the New York State economy and the state ranks high among the major agricultural states in the nation, ranking in the top 10 in 30 commodities. New York is the second largest producer of apples, maple syrup, and snap beans, third in cabbage, grapes, and dairy (which is the largest segment of the agricultural sector), and fourth in pears.
Farming is also the tie that binds many communities together socially. Farmers markets, harvest fests and other fine events are celebrated year round. These types of gatherings are reminders of our heritage and a welcome chance to come together and stay in touch with friends and family.
With our growing environmental concerns, we also look to the farming community for guidance. Farmers have always been among the best stewards of the land; after all, it is a central part of their livelihood. More and more the news media draw attention to the development of “green” industries. Nothing is greener than agriculture.
Agriculture contributes so much to our daily lives, but it is an industry that has specific challenges. It is a demanding occupation and those who take up the farming mantle are very special. Preparing the next generation of farmers is also a critical role. All of those individuals are being duly recognized from February 16 – 23 – National Future Farmers of America Week.
Founded in 1928 by thirty-three young farm boys at a hotel in Kansas City, the FFA is currently made up of nearly 670,000 student members in grades seven through twelve. There are over 8,600 chapters headquartered in every state in the nation, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. More than 11,000 advisors and agriculture teachers work with students on subjects like agriscience, biotechnology, and horticulture. FFA students divide their time between classroom learning and hands-on experience in the field. After high school, many of these students go on to productive careers in various agriculture fields. Others parlay their FFA knowledge into further studies at colleges and universities and graduate with advanced degrees.
It is clear that the FFA has played a significant role in making certain that agricultural education is a mainstay of our communities. I am also confident that the FFA will continue to connect students to exciting careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.
The FFA promotes, among other things, citizenship, volunteerism, patriotism and cooperation. The motto, “learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, living to serve” gives direction of purpose to the students who take an active role in succeeding in agricultural education.
I am proud to represent a number of Future Farmers of America chapters – with several new chapters starting recently as well. I often see the students in their traditional blue corduroy jackets at our local county fairs, and just welcomed several chapters from across my district to the Capitol in Albany. Their dedication to the mission of premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education is admirable.
Last year I successfully fought for an additional $112,000 in the state budget (for a total of $842,000) to expand FFA and help prepare young New Yorkers to become leaders in agriculture. I will once again be standing for our young farmers as we negotiate this year’s state budget.
I salute all of the youth, teachers, and advisors and wish them the best during National FFA Week.