FFAAs the agriculture industry readies itself for the 95th annual National FFA Convention and Expo this week, AEM caught up with Ryan Schaefer, senior director, quality -- North American Ag at AEM member company CNH Industrial, to discuss why he’s so passionate about championing the efforts of FFA as the organization continues to build upon its legacy of advancing a bright future for ag.

Led by Schaefer and several association staff members, AEM recently launched an FFA Fan Group comprised of AEM member company representatives to accomplish a variety of goals aligned with the association’s support of FFA. Learn more about AEM’s FFA Fan Group.

AEM: Why do you feel it’s so important for you to be in attendance at the National FFA Convention this week and show support for the organization?

Schaefer: For me in particular, but also CNH Industrial, our participation in the National FFA Convention is important, because it allows us to engage with students and showcase a visible career path for individuals who are interested in the manufacturing industry or the equipment side of agriculture. Also, as a longtime supporter of FFA, we’ve found the National Convention is the single most important tool we have for reigniting people’s interest and energy in FFA and maintaining support for CNH’s partnership.

It's just incredibly rewarding for me to be in attendance and spend time not just with the FFA youth, but also the educators, supporters and policymakers of FFA in order to help share the future of what I believe is a youth organization that has a tremendously positive impact on both our industry and the future of agriculture.

AEM: What specifically are you looking forward to most this year? Is there any particular activity or event that is a notable highlight for you?

Schaefer: I’ve been on the panel to select the American Star in Agribusiness. That’s always been valuable experience for me. I often compare it to my own FFA experience, and how things have evolved over time, but also how they’ve stayed the same. I’ve also found one of the more interesting and rewarding things for me is just being able to use Convention as a means to engage, maintain ties with and support my hometown FFA chapter in Seneca, Illinois.

AEM: In what ways to you try to participate in FFA these days and continue to contribute to its long-term success and longevity?

Schaefer: When given an opportunity by Case IH and CNH Industrial to give back, I’ve stepped in and not hesitated.

I’ve moved around so much throughout my career, and I’ve been away from my home in the Midwest for so long. Additionally, I’ve spent a lot of time focused on personal and professional growth at times in my career, that I had sort of lost my connection to FFA. So, when I had the opportunity to serve on the FFA Sponsors Board, it gave me an avenue back in that has created a greater passion for giving back to FFA, and for promoting industry support of FFA within CNH Industrial and other organizations.

Recently, I’ve also taken on the Chairmanship of a new FFA Fan Group within AEM. I’m working very closely with association staff on that group, and I see a lot of growth opportunity there to continue to promote and inspire through the industry the value of engagement through FFA.

AEM: Why do you feel it’s so important for young people in ag to get involved with FFA?

Schaefer: To me, it’s the doors that it opens. It’s the experiences that FFA provides that you don’t get from more local youth organizations, or groups that are more tightly oriented within your school district. So much as you work your way through junior high and high school is concentrated your local area, so development has a tendency to kind of stop at the state level. The difference for me with FFA is the opportunities for leadership development and career development on a national scale.

I firmly believe I would not have had the ambition nor the confidence to jump both feet into my career the way I did if it wasn’t for the national-level leadership development opportunities I had as a high school student through FFA.

AEM: Once they do get involved, what’s the key for young people to get the most out of their experience with FFA?

Schaefer: Try everything. Anything that even just piques your interest, give it a shot.

When I was just starting as a freshman at University of Illinois, there were these discovery courses, where you could take an elective or two that was completely unrelated to your major. It encouraged you to branch out and explore the world outside of your comfort zone. That’s very much what FFA provides. Just because you may or may not have grown up on a farm, doesn’t mean you might not excel in dairy judging, or forestry management, or in land use evaluation. I think that’s what’s most interesting about FFA. From the very start, as you progress in your FFA career, there are so many different opportunities. Your advisors and educators will literally train you in the basics of things like ag mechanization, public speaking, parliamentary procedure – things in which you may not otherwise be exposed but could develop an interest in. And I think that gives you a head start on answering the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and how to go about pursuing that path.

In short, don’t limit yourself. That’s really the best advice I can give.

AEM: What excites you most about FFA and where that organization is headed at this point?

Schaefer: The leaders and businesses that partner with FFA are learning as much from the members, educators and organization as they stand to learn from us. If we’re developing the future leaders of agribusiness, then I’m very excited to see how businesses like CNH Industrial and similar organizations grow, evolve and become a better, more conscientious industry over time.

AEM: Anything else you’d like to add?

Schaefer: I’m just really excited to spend four days in Indianapolis at National FFA Convention this week, as I do every October. It’s one of the most rewarding weeks for me, personally and professionally. So, as you grow into your career, stay optimistic that you’ll find your way back to FFA. The opportunity to give back will be presented to you at some point in time. And when that opportunity does indeed present itself, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to try and take advantage.

For more AEM member perspectives, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.