SAE in the Context of Agribusiness and Policy-Making

By Lohr, Matt | The Agricultural Education Magazine, May/June 2014 | Go to article overview

SAE in the Context of Agribusiness and Policy-Making


Lohr, Matt, The Agricultural Education Magazine


My presentation at the National Agricultural Education Summit presented the oppor- tunity to reflect back on almost 25 years to when I was a young FFA member in high school. The agricul- tural education program, complete with instruction, FFA competitions, and Supervised Agricultural Experi- ence (SAE), truly prepared me for so many of the various careers I have been afforded over the years. Af- ter serving as a national FFA officer and graduating from Virginia Tech, I took on various positions as a middle school agricscience instructor, farm- er, professional speaker, and state leg- islator, as well as Virginia's Commis- sioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Earlier this year, I left state government and embarked on a new role as Director of the Knowledge Center for Farm Credit of the Virgi- nias. In this unique position I have been allowed to share and facilitate knowledge and resources for the bet- terment of all farmers. I have also been able to continue my passion for educating others on the importance of our nation's most important indus- try, agriculture.

Building Relationships

Perhaps one of the greatest les- sons I have learned in the last 25 years is that it is critical for leaders in agricultural education to be en- gaged in developing and building relationships, especially with elected officials, policy makers, partners, stakeholders and the general pub- lic. A friend of mine once said that a relationship matters more than a resume. There is some good truth to that statement; once you have estab- lished a relationship with someone, it is amazing to see what results can follow.

I witnessed this powerful les- son first hand last November when Virginia's national FFA officer can- didate, Brian Walsh, was elected to the position of National President. I was serving as the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services at the time and our state FFA staff reached out to me to arrange a photo with Brian and then-Governor Bob McDonnell. The governor had been a huge supporter of our industry and proposed numerous agricultural ini- tiatives throughout his entire term in office. He was very happy to pose for a picture as was his Chief of Staff, Martin Kent. Mr. Kent had served as a chapter FFA president and naturally wanted to take part in the event.

The agricultural education com- munity had spent much time getting to know Chief of Staff Kent, and had invited him to be a keynote speaker at the state FFA convention in 2013. Secretary of Agriculture and Forest- ry, Todd Haymore, was also eager to meet with Brian due to the immense focus his job as Secretary had placed on the importance of agricultural education and FFA. Laura Fornash, Secretary of Education, wanted to participate in the photo, as she too had become a big supporter of agri- cultural education over time due to efforts of educating her on the bene- fits of our programs. Of course I was honored to meet with Brian, especial- ly since it had been nearly 35 years since Virginia last had a national FFA President.

As I looked at the resulting pic- ture, it brought back to memory many hours of hard work by our agricul- tural education community, reach- ing out and forging relationships with leaders at the highest levels in Vir- ginia. It was not easy and it did not happen overnight, but in time lasting friendships and true advocates had been formed. The bottom line is that building relationships and getting en- gaged in the process is perhaps the most important thing we as the agri- cultural education community can do to ensure our own success.

Times are Changing

So why has it become so impor- tant for all of us to be engaged in building relationships? Well, in the words of the great Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin." All across America, our urban areas are growing in population and con- trolling much more of the political clout. This is especially true in Vir- ginia. The small stretch of interstate from Washington, DC to Richmond and then over to Virginia Beach now includes more than 75% of our state's population. …

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