Convention success

The Cannon Falls FFA chapter left the 96th National FFA Convention with many awards and agricultural experiences.
The National FFA officer team called a general session to order by tapping the larger-than-life gavel.
The National FFA officer team called a general session to order by tapping the larger-than-life gavel.
Grace Miller
Before a general session, several Cannon Falls chapter members seized seats on the floor amongst the most important people in the organization. (Grace Miller)
A Gargantuan 96th National FFA Convention and Expo

When Cannon Falls FFA members boarded a coach bus at 5:30 a.m. on October 31, 2023, they knew were headed for the single greatest annual event in agricultural America: the FFA National Convention and Expo. But, they didn’t know the week would be full of learning experiences, award success, and fun times.

Formerly known as “Future Farmers of America,” the National FFA Organization’s name was changed in 1988 to accommodate the growing diversity of the agricultural industry. FFA encompasses personal growth, career success, and leadership opportunities through awards and competition. Every year, the National FFA Organization hosts their convention and expo to recognize the talents of its members and address problems pertinent to the future of agriculture.

The 96th Annual National FFA Convention and Expo was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, and ranged from Nov. 1-4. At the convention, a record 72,954 FFA members, advisors, and guests, from all 50 states plus the additions of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, gathered in Indianapolis for the event.

The Cannon Falls FFA chapter joined the festivities with multiple motives. The Cannon Falls Agronomy team was the champion of the Minnesota contest, so they aimed for success in the Agronomy contest on Nov. 1. Four former Cannon Falls students received the highest award offered in FFA: the American Degree. And the rest of the attendees built their leadership skills, networked with members of other states, and learned additional agricultural issues.

Country star Lainey Wilson performed a sold out concert at the National FFA Convention. (Grace Miller)
FFA Fundamentals

The landscape of Indianapolis completely flips during the week of the National FFA Convention. Aside from bustling city life, the streets are packed with school buses and vans. Sidewalks are filled to the brim with thousands of high school students, all adorned in the same outfit with a distinctive corduroy jacket.

Downtown Indianapolis sees the brunt of the newcomers. The Indianapolis Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium house the future agriculturalists, and hold all general sessions, workshops, and the Expo within their spaces.

In addition to standard FFA activities, recreational events such as the Culver’s sponsored Dillon Carmichael and Lainey Wilson concert occur during evenings, with every seat in the Gainbridge Fieldhouse sold out by convention attendees before tickets opened to the general public.

FFA members flock en masse from host location to host location, trying to absorb every ounce of experience the convention has to offer.

The main component of the convention is spearheaded by the National FFA officer team of six and happens at Lucas Oil Stadium — the only place large enough to hold the horde of FFA members. General sessions consist of guest speakers, awards, honorary degree ceremonies, and general merriment as National FFA recognizes the hard work of its members throughout the year.

The other foundational aspect of the convention is the Expo in the Indianapolis Convention Center. The Expo is composed of shopping stalls, agriscience fair presentations, college and job booths, and informative displays. Students can mill around the Expo for hours without seeing or doing every activity. Additionally, the convention center’s conference rooms hold breakout workshops intended to grow leadership and interpersonal development skills in the FFA members.

To say the convention is busy is an understatement. Cannon Falls FFA members found themselves wowed by the scale of the Expo, as expressed by sophomore Hilari Palodichuk: “It was kind of overwhelming at first but I had my list of things I had to do, so it made it less overwhelming.” The Cannon Falls FFA advisor Duane Pliscott provided his students with an extensive to-do list to push them out of their comfort zones and into confident interactions with people of all backgrounds and fields of study.

Ozark Fisheries gave the Cannon Falls students a close-up look at their ornamental fish. (Grace Miller)
Constituents of Agriculture

Aside from the National Convention as a whole, the Cannon Falls FFA attendees seized the opportunity to introduce themselves to more diverse agricultural activities. Duane Pliscott designed a unique array of tours and agricultural experiences for his students to learn more about different agricultural fields and industries.

The group visited ABS Global and Ozark Fisheries.

ABS Global in DeForest, Wisconsin is a company dealing with artificial insemination by collecting bull semen. After collection, the scientists test the samples for quality and reproductive traits before freezing and shipping the samples to farmers across the country. The Cannon Falls chapter toured their facilities and learned about their practices and the science behind their methods.

