Did you know the average age of an American farmer is almost 58 years old?
It’s a startling statistic, considering the vital role of farmers in our daily lives. With a growing global population and a dwindling number of farmers and ranchers, it’s critical that farm policies support the next generation of producers.
Ryan Williamson and Piper Merritt, two young leaders who got their start in FFA, recently joined Farm Policy Fact’s Groundwork podcast to discuss the importance of agriculture policy and share how lawmakers can help encourage young farmers by investing in smart policies in this year’s upcoming Farm Bill.
Ryan, who currently serves as the National FFA Western Region Vice President, developed a passion for agriculture in his hometown of El Campo, Texas, where he raised rabbits in his backyard and learned from his grandfather, an agricultural mechanic who “many famers literally say that they couldn’t have lived without.”
Piper, a former National FFA Officer from Owasso, Oklahoma, found her love for agriculture through her local FFA chapter—despite not having a background in production agriculture. “My FFA experience began because I fell in love with agriculture policy,” she said.
Like many Americans, Ryan and Piper have been closely following the upcoming Farm Bill. “It’s an incredibly important piece of legislation that impacts every single American, whether you’re a producer or a consumer,” said Piper.
They believe there are steps that can be taken within the bill to support the future of farming in America, including advocating for agricultural youth leadership organizations, scientific innovations in and out of the classroom, and sustainability initiatives.
“As an organization right now, we’re not only advocating to ensure that our agriculture is as sustainable as possible—and we see that take place through legislation—but we also just want to make sure that as an organization we’re able to educate consumers as best as possible, and we believe that starts through the FFA.” said Ryan.
As a National FFA Officer, Ryan travels across the U.S. to educate people on the agriculture industry, answering questions like, “Where does our food come from?” and, “How is it produced on a daily basis?” Ryan says it’s helpful to have conversations and build relationships with people who may have misconceptions about what agriculture looks like.
Piper, who now advocates for agriculture policy in Washington D.C., believes that today’s biggest misconception about farm policy is the cost of the farm safety net. She explained that despite certain misleading claims about farm policy, “[I]t costs about 0.2% of the federal budget to sustain and assist the most safe, abundant, and affordable food supply in the world.”
Ryan and his National FFA Officer teammates also correspond with Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Tracey Mann (R-KS), and Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and John Boozman (R-AR), through the bipartisan Congressional FFA Caucus.
This group began in December 2021 to amplify FFA’s impact, increase awareness of career and technical education in Congress, and celebrate the next generation of leaders across the nation who are engaging with FFA at the local, state, and national level.
“We’re optimistic about the policy that’s coming through and hope to just see us continue to work towards the future of agriculture, and hopefully FFA can continue to be that pipeline,” said Ryan.
Young professionals like Ryan and Piper are instrumental in moving American agriculture forward through advocacy, leadership, and education. We are confident that they, along with other current and former FFA members, will continue to grow into leaders who are ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, ensuring the success of American agriculture for years to come.