South Dakota ag education history: Early years and origin of FFA

Professor Emeritus, Agricultural Education, South Dakota State University

Author’s Note: To commemorate the passage of the Smith Hughes Act of 1917, I have decided to write a historical summary of events that have occurred in the South Dakota Agricultural Education program. Over the next 18 months to two years, I plan to submit a series of articles for the Farm Forum as a means of sharing how the South Dakota program originated and developed over the past 100 years.

The last article concluded with the passage of the Smith – Hughes Act and identified those South Dakota school districts which applied for and received authorization and funding for high school agricultural education classes. By 1918, 40 states were providing teacher training for agricultural education and offering vocational agriculture programs in high schools across the country. States were swift to buy into and apply for funds provided by the legislation.

In the immediate years following the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, what was the shape of local secondary vocational agriculture offerings? The Smith-Hughes Act suggested that education be offered to more than students at the secondary level. The act provided for instruction of part-time students who had graduated and were working on farms. Adult evening classes were also suggested for men and women working in production agriculture.

During the initial implementation of the Smith-Hughes Act, the agricultural education profession had several individuals who made significant contributions to the development of vocational agriculture. In an article, by Dr. Gary Moore, the contributions of Rufus W. Stimson were highlighted. Dr. Moore believed Mr. Stimson’s impact on vocational agriculture would have been more noteworthy had Mr. Stimson been a faculty member of an agricultural education teacher education staff. Never the less, his philosophy was a huge impact on the high school vocational agriculture programs.

One of the requirements of the federal legislation included the concept that students enrolled were required to participate in supervised farm practice. Since 1910, Rufus Stimson had been championing project work as a necessary component of vocational agriculture.

Mr. Stimson was a proponent of the use of advisory councils for local vocational programs. He also proposed that girls should be admitted in to vocational agriculture classes and the Future Farmers of America. We will revisit this topic when the 1970’s are discussed.

Mr. M.A. Sharp was appointed the first full-time South Dakota supervisor of vocational agriculture in August 1921. The local secondary instructors may not have had all the necessary skills for teaching, which was true for most of the country. During the summer months of 1922, Mr. Sharp organized a special two-week class in shop work for vocational agriculture instructors. In 1929, following the appointment of state supervisor Mr. W.P. Beard, a secondary school course of study was designed including representatives from the Farm Bureau, Farmers Union and the Grange. A revision of the course of study was distributed in 1935.

Clubs for boys organized around various farm enterprises had been promoted and operating across the country before and after the passage of the Smith-Lever Act and the Smith-Hughes Act. The Cooperative Extension Program promoted the concept of 4-H clubs and some format for high school age students enrolled in vocational agriculture was taking shape in the state of Virginia. The state of Virginia had developed the concept for a Future Farmers of Virginia, and several states followed Virginia’s plan.

Two events stimulated the development of the South Dakota Future Farmers of America (later known as the South Dakota FFA). First, the local agriculture clubs associated with the local vocational agriculture program and secondly, the formation of a national organization.

Vocational agriculture student clubs in existence before the FFA surfaced were known as the “Agriculture Club” but only operated at the local level. In fact, there were twenty-nine such agricultural organizations in South Dakota. South Dakota’s names for clubs included the Zea Mays Club, The Sheep Club, Orland Boys Club, Saddle and Sirloin Club.

The Third National Congress of Vocational Agriculture Students occurred November 20, 1928. At that event, thirty-three students from eighteen states attending the Congress and American Royal Livestock Show in Kansas City, Missouri, created the Future Farmers of America.

The South Dakota Future Farmers of America was conceived on May 12, 1928, in the Chapel of Old Main at South Dakota State College. This meeting actually happened five months before the formation of the national organization at Kansas City. At the 1929 Vocational Agriculture Judging Contests the decision was made to organize the South Dakota Association of Future Farmers of America. South Dakota received the thirty-second state charter on October 15, 1929 from the National FFA organization.

The first schools to apply for state charters were Canton, Wakonda, Chester and Salem.

Fifteen schools received charters by the time of the first meeting of the South Dakota Association of the Future Farmer of America. Twelve FFA members were awarded the South Dakota State Farmer Degree on May 10, 1930.

High School students enrolled in vocational agriculture were now encouraged to participate in the three segments of the program: classroom and laboratory instruction; supervised agricultural experience programs and the student organization with a membership rank and awards program that reinforced the classroom, laboratory and work experience program.

The next article will focus on the continued growth and developments of vocational agriculture and the Future Farmers of America.