As hundreds of blue-jacketed students cloistered in groups at the Career Center Friday and assembled around adults carrying numbers on poles, a Billings student whispered, “What’s going on?”
A teacher explained that it was the state FFA Leadership Conference and more than 1,100 students and advisers from nearly 90 schools from throughout Montana were testing their skills in such categories as crops and livestock judging, farm mechanics and agri-business.
The student had a follow-up question: “Why are they so quiet?”
Because they’re FFA, the organization formerly called the Future Farmers of America, and they’re polite.
Gathering around their groups, students scattered inside and outside the Career Center, donning shop tunics and goggles to weld, diagnosing farm-equipment problems, surveying the grounds, identifying seeds and crop and weed varieties and evaluating livestock.
From schools with enrollments varying from a dozen or so to a couple of thousand, they pitted their skills in what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the science which includes all the other known sciences.”
Two days earlier, they fanned out to do community projects: helping out at the Montana Rescue Mission, the Billings Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity and cleaning up at Riverside and Coulson parks.
“Eleven hundred, that’s by far the most we’ve ever had” at the state event, said Montana FFA state adviser Bill Jimmerson. “Including the parents and volunteers, we had about 1,600 people here last Friday,” added the former Conrad High School vocational agriculture adviser.
For the second straight year, Sweet Grass County High School of Big Timber walked away with the Sweepstakes Award for best overall performance in seven categories.
With an enrollment of about 200, the school has two vo-ag advisers, Gary Mattheis and Casey Lunceford, same as the Career Center and AA schools such as Missoula Big Sky and another Class B school, Huntley Project. AA Flathead of Kalispell has three vo-ag instructors.
Overall, Big Sky ranked second in sweepstakes and had the top two individuals while Flathead was third.
Individually, Gywnn Simeniuk of Opheim (enrollment 21) was third.
“Big Timber’s shown a lot of leadership over the past few years,” said Mr. Jimmerson. Big Timber won three major events and had three elected to statewide offices.
State champs advance to the National FFA Leadership Conference next fall in Kansas City, Mo.
Big Timber had the top livestock judging team in selecting dairy and beef cattle, horses, sheep and goats at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.
It was Big Timber again at the top in agronomy and farm business management and team member Calli Christiansen was named top extemporaneous speaker and was elected state secretary. Two others from Big Timber also achieved state offices: Bailey Engle is second vice president and Katie Hogemark is new parliamentarian.
New state president is Morgan Kuntz of Beaverhead (Dillon) and first vice president is Deer Lodge’s Adam Heggeland.
Park City’s Nicole Mohr was elected treasurer and Park City’s team also won the ag sales competition.
The Ruby Valley Chapter of Sheridan won the ag mechanics contest.
In the state agriculture science fair, Jamie Nelson of Red Lodge was named Student of the Year. Colstrip’s Kinslee Hage won the creed speaking contest.