Preparing Future Agricultural Leaders

CAFNR and FFA are preparing students to address challenging problems

The University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Missouri FFA are both focused on preparing students to address the most challenging problems in the world today.

Each year, the Missouri FFA elects a state officer from each of its 16 Areas. A good portion of those officers end up at MU to further their education. CAFNR is home to the current state FFA president, Abby Bertz, and three past state FFA presidents, Colton Spencer, Adam Kirby and Cole Edwards.

‘A Natural Fit’

Abby Bertz – Odessa
Agribusiness Management

Abby Bertz basically became a member of her FFA chapter as a seventh grader. With an older sister involved in the organization, Abby and her twin sister Alli tagged along, taking in the offerings.

“It may sound tacky, but I knew I was going to be a part of FFA when I was old enough,” Bertz said. “It was a natural fit.”

Agriculture is rooted in the Bertz family. Bertz is the seventh generation on a working row crop and cattle operation. She showed and raised pigs as part of her 4-H project. Once Bertz joined the Odessa FFA, her supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project focused on the row crop operation, as well as fruit production. She worked at Fahrmeier’s U-Pick Produce Market, where she helped individuals who visited the farm to pick strawberries and blackberries, among other items.

Abby BertzAbby Bertz

“It was great to gain that perspective,” Bertz said. “It was so important to learn how to interact and talk to consumers who had little agricultural knowledge.”

It was at FFA camp where Bertz really found her passion in the organization – public speaking. Bertz competed in numerous public speaking engagements throughout her FFA career. Bertz and her sister were also part of a Livestock Judging team that advanced to state competition.

“Having Alli there is something I hold so dearly,” Bertz said. “I was very competitive and she pushed me. She listened to my speeches as I prepared them. She’s the reason I’m where I am. It was tough at first to figure that out, but we each found our own paths.”

Bertz knew she would run for state office early on. She made the decision during that first FFA camp.

“There were four state officers there, and they made such a lasting impression,” Bertz said. “In that moment, I wanted to be just like them. To personally connect with them was amazing. It made me want to take advantage of those opportunities.

“I went to FFA camp three times as a member. The staff knew my name, and I met so many great people. I can’t recommend it enough for FFA students.”

Like other FFA members before her, Bertz enjoyed her opportunities on the Mizzou campus as a high school student. That made Mizzou an easy choice.

“I just loved the feel of MU and Columbia,” she said. “And CAFNR feels like home. When I’m on campus, I always see someone I know and respect. We really are a family – it’s not just something we say.”

Bertz is an agribusiness management major and is minoring in Spanish. She is hoping to do international work after graduation.

“Agriculture is everywhere,” Bertz said. “Working at Fahrmeier’s has taught me so much about fruit production, especially the trade from one country to another. I want to help diversify and celebrate our markets across the world.”

Bertz is part of the Ag Business Club, Collegiate Farm Bureau, True Tigers and Alpha Delta Pi. She is interning in UM System President Mun Choi’s office. Bertz is doing government relations work, including taking committee hearing notes at the capitol in Jefferson City.

“It’s amazing to see how MU functions at that level,” Bertz said. “Although the internship isn’t directly related to agriculture, it definitely shows how students and agriculture alike can be affected by key legislation that seemingly has nothing to do with the industry. It’s been really exciting so far.”

Staying True to Tradition

Colton Spencer – Aurora
Agricultural Education

The Spencer family has two traditions that have been passed from family member to family member – participate in FFA and attend the University of Missouri. Colton Spencer has made sure to keep those traditions alive and well.

Spencer’s father served as an agriculture teacher for nearly 27 years in Aurora, retiring last year. His father was a state officer in the FFA while in high school, and Spencer’s sister was the first state vice president in 2012. The Spencer family runs a beef cattle operation, which is how Spencer got his first taste of the agricultural world.

Spencer served as the state president during the 2016-17 campaign. He’s serving in a mentor role with the current state officer group.

“Becoming a state officer was always one of my aspirations,” Spencer said. “As an FFA member, you know the state officers, you admire them and you appreciate what they do for you. As a state officer, you don’t realize the hard work that goes into planning a state convention or scheduling meetings at national convention. It’s been a great experience.”

Colton SpencerColton Spencer

Spencer’s SAE included the beef cattle operation on the family farm. He also worked at a local hardware store and participated in advocacy, working to spread a positive message of agriculture. Competitive teams were Spencer’s forte. He participated on the FFA Knowledge team as a freshman, finishing seventh at state competition; the Horses team he was with as a sophomore won a state championship; his Livestock Judging team finished second at state his junior year; and he finished his team run with a bang as a senior, winning state in Farm Management.

The Livestock Judging team had an opportunity to go to Scotland and compete as well.

“My dad is a competitive guy and that definitely rubbed off on me,” Spencer said. “It was fun to learn something new each year. Horses weren’t in my wheelhouse, but it was fun to dive into that team experience. Knowledge was great because I learned about the FFA organization. It was all a great experience.”

When it came to choosing Mizzou, Spencer had no problems making the decision. He is the 28th member of his family to step on the MU campus.

“My dad was extremely happy I selected Mizzou, but he did want me to apply elsewhere, just to see what was out there,” Spencer said. “He never wanted me to feel pressured to attend MU because most of my family has. I told him the University of Missouri was where I wanted to be.”

Spencer was already acquainted with the MU campus because of FFA. State FFA competitions take place at Mizzou each year.

“You get to feel the atmosphere on campus every time, and you get to meet a lot of great people,” Spencer said.

As an agricultural education major, Spencer is hoping to follow in his dad’s footsteps. He would like to become a high school agriculture teacher after graduation.

