WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2016 - At first, it might seem a little baffling that some of the world’s biggest ag companies would have a presence at a convention where almost no one in attendance has the wherewithal to buy their products.

But that was the case last week at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, where John Deere reps could be seen manning a booth just across the walkway from Syngenta and around the corner from DuPont Pioneer. The booths had a different focus than what one might see at a farmer-focused show like Commodity Classic, so instead of rows of combines and tractors for their tire-kicking pleasure, FFA members – mostly high school and college students wearing their distinctive blue jackets – were greeted with virtual farming experiences, a drone obstacle course, and information about what it’s like to work for some of these companies.

Luke Zerby, a past FFA member who now is a marketing manager for New Holland’s agriculture division, told Agri-Pulse that he sees the displays as a way to “get the younger generation thinking about the future of agriculture, and not just from an ag equipment standpoint,” but to also “open up their minds about what the possibilities are.”

Maybe, Zerby said that could lead to an inspiration for a new product, or possibly the desire to work for a company like New Holland in the future. In addition to the product and technology displays, the convention’s expo, formerly referred to as the career fair, also offered a bumper crop of swag – T-shirts, sunglasses, drawstring bags and writing utensils – that proved popular with the crowd of more than 65,000 FFA members, advisers and guests.

While ag companies and colleges remain the dominant forces at the expo, a handful of Washington-based ag groups including ethanol trade association Growth Energy had displays. Standing in the shadow of a 42-foot ethanol-powered racing boat, Cory Harris, an executive coordinator with Growth Energy, told Agri-Pulse the expo offers a unique audience with long-lasting benefits.

“If we can instill in them the importance and the value of engine performance, we can really create a core group of future industry leaders that are invested in the product and want to give back to the industry and see the value of it and want to help it grow,” he said. Growth Energy’s booth also had materials on engine performance, which led to discussions with FFA members about how the fuel might be used in their lawn mowers and chainsaws.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, CropLife America, and the National Corn Growers Association were also among expo participants. NCGA had information on a scholarship as well as the traditional giveaways, but also literature on policy issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Zach Kinne, a past national FFA president who now serves as a director of public policy with NCGA, said even though some of the attendees aren’t yet of voting age, FFA members still showed interest in some of the policy issues.

“As you look around, this is the future of our industry,” Kinne told Agri-Pulse. “There’s a lot of decisions being made right now that really do impact the future of these students.”

The convention returned to Indianapolis this year after a three-year stint in Louisville. Just over 64,000 people attended this year’s event, which will return to Indianapolis next October. 


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