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Q&A: Ray Starling, Special Assistant to President Trump

Editor's note: On May 11, 2018 USDA announced Ray Starling will replace Heidi Green as chief of staff effective June 1.

Ray Starling, the 1996-1997 National FFA Eastern Region Vice President, recently received a new position within the White House, focusing on agriculture policy.

Starling was previously Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and is a former member of the Midway FFA Chapter in North Carolina. FFA New Horizons talked to Starling about his new ag policy position and how FFA prepared him for the task.

NH: What are your duties as Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Trade, and Food Assistance?

RS: The National Economic Council is one of several policy-making councils in the White House. Each of the seven commissioned officers on the council is tasked with surveying the landscape within our sector (mine happens to be agriculture) and making policy recommendations to the president that will help move the industry forward. 

NH: As an FFA member of the Midway FFA Chapter in North Carolina, did you imagine this particular career path for yourself?

RS: Coming out of FFA, I understood that the ag sector needed great technical experts, but I also understood that it would need folks who could articulate on the policy side of the equation. FFA did give me that insight. Certainly I never thought I’d be advising the president of the United States on ag when I was back at Midway in Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina.

NH: How did FFA prepare you for your current career?

RS: I think when you go to the convention and you’re surrounded by tens of thousands of students who are equally as excited about agricultural education, FFA, and the blue and gold, that gives you some sense of peace and comfort that, ‘Hey, this is a cool career path. I’m not going to let anybody else tell me anything different.’ FFA provided me with a ton of technical training, as well. Anyone who slogs through parliamentary procedure or poultry judging practices knows what I’m talking about. 

NH: What is one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture, and how can FFA members help?

RS: When I think about limits on what we’re able to do in the ag sector, one of our biggest limitations is access to talent. But one of the best ways to address the challenge for talent in agriculture overall is to make sure we have the right talent in the ag ed classroom. With the right teachers there, we will produce the right graduates with the right attitudes about careers in agriculture, thus solving our bigger problem. 

By Julie Woodard. Read the full interview in FFA New Horizons

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