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Cory Word, 2020 national finalist in the Environmental Science and Natural Resources Management Placement Proficiency Award area
Jan 20 2021

Successful Stewardship

Land improvements, cover crops help Cory Word become national finalist in the Environmental Science and Natural Resources Management Placement Proficiency Award

Cory Word, 2020 national finalist in the Environmental Science and Natural Resources Management Placement Proficiency Award area

Land stewardship. It’s top of mind for Cory Word, and it helped him become a 2020 national finalist in the Environmental Science and Natural Resources Management Placement Proficiency Award area. Working for his grandfather at Hellwege Farms LLC, Word helps maintain and improve land quality for the row crop, hay and beef cattle operation.


In his role there, Word repairs and creates new waterways and integrates cover crops to improve soil health and prevent erosion. He also assists with manure management for the farm’s feedlot.


“My SAE (supervised agricultural experience) has taught me environmental stewardship as I take care of the land the most effective way, and my engagement in natural resource management has helped me achieve my goals in my diversified agricultural production experience.”


With little forehand knowledge of natural resource management, Word began by maintaining the farm’s current waterways. He then worked to repair and reseed those areas with wheat and fescue to prevent soil erosion and future washouts.


“One challenge I faced with my SAE was bad field conditions for planting due to increased rainfall in the fall and a lengthy harvest due to weather conditions,” Word explains. “The lengthy harvest left crops in the field during the time the cover crops should have been planted. When field conditions finally improved, I did not have much time to plant the cover crops.”


Word says his knowledge of environmental science and natural resources increased dramatically throughout his SAE. While he began his project with an academic knowledge of cover crops, waterways and erosion, he says his placement SAE helped him implement that environmental and natural resources knowledge.


“My SAE has taught me to be responsible with my time and passionate about agriculture and environmental practices for the future,” Word says. “Good stewardship of the land and the future viability of the land is something I have become very passionate about.”


by Joann Pipkin

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Carley Esser, MO FFA Alumnus
Jan 20 2021

Launchpad for Learning

FFA helped sharpen Carley Esser’s career development, relationship skills all while cultivating her passion for agriculture.

Carley Esser, MO FFA Alumnus

Carley Esser didn’t grow up on a farm. But that didn’t stop her from learning the impact of the agriculture industry and from making the most of her FFA experience.


Today, the former Boonville FFA member is a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., for Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04). In her role, Esser researches and develops policy, engages with constituents and works with agencies to help influence policy and regulations that impact Missouri and the fourth congressional district. She also works on trade, energy, environment, education, transportation and foreign aid policy.


“Having not grown up directly on a farm, FFA helped me gain a basic knowledge of the agriculture industry, take advantage of hands-on experiences I would have otherwise not been exposed to, and develop a love for public speaking — all while building a national network of amazing individuals,” Esser explains.


As an FFA member, Esser held officer positions, participated in as many career and leadership development events as possible and admits rushing through art class projects so she could speed extra time in the agriculture classroom. Her Supervised Agricultural Experience project focused on raising chickens and helping her dad in his construction business while also working with the local parks and recreation department.


Looking back on her time in the blue jacket, Esser says FFA helped her build a resume´ and sharpen her interview skills by competing in a variety of contents and experiences. The same preparation helped her apply for agriculture-related internships and experiences that all assisted her in preparing for her current career.


“My first trip to our nation’s capital was because of FFA’s Washington Leadership Conference, and now every year I get to see the flood of blue jackets across our city,” Esser says. “Even after adding a few more trips to Arlington Cemetery, I am just as excited when I get to explore the monuments today as I was then.”


Esser is quick to note you get out of an activity what you put into it. In fact, she remembers feeling devastated when she passed up for a chapter officer position. The experience taught her both humility and time management.


She explains, “It was brought to my attention that I was putting more time into sports, and I could not expect to reap the benefits of being an officer if I wasn’t willing to also put in the effort of supporting a team. I needed to better manage my time if I wanted to succeed on the ball field and the FFA field.”


