Columbia high school students will compete at national FFA convention

Monday, October 18, 2010 | 12:27 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Along with high school seniors across the country, Courtney Johnson, 17, is applying to college. But Johnson has something more personal than U.S. News and World Report ratings behind her selections: She wants to major in forest management at North Carolina State University, and she knows this because of her involvement in the "Future Farmers of America" (FFA).

Johnson is one of 36 high school seniors or college freshmen from Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools, MU, Moberly Area Community College and Oklahoma State University who will travel to the FFA national convention Wednesday through Saturday in Indianapolis.

Students will compete in teams of four, and some of their topics include environmental natural resources, nursery landscaping and forestry.

The teams won the state competitions in April, which garnered the chance to compete for scholarships at the national level.

“It’s like a good football team,” Larry Henneke, agriculture instructor for the Columbia Area Career Center, said. “You naturally do better because everyone expects to do better. It’s a pride thing.”

Since winning the state title, teams have met a few times each week for a couple of hours (fewer during the summer) to prepare for the various tests, identifications, presentations and interviews that the competition will demand. Topics include chainsaw trouble shooting, determining the value of timber and judging livestock.

“One of the biggest challenges is going out of my comfort zone and learning about entirely different topics than I was used to,” Johnson said. “But I enjoy it now — it’s not a challenge anymore.”

Johnson is one of the 25,000 FFA members in Missouri. Nationwide, the association has more than 500,000 members, and the number is rising. FFA aims to promote knowledge, leadership and diversity among the future members of America’s agriculture industry.

“I’ve learned a lot about leadership and a lot about agriculture in general,” Johnson said. “It’s not just a bunch of farmers – FFA is changing me.”

Johnson said she’s nervous about next weekend but confident they have a good chance of winning.

“We’ve had a really active group,” Henneke said. “To me, at the national level, a win is just doing as good as you can.”

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