Somewhere beneath what looks like a tombstone on Sanborn Field, a small casket is buried. Inside, there are newspaper clippings, flags and essays by FFA members on what agriculture would be like in 25 years.
It’s a time capsule, planted by Missouri Future Farmers of America to commemorate the organization’s 50th anniversary on Aug. 10, 1979, to be opened in 2003. The FFA plans to open the capsule in the first week of September.
Since the time capsule was buried, thousands of family farms have been absorbed into large operations in the face of global competition. That and new technologies drove thousands out of production agriculture, as did a farming economic crisis in the 1980s and a nightmare flood in 1993.
The technologies farmers now use were not yet even dreams. They use global positioning system satellites to precisely map fields and plant seeds and the Internet to sell niche products directly to consumers.
David Pearce was president of Missouri FFA in 1978, and wrote a letter predicting the future of the organization. He said he can’t remember a word. He said seeing the predictions is what makes opening the time capsule exciting.
“It’s amazing how quickly the time flies,” Pearce said. “There’s a lot of anticipation to see what’s inside.”
Now in its 75th year, Missouri FFA has 290 chapters statewide, 60 more than when the time capsule was planted. The FFA says membership is at an all-time high. The group, like agriculture in general, has expanded its focus from farming to include agribusiness, agriscience, horticulture, food science and conservation.
Pearce’s other contribution to the time capsule was his size 40 FFA jacket. Now a state representative from Warrensburg and a size 43, he will be at a ceremony Sept. 9, where the artifacts will be on display.
Also at the ceremony, items contributed by current FFA members from around the state such as chapter T-shirts and more prediction essays will be sealed into a new time capsule to be unearthed in 2028.
Randy Miles, superintendent of Sanborn Field, said he doesn’t know exactly where the capsule is buried, and will have to probe the field to find it. The capsule will be exhumed with a backhoe and opened—which Miles assures is no easy task—in the week before the Sept. 9 ceremony to assure the materials inside aren’t damaged.
Miles said the time capsule is an important and appropriate extension of Sanborn Field, and as a mark of heritage for MU and agricultural education in Missouri. Sanborn Field is a registered national historic landmark, the third oldest active research field in the world and the origin of the fungus used in the antibiotic Aureomycin.
The new capsule will be buried in or near the same place and will be unearthed for the 100th anniversary. Some items from the old time capsule will be put back into the new one.
Also in the capsule will be the winning essay from a contest sponsored by the magazine Missouri Ruralist, asking “What will agriculture be like in the future?” The essay, by Highland High School FFA member Bethany Meyer, is a fictional narrative of floating in a hovercraft over hydroponic farms with robotic tractors.