To Esser, FFA provides a launchpad for students to develop into well-rounded, contributing members of society.


“You don’t have to be going into production agriculture to benefit from the FFA,” she says. “While that is an important and valuable route, the industry is so diverse and needs advocates both inside and outside the industry.”


Esser encourages FFA members to be active in the organization as well as other opportunities. She says exposing yourself to all you can while focusing on building and keeping genuine relationships is key.


 “While experience plays a large role in getting jobs, I am where I am today because of exposure to opportunities and the people who helped get me here,” Esser says. “Every career door opened because of genuine relationships with people who believed in my ability and trusted that I would not let them down. FFA helped expose me to various career paths, people and opportunities to put learning into practice.”

by Joann Pipkin

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Dec 17 2020

10 Tips for Scholarship Apps

College bound? Now is the time to get financial assistance!

The excitement of graduating from high school and beginning a collegiate career is among the most celebrated milestones in life. But, along with the excitement comes figuring out how to pay for school, which can be a burden for some students. Scholarships are the ideal option to help pay for college, and the amount of financial assistance available for students entering higher education is vast. Scholarship applications do require time and commitment, but the task pays off when you put your best effort into them. To help with the application process, consider these tips to improve your chances of obtaining scholarships.


  1. Start early. The earlier you begin the scholarship application process the better. If you begin applying your junior year, you will have plenty of practice and enough time to secure enough scholarships to hopefully pay for the first year of school by the time your freshman year of college rolls around.


  1. Don’t avoid essays. It might seem like a daunting task, but do not skip over applications that require an essay. Take your time, review the required content for the essay, edit the draft and edit again before submission.


  1. Watch deadlines. Be sure to keep track of all scholarship deadlines. Write the dates on a calendar that you will see daily. Your hard work on the application will be for nothing if you don’t submit it by the deadline.


  1. Look for unique opportunities. Scholarships for specific things like heritage, for example, can help boost chances of receiving more financial assistance. There is even a scholarship available for getting inspiration from a Branson show.


  1. Let the small scholarships add up. You don’t necessarily have to apply for the scholarships with the most amounts. It’s okay to apply for small amounts and let those build up over time. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive the largest amount, because any scholarship should be celebrated!


  1. Request letters of recommendation from people outside your family and friend circle. Try to reach outside your usual circle when asking for letters of recommendation. Think of anyone in your academic career such as, teachers, coaches or advisors. Also, consider your work history and associated coworkers, bosses, etc.


  1. Use the academic resources around you to find scholarships- advisors, teachers, etc when looking for scholarships. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information. Advisors and teachers are great resources for this and likely have more insight on opportunities that you may have missed while doing online searches.


  1. Research the school before you write your essay and align your goals and values. Every school you apply to will be unique in its own way. Be sure to cater your application essays to the goals and values of the specific college or university. Your essay will stand out and show you have done your research.


  1. Get help proofreading your essays and applications. Ask your school counselor or a trusted teacher assist with reviewing your essays and applications. The most important part of any scholarship application is making sure it is error-free, including spelling and grammatical mistakes. Have trusted professionals review your applications and essays before submitting.


  1. Have a positive online presence. You never know when they’re going to look! Anyone can see your social profiles, including those reviewing your scholarship applications. Conduct a personal social media audit and consider whether or not your posts would help or hurt your chances of receiving a scholarship.



Looking for a scholarship opportunity? Check out the listing on our website at

from Missouri State University Agricultural Communications Dept.

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Keith Coble, former Missouri FFA member
Dec 17 2020

Unlocking Ambition

Former FFA member Keith Coble tells you how his time in the blue jacket impacts him still today.

From an agricultural education classroom in Missouri to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., the skills learned, and memories made, during his time in FFA have followed Keith Coble throughout every step of his professional career.


Coble’s first degree was in agricultural education. After teaching high school ag in Carl Junction, Missouri, he went back to school to obtain a degree in agricultural economics. Coble had the opportunity to work in Washington D.C. at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and on the Senate Agriculture Committee on Capitol Hill before settling into his current role.