The next day, the group toured Ozark Fisheries in Martinsville, Indiana, a farm specializing in goldfish and koi reproduction. The farm has over 250 natural ponds for its fish to reside in, and the fish remain in the ponds for most of the year, except for breeding times and when they are ready to be shipped to their new homes.

Over the past several years in FFA, there has been a widespread mobilization to develop a sustainable future for all agricultural industries. The National FFA Organization commends young agriculturalists for developing solutions to climate and environmental issues. In particular, National FFA holds an Agriscience Fair at the expo, where students from all states develop research and compile a project to improve technology and solve problems for farmers.

Additionally, during the Convention, there is a heavy emphasis placed on community service and leaving the world a better place. “Living to Serve” is a foundational value in the National FFA Organization, and it prepares service projects during the Convention and funds local efforts across the United States. At nonprofits in the Indianapolis area, 2,640 FFA members completed service projects during the week, including work with sensory tools and environmental efforts.

Agriculture is a wide-ranging industry, with a myriad of different farm purposes and features. The Cannon Falls students gleaned knowledge of parts beyond southeastern Minnesota, and by exploring these farms and companies, they opened their eyes to the limitless opportunities available within agriculture.

Before the Agronomy competition commenced, the four team members prepared with an orientation. From left to right: Cameron Addington, Lucas Erickson, Gideon Anderson, Ryan Johnson (Duane Pliscott)
The Agronomy Contest

While the majority of Cannon Falls students were gallivanting around the Indianapolis area on Nov. 1, four individuals were competing in the most prestigious Agronomy contest in the nation. Junior Cameron Addington, sophomore Ryan Johnson, and 2023 graduates Gideon Anderson and Lucas Erickson won first place at the Minnesota State Convention last April and were eager to demonstrate their months of practice.

The Agronomy contest was intense. It is comprised of insect and disorder practicums, additions to the identification portion seen on the state exam, and the team event. The team event is a major point-earning section and is based on teamwork, cooperation, and skill at solving the scenario. The Agronomy team was given a problem about growing head lettuce. They then spent an hour solving the problem and presented it to a panel of judges.

“It was a long and I would say exhausting day of competition,” Addington remarked, “But our performance overall had been solid so we were excited about our day.”  The team, after about eight hours of competition, emerged with a mindset of nervous excitement to learn their results.

As a team, the Agronomy Minnesota representatives earned ninth place overall in the nation, up against all 49 other states. Additionally, the team scored a “gold” ranking overall. Two individuals, Addington and Anderson, earned “gold” rankings themselves. Erickson and Johnson earned “silver” individual rankings.

The months of diligence and labor the team thrust into the contest ultimately paid off: they were among the top ten teams in the nation in the Agronomy contest, and they walked away with a deep sense of satisfaction with their results.

Four Cannon Falls graduates received the highest degree in FFA: the American Degree. From left to right: Kenny Otto, Megan Wichser, Ashton Beyer, Matthew Giese (Duane Pliscott)
American Degree Recipients

In addition to the Agronomy team’s success, the Cannon Falls chapter continued to rack up awards at the Nov. 4 American Degree ceremony. Four Cannon Falls graduates, Kenny Otto, Megan Wichser, Ashton Beyer, and Matthew Giese received the “gold standard” American degree.

Qualifications for the degree are multifaceted: 50 hours of community service, high school grade record minimum of “C,” three years of agricultural education, demonstrated leadership ability, active FFA membership, and extensive records with $10,000 earned, $7,500 invested, and 2,250 hours in a Supervised Agricultural Experience.

In 2023, 4,571 FFA members received their American degrees. To have four members from the Cannon Falls chapter alone earn their American degrees is an incredible honor. “The kids did great,” advisor Duane Pliscott commented.

The Cannon Falls FFA convention attendees posed with larger-than-life letters. From left to right: Gideon Anderson, Brent Carpenter, Madison Dettman, Cadence Kilmer, Cameron Addington, Mackenzie Kilmer, Grace Miller, Isaac Rapp, Ryan Johnson, Hilari Palodichuk (Duane Pliscott)
FFA Takeaways

After a long, exhausting week packed to the brim with activity, the Cannon Falls students returned home on Saturday, Nov. 4. Their achievements were threefold: the Agronomy team was ninth overall in the nation, four Cannon Falls members received the highest award in the FFA organization, and everyone mingled with college representatives, employers, and agricultural organizations. After a trip to the FFA National Convention, each Cannon Falls FFA member left with a new perspective on agriculture and hope for future farmers.