“The people and organizations in CAFNR are great,” Spencer said. “CAFNR has helped me not only develop great relationships with other students, but with industry and alumni as well. Those connections are key as collegiate students.”

Spencer is involved in Collegiate FFA, Collegiate Farm Bureau and serves as a CAFNR Ambassador. He is the president of True Tigers, a student alumni organization.

Making Connections

Adam Kirby – Trenton
Agribusiness Management

While Adam Kirby grew up around agriculture, he didn’t know how much his FFA chapter in Trenton would impact his life. His parents and grandparents had cattle and row crop operations – and Kirby thought the agriculture class made sense when he became a freshman.

“I thought the class would be something that I could handle and it fit my schedule,” Kirby said. “I really just took it for the heck of it. I didn’t think it would lead to anything, so I wasn’t as active my freshman or sophomore years.”

Adam KirbyAdam Kirby

Kirby was still active with the competitive teams. He participated in public speaking competitions all four years and was a part of four different teams – Dairy Foods; Meats; Farm Management; and Agriculture Sales.

Kirby’s SAE projects were incredibly diverse. He had cattle and sold sweet corn that he grew in town. Kirby also operated a hunting outfitting club.

“I brought hunters from Florida and Georgia and helped them find land to hunt on in north central Missouri,” Kirby said. “It was mainly whitetail deer, but I helped with turkey as well. I’m still operating it today, so it was obviously a good project.”

Kirby was serving as an area officer when he started thinking about making a run at a state office.

“I was really enjoying it, so I wanted to see if I could step it up a notch,” Kirby said.

Some of Kirby’s favorite parts of being a state officer were the chapter visits to various high schools.

“That 1-on-1 interaction is so key,” he said. “It was great to see how ambitious the students are. I think the students also got an idea of how FFA isn’t a singular program just available at their school. It’s a huge organization.”

FFA also helped lead Kirby to Mizzou. While he had a basic understanding of where he wanted to attend college, being able to see the Mizzou campus at least once a year as a high school student made a big impression.

“CAFNR is amazing and has so many great programs,” Kirby said. “I would have been insane not to come here, especially when you consider how close it is to home.”

Kirby is an agribusiness management major. He began his collegiate career as a biochemistry major but switched to agribusiness management.

“I really enjoy the flexibility that the agriculture business major allows me,” Kirby said. “I was able to make it my own.”

Kirby works for the Missouri Corn Growers Association in public policy. He interned at the White House in Washington, D.C., last semester.

“It was amazing how many CAFNR connections I had while I was in D.C.,” Kirby said. “If I needed something, there was someone from Mizzou to talk to. Without CAFNR, I wouldn’t have been able to take part in that internship.”

Kirby is involved in Collegiate FFA, Collegiate Farm Bureau and the Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity.

“I’m incredibly glad that I came to Mizzou,” Kirby said. “I really think it was the FFA that pushed me here more than anything. CAFNR and MU have allowed me to have amazing internships, and it’s been incredible how one thing can lead to the next. It all began with FFA.”

Being Career Ready

Cole Edwards – Salisbury
Agricultural Economics

Cole Edwards was involved in 4-H from an early age. The next logical step, according to Edwards, was to join the FFA. Edwards is a third generation member, who grew up on a family farm, which consisted of corn, soybeans and cattle.

“There was definitely a certain expectation there, to join the FFA,” he said. “And I’m glad that I did.”

Edwards’ SAE project focused on the agriculture offerings at his family farm. He had his own registered Hereford cattle and was involved with the corn and soybean operation.

Cole EdwardsCole Edwards

Edwards participated in several FFA competitions as well. He was part of his chapter’s FFA Knowledge team, and was also on the Livestock Judging and Meats Evaluation teams. Edwards was also a regular in the public speaking competitions.

“I received a lot of encouragement from my advisor to do public speaking,” Edwards said. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I never stop talking, so I guess it was a natural fit. My parents even told me that I might as well see if I could talk my way to an award.”

Edwards was extremely involved as a chapter and area officer. That involvement led him to consider state office.

“Looking back at who had inspired me in FFA, and who my driving forces had been, it was always the state and national officers,” Edwards said. “I wanted to give back to the membership.”

Edwards comes from a family of Mizzou grads, so the decision to attend MU wasn’t a difficult one. Although his mom did try to steer him toward another university.

“My mom went to the University of Illinois, so she tried her hardest to get me in the orange and blue,” Edwards said.  “It didn’t work out. I feel that I have been a Tiger since birth. I was born at University Hospital and have always been comfortable with the college.”

Edwards’ two biggest interests are agriculture and politics – making agricultural economics the perfect choice for a major.

“I realized when I got to campus that I wanted to be on the policy side of agriculture,” he said. “I never thought about agriculture policy as a career, and I really don’t know why. It was the perfect option for me.”

Edwards has interned at the state senate in Jefferson City and the U.S. House in Washington, D.C. He returned to D.C. this past summer as Monsanto’s government affairs intern.

Edwards’ internship opportunities came from hard work in the classroom. One of his favorite, and most beneficial, classes was with Scott Brown, he said.

“That class really challenged me,” Edwards said. “It was a small group of policy-minded students. We dove deep into the nitty gritty details of the Farm Bill. Most people wouldn’t be real interested in that, but I loved it.”

Edwards is part of Collegiate Farm Bureau, Alpha Gamma Rho and the MU student recruitment team.

“MU is a great university,” he said. “CAFNR has also been awesome. It’s just the right fit. When I visited, my gut feeling was of belonging. This is where I wanted to be.

“The FFA and CAFNR have went hand-in-hand. There’s a great relationship there, and both have prepared me well to go out into the real world.”