Today, as the Mississippi State University agricultural economics department head and assistant to the vice president of the division of agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine, Coble works with the college’s teaching, research and extension programs.


Though his job titles have changed over time, the skillset he calls upon to succeed has remained the same.


“I constantly use leadership skills here at the university, as well as when I was working on Capitol Hill,” Coble says. “There were experiences I gained in FFA around working with people, speaking to people and trying to make progress on something as a team. I learned those skills in high school, and I often think of them when I meet other adults who didn’t learn those lessons along the way.”


Coble most enjoyed the competition fostered by Career Development Events and Leadership Development Events in FFA. He participated in several speaking events and participated on teams like livestock judging.


Even as an advisor, Coble enjoyed training students for contests. Leaning on his interest in agricultural business and economics, he even trained a national-winning farm management team.


In addition to the tangible skills he took away, Coble says his experiences in the organization unlocked something that would ultimately change his trajectory. 


“I grew up in southern Missouri in the Ozarks,” he explains. “My father did not graduate from high school, but my uncle was a state FFA officer, a role I got to hold later on. The thing my dad always taught me was that education would give me opportunities he did not have. Though my father did not graduate from high school, he was a strong champion of getting an education.


“Then, FFA came around, and I got the chance to go to National FFA Convention,” he says. “I got to go speak at different events as an officer, and I got to go to the Washington program. It opened my eyes to the things I could do and to the things I could be.”


FFA unlocked his ambition and belief in himself, he says.


“I had no idea at the time that I would become a university professor, that I would work on Capitol Hill, that I would travel and speak at conferences,” Coble continues. “But, FFA gave me the confidence that I could do and be those things.”


Though he couldn’t see it at the time, that confidence brought on by his experiences in the organization furthered Coble’s growth by encouraging him to keep showing up.


“I really wanted to win the state public speaking contest, I really wanted to be the state president of Missouri FFA, and I kind of got second in both events,” he says. “I was second place in state speaking and the first vice president of the organization. But, if I look back at my life, the difference between being first and second was minimal. It was the fact that I was there. My life has gone on, and I think I’ve gotten to do the most amazing things because of the confidence I gained from those situations.”

by Brandelyn Martin Twellman

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Dec 17 2020

Drive to Feed Kids Donates 1 Million Meals in 2020

Missouri Farmers Care and Missouri agriculture keep children and communities at the forefront during challenging times.

Paris FFA chapter

Like many activities this year, the 2020 Missouri Farmers Care (MFC) Drive to Feed Kids looked a little different. However, the mission – to raise awareness of childhood food insecurity and raise support for food banks across the state – became more critical in the midst of a global pandemic.


“Farmers and ranchers work 365 days a year to produce abundance from our farms and ranches,” said Ashley McCarty, Missouri Farmers Care executive director. “The Drive to Feed Kids addresses the disconnect where that abundance doesn’t reach our neighbors’ dinner tables. Adjusting to the challenges of 2020, this yearlong Drive encompassed numerous impactful activities. We are again heartened by the generosity of Missouri agriculture that shines through the Drive to Feed Kids.”


In May 2020, the Missouri Pork Association and Missouri Farmers Care united to create the Pork Partnership. The mission of the Partnership was to help bridge the gap between Missourians in need and pork producers who faced a reduction in processing availability due to coronavirus-related slowdowns. All told, Missouri pork producers donated 611 hogs to the effort, providing 69,670 pounds of ground pork — 318,000 servings of much needed, high-quality protein — to Feeding Missouri, the association of Missouri’s six regional food banks.


“Protein is a significant need at food pantries, even during normal times,” said Scott Baker, state director of Feeding Missouri. “In 2020, that need was greater than we’ve ever seen. As demand has spiked at food banks and pantries across the state, so too has the help provided by Missouri’s farmers.”


Agricultural youth organizations were also key partners in this year’s Drive to Feed Kids campaign. Missouri 4-H and FFA initiated major community service activities. This spring, 4-H members from across the state provided 297,132 meals for Feeding Missouri during their four-month 4-H Feeding Missouri campaign.


