Checkoff support brings ‘blue wave’ to FFA Convention 

In 2022, the average age of the U.S. farmer was 58 years old, according to the 2022 Census of Agriculture. As the average age for farmers continues to increase, the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) is making checkoff investments with young growers in mind. 

“It’s important to get young people involved and make sure that they have an opportunity to explore what they want to do,” MSR&PC Director Gene Stoel said.  

On April 22, MSR&PC joined the “blue wave” at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus for the 95th Minnesota FFA State Convention, where the Council sponsored two proficiency awards – Fiber and Oil Crop Production and Agriscience Research – Plant Systems. Proficiency awards recognize FFA members who are exploring and becoming established in agricultural career pathways through supervised agricultural experiences. Stoel, along with MSR&PC Vice Chair Gail Donkers, attended the awards ceremony and spoke during the Convention’s third general session. 

“MSR&PC focuses on different areas of soybean production, so the categories we sponsored fit really well into our goals as an organization,” Stoel said. “This investment should give us some very good returns in the future.” 

Proficiency award winners put their blood, sweat and tears into their projects, some of which span multiple years. The winner of the Fiber and Oil Crop Production award, Jacob Sowers from the Maple River FFA chapter, spent countless hours growing 168 acres of soybeans crop shared with his brother.  

“I knew it was going to be a lot of management and new opportunities and new tasks that I’d have to deal with,” said Sowers, who has competed in the soils career development event since eighth grade.  

Alex Confer took home the Agriscience Research – Plant Systems award. Hailing from the Sleepy Eye FFA chapter, Confer’s project was a conglomeration of two agriscience projects that she worked on over the last two years.   

“In class last year, I tested how different nutrients would affect plant growth,” Confer said, “and this year I tested how different soils would affect plant growth.”  

During the third general session, Stoel had a full-circle moment when he, along with Donkers, took the stage after the FFA choir performed.  

“Fifty-three years ago, I was a member of the FFA choir, which was quite a stretch for me because I was just a shy kid from way down in southwest Minnesota, and to come up here and be part of something this great was just fantastic,” Stoel said. 

Leadership must run in the Stoel family. Later that evening, Stoel’s granddaughter, Lauren, was named as state FFA president.  

“It’s pretty exciting,” Stoel said. “I’m a little scared for her, she’s going to be busy.” 

A key element of getting the next generation involved includes educating them on the many ways MSR&PC works on behalf of Minnesota’s soybean growers. During her speech, Donkers shone a light on the Council’s work. 

“Like many of my fellow directors, I’m a proud alumnus of FFA and our family bleeds blue,” Donkers. “We’re proud to once again invest checkoff dollars in this year’s state convention. As part of our strategic mission to improve the profitability of today and tomorrow’s farmers we are committed to supporting groups like FFA that help lift up and grow the next generation of producers.” 

Wisely directing soybean checkoff investments, MSR&PC has no doubt that investing in the future is vital to the growth of the soybean industry. 

“This is the future sitting in this room right here. If we don’t continue to support the leaders that are expected to come up and fill our places, we are going to be lost,” Stoel said. “So, I applaud everybody that is here, I hope you explore your passions, do what you can and enjoy it.” 

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