"From the time FFA started, it was just for boys. And it was mostly about how to farm and plant and figure fertilizer," said Joanna Cobb-Branson, an agriculture educator at Sikeston Senior High School.
But then society and farming changed, Cobb-Branson said. Farming moved from farming to feed one's family to massive farming for a profit.
"The average need for a farm decreased and not every person was farming to grow food for themselves. FFA had to change," Cobb-Branson said.
This week is National FFA Week, a time when FFA chapters across the nation celebrate the organization, which began in 1928.
Jim Russell, FFA adviser/agriculture education instructor at New Madrid County Central High School, has definitely seen the changes in FFA through the years.
"I've been involved in FFA since I was 14, and I'm 49 now," said Russell, who has taught agriculture education all his adult life and for the past 20 years at NMCC.
And a lot of people don't realize the changes that have occurred in agriculture, Russell said.
"From 1975 to now, agriculture education is totally different," Russell said. "We've had to change and adapt, and so our programs are really versatile."
Years ago Russell said he wouldn't have offered the horticulture, landscaping and wildlife management classes he teaches today.
"Now students can learn about horticulture, agribusiness, food science and small animals. There's a whole array of things," Russell said.
Technology in agriculture is another big change over the years, Russell pointed out.
"Today there are computers in tractors and combines. A good farmer doesn't drive a tractor, he runs a business and stays in the office," Russell said.
Russell still offers his traditional animal science course but has adjusted it over the years to also cover smaller animals like cats and dogs.
Cobb-Branson is co-agriculture education instructor and FFA adviser with Lincoln Scherer at Sikeston High School. She teaches courses about small mammals and reptiles. She also educates students about aquaculture by raising tilapia (fish) in a tank at the school.
Another aspect of agriculture classes is making students aware of basic agricultural issues, like mad cow disease, in the United States, Cobb-Branson said.
Scherer teaches landscaping and horticulture as well as wood shop. "Classes like these give confidence in several students and they can feel as though they can do this," Scherer said.
Across the nation, the FFA currently has 490,000 student members, an all-
"The last 10 to 15 years and the last couple of years, membership has been stable and it's because we went away from the traditional cows and plows," Russell said.
Russell has several students going into the landscaping and horticulture fields.
"Very few are going to school to go back on the farm because it's such a highly volatile career. Most of my students end up in ag-related careers in some way, shape or fashion," Russell said.
Today there are countless jobs available in agriculture, Russell said.
Most people with a chemistry degree can get thousands of jobs in agriculture, Cobb-Branson pointed out.
Universities saw a 79 percent increase in the number of students earning degrees in agriculture and natural resources between 1970 and 2002, according to the National Association of Agricultural Educators.
Cobb-Branson grew up on a cattle farm in West Plains. When she was a sophomore in high school, she joined FFA (Future Farmers of America). "FFA was a turning point for me. I was really shy and wasn't outgoing before I joined," Cobb-Branson recalled.
She went on to become a chapter and area FFA officer as well as show cattle in competitions.
"Ever since I was in FFA, I knew I wanted a career in the agricultural field," Cobb-Branson said.
Cobb-Branson estimated 85 percent of FFA members don't intend to enter an agriculture field.
"But they still learn how to write a resume, successfully pass a job interview and how to speak in public. A CEO of a company has to know how to speak," Cobb-Branson said.
Take for instance Emily Webb, a junior at Sikeston who said she joined FFA because her older sister was in it.
Webb isn't planning a career in agriculture -- she wants to be a nurse -- but she said FFA is helping her with her leadership and learning to get along with people.
Webb said: "It teaches you to be a leader and to step up and work hard."
And that's what the organization is all about, Cobb-Branson said. "Now," she said, "FFA is about training future leaders."