Missouri FFA Association partnered with the Drive to Feed Kids for a fourth year. Even though FFA members were not able to gather for their statewide service day at the Missouri State Fair, a mini-grant program was created. Sixty-three FFA chapters received a $300 mini-grant. Food insecurity projects ranged from local meal and blessing box packing events, raising of broiler chickens for local senior citizens, providing milk for a weekly backpack program and Thanksgiving baskets for families in need. FFA members amplified $20,750 worth of grants for a total $41,500 impact.


In addition, Missourians met a 50,000 meal social media challenge by giving individual donations. These contributions, along with $1,145 raised by FCS Financial employees, allowed Missouri agriculture to reach its goal. Missouri Soybean Association matched every dollar contributed to the challenge for a grand total of $10,000. Thus, providing the purchasing power of 50,000 meals to support Feeding Missouri's efforts in communities during this time of need. According to Feeding America, more than 800,000 Missourians faced food insecurity in Missouri before COVID-19. With increased unemployment and the challenges of this year, Feeding America projects that number has increased by 39% to 1.1 million Missourians, including 335,260 children.


Sponsorship of Missouri Farmers Care’s Drive to Feed Kids was provided by: Brownfield Ag News, Missouri Farm Bureau, American Family Insurance, FCS Financial, MFA Incorporated, Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, National FFA Association, Allen P. & Josephine B. Green Foundation, Forrest and Charlotte Lucas – founders of Protect the Harvest, Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Paseo Biofuels, LLC, Biofuels, LLC, Missouri Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Missouri Pet Breeders Association, Missouri Pork Association, Missouri Department of Agriculture, Missouri State Fair, Missouri FFA Association, Missouri 4-H, benevolent individuals and the contributions of many Missouri farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses.


Drive to Feed Kids first launched in 2017 with a goal of building collaborative partnerships among non-profit organizations, farmers and agricultural businesses committed to addressing food insecurity in Missouri. To learn more about Missouri Farmers Care and the Drive to Feed Kids, visit

Mexico FFA Chapter
Carthage FFA Chapter
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Nov 16 2020

Missouri FFA Members Receive National Awards

Two tapped with proficiency award honors 

Nationally, students enrolled in agricultural education can compete for awards in nearly 50 proficiency award areas ranging from agricultural communications to wildlife management. Proficiency awards are also recognized at local and state levels and provide recognition to members that are exploring and becoming established in agricultural career pathways.


While seven Missouri FFA members were national proficiency award finalists last month, two were named national winners during the virtual 2020 National FFA Convention.


Jacob Dierking, Santa Fe FFA, was named national winner in Diversified Crop Production Entrepreneurship. Read more about Dierking’s winning SAE.


Ashland FFA member Amanda Belew was selected national winner in Wildlife Management proficiency. Learn more about Belew’s winning SAE.


Find out more Missouri FFA honors from this year’s national convention.

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Leon Busdieker
Nov 16 2020

State Ag Education Leader Honored Nationally

Leon Busdieker named Outstanding State Supervisor

Leon Busdieker

The National Association of Supervisors in Agricultural Education (NASAE) recently named Leon Busdieker as the 2020 Outstanding State Supervisor. Since July 2011 Busdieker has been the director of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and serves as state advisor for the Missouri FFA Association. 


NASAE annually recognizes a NASAE member who has made outstanding contributions to agricultural education state supervision. Busdieker was nominated by his peers for the award.


During his 42-year tenure in agricultural education, Busdieker has also been a district supervisor for Missouri agricultural education and a vocational agriculture instructor in the Warrenton and St. Charles school districts. He is one of four state supervisors for the National FFA Board of Directors and is a past member of the National FFA Foundation Board of Trustees and the National FFA Alumni and Supporters Advisory Committee. 


