A national group that has promoted agricultural training for nearly a century is seeing a boom in membership among young people interested in agricultural careers.

Indiana and other states are seeing a rise in membership in FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America. More than 17,000 new students joined the FFA organization nationwide in the past year, an all-time high for the 83-year-old group, The Republic reported (http://bit.ly/pfZXEF ).

Officials say the surge is due to the strength of the agricultural economy as other industries struggle. Indiana has more than 53,000 farms sitting on 15 million acres of farmland and is a leading producer of corn, soybeans, hogs, poultry, popcorn and tomato products, according to the Indiana Department of Agriculture.

The industry contributes more than $25 billion to the state economy each year.

"The agriculture economy is doing well, and there is a definite interest in agriculture, especially career opportunities," said Mike Ferree, extension educator at Purdue University's Bartholomew County Extension Office.

That's helped fuel the interest in FFA, which began as an organization whose members were primarily young men who grew up on farms. It now has a leadership focus and reaches a broader audience through its chapters, which include locations in 18 of the 20 largest U.S. cities, including New York City and Chicago.

In Columbus, 20 new freshmen signed on this fall for FFA, continuing three years of growth.

Adviser Leslie Fairchild credits growth in the Columbus East and North chapters to active, excited members talking about the group with their peers.

Columbus East sophomore Halie Mouser, 16, said she joined last year after hearing her neighbors talk about their FFA experiences.

"It just seemed like a lot of fun, so I just joined," said Mouser, who grew up on a farm and is planning a career in agriculture.

Trevor Peters, a senior at Columbus North and president of the local FFA, said his FFA experiences will help him pursue a career in agriculture. The club also has given him skills in leadership and public speaking, he said.

He said he's excited to see the rise in membership.

"The new freshman class is really excited about agriculture, and that's awesome," Peters said. "Because without agriculture, the world can't work. Everything starts with ag."

Ferree said increasing interest in agriculture bodes well for Indiana's ability to fill emerging jobs in agriculture and for the state's ability to keep pace with the food demands of a growing population.

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Information from: The Republic, http://www.therepublic.com/


Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.