FFA future uncertain in the age of COVID

For the Basin Business Journal | September 12, 2020 1:00 AM

As school districts work on finalizing plans for students returning this fall, many programs such as FFA remain up in the air as to what things might look like this year.

Moses Lake High School agriculture teacher and FFA co-advisor Tony Kern discussed over the phone on Thursday, Aug. 13, how he’s approaching the incoming school year. While Kern said their plan is to move forward as normally as possible, he said a lot is still unknown.

Two big ongoing projects that Kern said he’s hoping they will be able to have students back for are the sweet corn and pumpkin crops that will be ready to harvest this fall.

“We’re going to have a bunch of corn to market, and also get picked,” Kern said. “Without students, that gets really difficult.”

While they were able to elect new FFA officers already, Kern said the annual leadership retreat the officers won’t be able to happen in August as usual. He said they’re hoping that restrictions will eased in September making it possible to hold one then.

State FFA contests finished up in a primarily virtual format in the spring, with the national FFA convention already canceled in October. Kern said they’d typically have some FFA contests pick up in the fall, but admitted not all contests can be held virtually.

One example is tractor driving, he said.

“There’s really no way that you can operate equipment virtually, so that’s one thing that would definitely need to be in person,” Kern said. “And there’s some other things as well.”

A unique opportunity FFA provides is the chance for students from different high school classifications to come together and compete, as opposed to athletics where high schools compete against schools their own size, Kern said. Without competitions, he said, students won’t have that opportunity.

Kern said smaller schools, such as Wilson Creek, might be able to begin competitions and contests a lot sooner with a smaller number of students. He said there’s a chance contests might move from being held at the state level this year to more of a regional setup.

“We might see a lot more of a regionalized thing where maybe it’s not going on the west side, maybe it’s not going in the Yakima Valley,” Kern said. “But maybe it’s happening somewhere else. I don’t know.”

He said he wishes he had a more concrete idea of what this year will look like for FFA, but said he has to just “wait and see” for now.

“FFA has taken, from the local levels to the state levels, and even the national level, a commitment that we’re going to try and provide as many opportunities to these kids as possible,” Kern said. “The Grant County Fair is a perfect example.”

Despite the fair being canceled this year due to the pandemic, FFA and 4-H students with livestock were still able to hold their sale. Kern said the FFA did what it could to make sure those kids were not left out. He said the same thing happened in the spring when the FFA was holding state contests while most other programs were shut down.

Even if projects and contests are able to resume without students, Kern said, the students are still missing out by not being able to participate directly. Even state FFA contest winners in agronomy and dairy products didn’t get the typical excitement of looking forward to the national convention.

“A typical year, it would be a huge celebration because they’d be preparing to compete in the national convention in Indianapolis,” Kern said. “And they missed out on it. Some of those kids were seniors, and they were gearing up for that.”

Kern said there have been some positives, including students working on livestock projects having some more time to spend on those projects than normal. He said he also had more time to devote to helping kids with projects as opposed to maybe once or twice other years.

As the fall approaches, he said, his main hope is that restrictions will be reduced as coronavirus numbers decline, giving them a chance to bring students together.

“They’re missing out, they just are, but we’re working hard to make sure they get as much of an experience as possible,” Kern said.