According to Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven, “Whether it be in the office in Jefferson City, the sheep barn at the state fair or the State Capitol during national FFA week, his integrity, high expectations and strong work ethic shine through all that he does. He has earned the trust of students, colleagues, farmers and other business leaders and state legislators, resulting in increased support for agricultural education throughout our state.”


by Joann Pipkin
Watch the video congratulating Busdieker on his contributions to Missouri agricultural education.
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Dahmer Tapped as National Officer
Nov 16 2020

Dahmer Tapped as National Officer

Past State President Paxton Dahmer Elected National Central Region Vice President

Dahmer Tapped as National Officer

Sixth-generation agriculturalist and third-generation FFA member Paxton Dahmer never saw himself as a National FFA Officer, but after being elected Central Region Vice President at the 93rd National FFA Convention last month, he hopes to reach more students in a unique way.

“Right now, we have a pretty unique opportunity with virtual interaction to reach additional students that we wouldn’t traditionally reach,” Dahmer says. “Whether that’s Zooming into a classroom or meeting a student face-to-face, we have the opportunity to dedicate a lot of time to doing just that. My hope is to engage with youth in as many ways as possible and try to develop them as FFA members so that ultimately we’re strengthening our industry along the way.”

Growing up, Dahmer was a member of the Nevada FFA Chapter. He raised commercial cattle and showed pigs and sheep across the nation with his family. “I’m pretty proud every time I zip up the jacket to know that I’ve got a lot of FFA history behind me,” he says. 

Dahmer recognizes the traditions of agriculture in 1928 when FFA was founded, but he says the organization has evolved to embrace different facets of the industry. “Now, we’re embracing different types of agriculture, and we’re trying to get as many people involved as we can because we have less than two percent of our population in an industry that feeds 100% of our population.

Interacting with former National FFA Officer Shea Booster was instrumental in helping Dahmer decide to run for the coveted position. “Shea was so good at representing FFA both inside and outside the blue jacket, and I think that’s something that’s very important,” Dahmer says. “It made me realize, ‘Hey, I can be a national officer,’ but also ‘I want to be a national officer, and ‘I want that extra year in the blue-jacket to do just that.’”

Participating in Missouri FFA’s HYMAX (Helping Youth Maximize their Agricultural eXperience) Academy sparked Dahmer’s passion for FFA and gave him the opportunity, “to see beyond the lights and sirens of state convention and see what FFA was all about,” he says. 

But, that was only the beginning of leadership opportunities that provided the framework for Dahmer’s run for national FFA office. 

“Going to the Washington Leadership Conference was something that was life-changing for me,” he says. “It broke me out of my shell. I was put in a community group with people that I had never met before and it gave me the opportunity to branch out of what I had traditionally known and make connections with people from Texas to North Dakota to California and New York all in one week.”                


To fulfill his duties as National FFA central region vice president, Dahmer will take a year off from college at the University of Missouri-Columbia where he is a junior studying agricultural education, leadership, and communications. In January, Dahmer will move to Indianapolis where he will convene with the other five national officers. The group will spend time doing member and sponsor engagement activities. Additionally, they will provide keynote addresses and conduct workshops for FFA members and supporters across the country. 

“If there’s a member out there in Missouri that wants to run for national office and doesn’t think it’s attainable, don’t close the door for yourself,” Dahmer says. “If we miss out on one opportunity we start closing doors in our mind.”

by Joann Pipkin
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Oct 19 2020

Fruitful Footsteps

Ashland FFA member Ethan Hilgedick recognized as national proficiency finalist in fruit production

From corn, soybeans and wheat to cotton, rice and watermelon, yes, watermelon, Missouri’s diverse agricultural landscape is bountiful.


And for Ashland FFA member Ethan Hilgedick, that diversity provided the perfect opportunity for him to build an award-winning supervised agricultural experience project (SAE). Hilgedick is a national finalist in the fruit production proficiency award area for his watermelon production SAE. The winner will be announced as part of the virtual National FFA Convention, Oct. 27-29.


Farming the Missouri River bottoms in Hartsburg, Hilgedick leases land from Riverside Farms. The young entrepreneur is following in the footsteps of his father and uncle and has gleaned much advice from his predecessors on how to grow a successful crop.


