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Gov. Parson declares National FFA week

by Ryan Pivoney | February 23, 2023 at 4:01 a.m.
Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Colton Roy wave to FFA students as the tractor passes by the Capitol's east entrance Wednesday morning, Feb. 22, 2023. Roy is state FFA president and rode from the Governor's Mansion with Parson. As part of FFA Week activities, Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe drove John Deere tractors to the Capitol, each of which carried an FFA state officer. They were greeted by approximately 300 students representing 40 Missouri schools. Parson, Kehoe and Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture addressed the students to thank them for their interest in farming and agriculture before presenting the state officeholders with a proclamation declaring this week FFA Week in Missouri.

Growing up on a farm usually means hard work, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson told about 300 FFA students Wednesday, but "you've got to have a little fun along the way."

"You've got to enjoy it," the governor said.

Parson, a third-generation farmer, commuted Wednesday morning to the state Capitol in a green John Deere tractor with Missouri FFA president Colton Roy, from Trenton. They were followed by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a first-generation farmer, driving a second tractor with Missouri FFA vice president Hannah Rice, from Brunswick.

Since becoming governor, Parson has celebrated National FFA Week by joining thousands of students who drive tractors to school for a day. The two tractors, supplied by the area Heritage Tractors dealership, left the Governor's Mansion shortly before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and traveled up West Capitol Avenue.

After arriving at the Capitol, Parson presented a proclamation declaring Feb. 18-25 as National FFA Week in Missouri and took a photo with FFA students from more than 40 schools. Next year, Parson said he wants to invite as many FFA groups to the Capitol as he can to "make a real big show" and "have tractors that circle this whole building."

FFA is an agricultural career-oriented student organization with local, state and national chapters. Missouri has approximately 25,375 FFA students and is among the nation's top eight states for FFA membership.

"The future of agriculture, the future of how we feed the world, how we feed the United States and this state, really is going to rely on your shoulders," Parson told the students.

Whether students choose to become farmers, business owners or choose a different career path, Parson said it's important they have a fundamental understanding of agriculture and the need to preserve it.

The number of farmers in Missouri is shrinking. The state still ranks second in the nation for number of farms but is 12th in acreage of land used for farming, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics from 2019.

The state had approximately 95,320 farms in 2017, according to the latest agriculture census from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 2012 census recorded more than 99,000 farms in the state while the 2007 census found nearly 108,000.

Parson said it will be up to future generations to turn the trend around.

"You've got to be able to tell the story," he told the FFA students Wednesday. "I hope you understand how important that is to me as the governor of this state and for the rest of us here this morning, what it is you do."

Kehoe said Missouri's future is bright because of the number of students involved in FFA.

Chris Chinn, Missouri's agriculture director, said the students inspire her department to do better.

The number of statewide leaders with backgrounds in agriculture shows how influential the industry is in Missouri, Parson said. The governor and first lady own a cattle farm in Bolivar, the lieutenant governor owns a 700-acre horse and cattle farm in Phelps and Pulaski counties, and Chinn raises hogs, cows, corn, soybean and hay on her family farm in Shelby County.

"We're pretty proud of that here in this state," Parson said.

The agriculture and forestry industry supports approximately 456,618 jobs in Missouri and generates roughly $93.7 billion in economic output, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture's 2021 Economic Contribution Study.

Rep. Willard Haley, R-Eldon, watched the governor announce National FFA Week from the Capitol lawn and said it was "an outstanding display of support" for agriculture education.

Haley is a farmer and was an agriculture teacher and FFA adviser for 25 years before becoming a lawmaker. He recognized FFA groups from Nichols Career Center, Eldon, Eugene, New Bloomfield and Versailles on Wednesday.

Legislators need to understand the foundation an agricultural education can provide students, Haley said. Every student can't become lawyers or doctors, or want to, he said.

"We just need to keep in mind that career and technical education programs are vital to our state's success," Haley said, noting that agriculture is Missouri's top industry.

Jeff Suthoff, an FFA adviser in Ashland, said Wednesday's event was a good opportunity for students to meet the governor and other students from around the state, and witness how agriculture is shaped by government and politics.

"It's more about agriculture and political aspects and some of the challenges with feeding the world with decreasing resources and increasing demands," he said.

  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Colton Roy holds the cab door of the John Deere tractor open as Missouri Gov. Mike Parson exits the farm equipment Wednesday on the Capitol's south side. Roy is state president of Missouri FFA and joined Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe on the ride from the Governor's Mansion to the state Capitol.
  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Standing in front of the John Deere tractor Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe drove from the Governor's Mansion to the Missouri Capitol, Kehoe addresses students and advisors from Missouri FFA to thank them for their continued work in the program and consideration of becoming farmers.
  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Gov. Mike Parson reads portions of the proclamation declaring FFA Week in Missouri to state office holders and the nearly 300 other FFA officers visiting the state Capitol Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Standing from near to far next to Parson are: President Colton Roy, First Vice-President Hannah Rice and Secretary Jodi Robinson. Also shown in the photograph are first lady Teresa Parson, far left, and Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, in red jacket.

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