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Q&A With Mark Poeschl, CEO of FFA

When Mark Poeschl became CEO of the National FFA Organization in August 2016, the group’s board of directors challenged him to position FFA to be the agricultural education organization of the 21st century. Yes, FFA had seen great success in recent years, including record membership numbers, but what was next?

The challenge, “has provided an opportunity for me and our leadership team to think about what the next generation of leaders will need to have, in terms of talent, skill sets, and leadership abilities, in order to contribute to agriculture and an industry that will need to feed 9 billion people by 2050,” he says.

One such opportunity is FFA’s national convention, held this year on October 25-28 in Indianapolis.

“For some of our students, this is one of their first experiences in an urban area,” Poeschl says. “The opportunity to visit a city like Indianapolis presents a great way for them to experience a different part of the world. A number of these students will compete in national contests, which is a very unique experience. Plus, they’ll be exposed to high-quality speakers and sponsors who have a long-term commitment to their success.”

SF: You have just entered your second year as CEO of the National FFA Organization. What are your thoughts of the job so far?

MP: Without question, this organization is focused on students and leadership development, and it’s deeply engrained in agriculture, which are all things I knew from my former experience as an FFA member and state officer. Even though agriculture has evolved and changed – and FFA has, as well – the core tenets of national FFA remain in place, and those are serving students and developing the next generation of leaders in agriculture.

SF: What challenges does FFA experience today?

MP: From a student standpoint, we are up against other activities that take the student’s time. As an organization, there is no question that the agricultural economy has been challenging, and that has impacted some of the great companies and individuals who have been very loyal supporters of FFA. So as our friends are impacted by the current state of the agricultural economy, FFA is also challenged to be very responsive to that and to be very effective and efficient with the funds that are entrusted to us.

SF: What successes have you seen in your first year at the helm?

MP: When I came on board, I said I wanted to be able to be involved in key areas such as inclusion and diversity. I also wanted FFA to take a very active role in the recruitment and retention of agriculture educators, and expand the giving base of FFA. Our plans in the area of inclusion and diversity are progressing with a high degree of priority. Additionally, 74% of college ag education graduates are going back into the classroom to teach, and the loss of ag teachers each year is below 5%. Both of those figures are better than in other areas of education. In regard to our giving base, we’re seeing folks from other allied industries in agriculture step up and play a role in supporting what we’re doing at FFA.

SF: What are your impressions of the next generation of American agriculturalists? Is there reason to be optimistic?

MP: You can judge that by the comments I get from individuals who observe our students. Whether they are on Capitol Hill advocating for agriculture or at their state or national convention, people comment about the way our students conduct themselves. People comment that they have a great deal of faith in the future of young people and the future of agriculture when they see those blue jackets. I feel the exact same way. They represent what I think will be the success of agriculture in the 21st century.

SF Bio

Name: Mark Poeschl
Title: CEO, National FFA Organization & National FFA Foundation
Background: The Nebraska native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate has held various posts in the animal nutrition industry, most recently as a vice president at Cargill Animal Nutrition. He is a former FFA member and a past state FFA president.

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