Valley ag education backers will fight for grant program

03/10/2014 8:42 PM

03/10/2014 8:44 PM

Busloads of FFA boosters plan to descend on the state Capitol next week in support of a grant program for agricultural education.

The campaign, discussed Monday at the Turlock Chamber of Commerce’s Ag Scholarship Luncheon, is aimed at Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to divert the $4.1 million for the annual program into general school funding.

Louie Brown, chairman of the California FFA Foundation board, said the program is vital to providing technical and leadership skills to high school students planning careers in farming and other fields.

He noted his experience in FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, in Hanford in the early 1990s. He said he was nervous at first as he evaluated swine and cotton for contest judges, but he ended up being elected a national vice president.

“The skills that I received when I was traveling around the state and nation wearing that blue jacket have really developed who I am today,” Brown said.

Those jackets are part of the uniform for FFA, which has about 74,000 members in California. Eighteen of them, from seven high schools in Stanislaus and Merced counties, received $20,000 total in scholarships at the luncheon.

More than 300 people turned out at the Turlock Turf Club for the 14th annual event. It has raised $167,800 for scholarships and about $90,000 for other ag education efforts, including the 4-H Farmyard Experience at the Stanislaus County Fair.

FFA is closely tied to ag education in the schools, but members do not need to live on farms or ranches. It teaches skills as diverse as cattle raising, public speaking, floriculture and marketing.

Brown, a lawyer and lobbyist in Sacramento, said at least 30 buses will travel to Ag Day at the Capitol, an annual celebration set for March 9 on the grounds outside the building.

The governor proposes ending the Agricultural Career Technical Education Incentive Grant Program, which matches money put up by school districts. The $4.1 million would be shifted to a far larger pot of money that school boards could use as they see fit, part of a generally popular overhaul of education funding.

The grant program does not pay the salaries of ag teachers, but supporters say it helps ensure the continued strength of the state’s farm economy. They hope the shift, which the governor included in his initial budget in January, is gone when the revised budget comes out in May.

Another luncheon speaker, dairy farmer David Jones, talked about how FFA and a chamber scholarship have helped him in life. The 2007 graduate of Hilmar High School received a bachelor’s degree in dairy science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and has returned to the family farm near Stevinson.

“It’s not an easy path being in this field, as all of you know,” he said, “but it’s a noble path.”

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