The blue jackets invade the state capital, as Nebraska FFA celebrates record participation.
There are more chapters and more members than ever before. But a hot topic at the state convention is the demand for ag teachers.
Those who considered careers as ag instructors in the classroom are instead being courted by agri–businesses that offer better pay.
State Ag Education Director Matt Kreifels said, "Agriculture is very good in Nebraska right now. Industry is in high competition for very qualified individuals. Sometimes they'll take some of our better teaching candidates into industry. The thing about it, teaching agriculture and being an FFA advisor is unlike any other career. You get to see students for four years, not only in classroom, but in leadership in FFA. Those teachers are mentors to students and make a difference every day."
Dakota Lovett enjoys FFA in Blue Hill so much, he's thinking of teaching some day.
"Ag education is where I'm leaning, I want to get my PhD or go into ag business," he said.
That's the dilemma; Many kids who'd be great teachers instead go to work in areas like sales and marketing for ag companies, instead of returning to the classroom.
Another five schools are adding FFA programs next year, including Adams Central. Wood River is also considering bringing it back.
Nebraska Farm Bureau has stepped up and announced a new initiative to help ag teachers.
Farm Bureau's Foundation for Agriculture has created an Agriculture Teacher Scholarship and Loan Assistance Program, which they unveiled at the FFA state convention.
The scholarship program is for students enrolled in UNL's Agricultural Education Teacher Education program. Eligible students will be able to apply for a student teaching scholarship for up to $1,200 for the semester of student teaching.
The loan assistance program is for ag education teachers who have been teaching between one to five years with existing student loan debt. The amount of loan assistance would increase over the teacher's first five years in an effort to keep them in the classroom.
"We are starting a Capitol Campaign for the Agriculture Teacher Scholarship and Loan Assistance Program with the goal to entice more students to stay in Nebraska and teach agriculture, and to keep agriculture as part of the curriculum in our Nebraska schools," said Deanna Karmazin, executive director of the NFB Foundation for Agriculture. "Agriculture is the number one industry in the state and is responsible for one in four jobs. It's important we encourage students to understand and value the hard work that goes into raising food in Nebraska."
Funding for the program will initially start at about $12,000 for applying students and teachers in August 2014. With a fundraising component built in, the foundation hopes to increase that to $35,000 to $40,000 program during the next three years.