“In the spring of 2017, I built a grow-room in the basement of my grandfather’s farmhouse to manage the temperature, water and the amount of light for my seedlings,” Hilgedick says.


Each spring, Hilgedick germinates more than 5,000 seeded and seedless watermelons in the grow room. At planting time, an attachment on the back of a tractor helps Hilgedick get the seedlings in the ground. Come harvest, though, it’s all hands on deck. A crew of hired FFA members assists in bringing the fruit in from the field.


“At the farm, I package the watermelons on pallets and deliver them to stores,” Hilgedick says. “In the spring of 2018, I increased the number of acres of watermelon. My additional supply was sold by expanding my marketing efforts to grocery stores such as Moser’s, HyVee, Schulte’s and Lucky’s Supermarkets. Expanding my marketing increased my operation’s profits.”


Hilgedick says his business has given him management experience. “Being an owner and operator of a business was always an interest of mine,” he says. “As a young crop producer and entrepreneur, I have learned that it is critical to pay attention to every aspect of producing the product.”


For Hilgedick, success can be found in the details. From walking the fields to checking for insect damage, sampling the soil for moisture content, checking the product for ripeness or observing pallets for broken boards, it all matters to his bottom line.


“Developing high standards early-on in my business has helped my product gain popularity among produce managers and customers,” Hilgedick says. “Paying attention to every detail has allowed me to gain numerous experiences and run a successful business.”

by Joann Pipkin
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Oct 19 2020

Beyond Cows and Plows

Zip up your blue corduroy and dive in to FFA!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — FFA jacket season! Though zipping up the blue corduroy is often a student’s first experience as an FFA member, it takes strategy at the chapter level to get them hooked on ag education and FFA.


Sullivan FFA Advisor Travis Kramme says timing is the key to retention.


“This is my 18th year teaching agriculture education, and one thing has been true year after year,” he explains. “The students in my Ag Science I classes who get involved in FFA activities are the same students who are in our program until graduation and become four-year active members in FFA. The Ag Science I students who don’t make it to any FFA activities during that first semester usually don’t come back as sophomores and find other programs and electives to be involved with.”


An important first step in capturing students’ interest is to debunk the myth that ag education is all about “cows and plows,” says Nathan Isakson, Ash Grove FFA Advisor.


Karson Calvin, a sophomore at Troy Buchanan High School and member of the Troy FFA Chapter, agrees that chapters should promote FFA as a multi-faceted organization.


“It’s not just production agriculture, and there’s a diverse range of activities that can fit everyone,” Calvin says.


Recognizing the importance of relationships and tradition also helps capture students’ interest and sense of belonging.


“In a normal year, we have a back-to-school meeting and ag department open house,” says Cord Jenkins, Rolla FFA Advisor. “This is a big event that our officers spend a great deal of time planning. We invite all of our first-year members and their parents to this meeting. It is structured so we have social time on the front and back end of the meeting.”


Jenkins says this helps make new members feel included as an integral part of the program. Calvin agrees that building relationships was one piece he remembered most from his first year in FFA.


“My favorite chapter activities last year were the LDEs and our Friendsgiving,” he says. “I was on our Conduct of Chapter Meetings team, and my favorite part about it was growing closer with my teammates. While training in the spring, we had some funny moments that stick out as I look back at last year. My other favorite activity was our Friendsgiving. It was a fun time as we were playing games, enjoying some good food and becoming closer as a chapter.”


Kramme, Isakson and Jenkins all say they call upon older students and FFA members to help build a sense of community through using student teacher aids, officer mentors or a buddy system.


Calvin adds that honing in on tradition and the advice of other students helps inspire members to get involved.


“My dad, brother and sister were really involved in FFA, and if there’s one thing they’ve taught me, it’s that you get out of FFA what you put into it,” he says. “I know people who were involved in FFA and received much in return. I hope to do the same.”
by Brandelyn Martin Twellman
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