By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — Illinois FFA is represented by eight finalists from across the state in the 2012 FFA National Proficiency Awards competition, held at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis each October. The awards honor FFA members who, through their Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs), have developed exemplary entrepreneurship or placement skills that will carry forward in their future careers.
“The awards are based upon (FFA members) keeping accurate records and demonstrating knowledge of their enterprise,” said Frank Dry, associate executive secretary for Illinois Assoc. FFA. “In addition, their applications must also be in order. Selection shows they have done a great job, and is a compliment to all eight of them.”
The Illinois FFA National Proficiency finalists, along with their chapters and proficiency categories, are: Zach Ferrie, Heyworth (Emerging Ag Technology), Angelica Lee, CHSAS (Food Science & Technology), Tyler Pokojski, Christ Our Rock (Grain Production), Mary Happ, Heritage (Vegetable Production), Austin Granby, Seneca (Agricultural Sales), Nick Briscoe, Seneca (Agricultural Services), Samuel Cottrell, Eureka (Diversified Horticulture) and Rachel Noe, Metamora (Specialty Crop Production).
They will join more than 180 other FFA members from throughout the United States in vying for FFA National Proficiency Awards in 49 disciplines covering “everything from corn, soybean and livestock production to landscape management and food science,” according to Dry.
Placement proficiency awards are given to those whose SAEs are related to employment, apprenticeships or internships at an agribusiness or agriculture-related organization, according to the National FFA. Entrepreneurship proficiency awards go to those whose SAEs are related to ownership of an agribusiness or ag-related organization.
The Illinois contingent consists of two members from the FFA chapter in Seneca, a LaSalle County town of just 2,371, with a large number of FFA participants. (See related story.)
It also boasts two finalists from Woodford County, with a total population of 38,664 – Noe, of Metamora (pop. 2,700), and Cottrell, of Eureka (5,295). “These are all good, solid programs,” said Dry.
Cottrell, 18, is a freshman at Illinois Central College studying horticulture, who graduated from Eureka High School in May. His proficiency area is a natural extension of his family’s business, Brookside Landscaping, where he works.
His online proficiency journal chronicled Cottrell’s every job task, including the delivering and planting of shrubbery and trees and other work duties, hours worked, payroll, expenses and more
“You have to have two or more record books in the horticulture (category). My record books consisted of turf management, landscape management and nursery operations, which are the three major divisions of Brookside Landscaping,” explained Cottrell, whose FFA chapter consists of approximately 105 individuals.
“The online journal is set up for keeping records, but it is also great training for the future.”
This will be Cottrell’s third visit to the FFA National Convention. He attended his first two representing his Eureka chapter as an officer, but knows this trip to Indianapolis will be different.
“This is a pretty big honor, and I’m not quite sure what to expect,“ he said, slightly concerned about being interviewed by a gallery of about a half-dozen panelists comprised of agriculture industry professionals and others. “I may be a little bit nervous.”
Like Cottrell, Noe, 18, is attending Illinois Central College. She is studying mass communications, after graduating from Metamora Community High School last May. She participated in FFA all four years of high school, serving as chapter president her junior and senior years. Like Cottrell, her success in specialty crop production also stems from her family’s business.
“My family raises pigs and we grow corn, soybeans and wheat, along with cantaloupe and watermelon in the Spring Bay area,” said Noe. “I grow and sell cut flowers at the Metro Center farmers’ market in Peoria.
“I start varieties of flowers in the greenhouse (from seed) such as sunflowers and zinnias. I transplant them into the garden and take care of them until they start blooming, then I cut them fresh each morning and sell them Mondays through Saturdays at the farmer’s market.”
She kept three years of records for her FFA proficiency project. She was state FFA runner-up in Specialty Crop Production last year, but gained her trip to Indianapolis by capturing district and state honors for proficiency this year. “I had no idea I was going to be a national finalist,” Noe said.
She is looking forward to her trip to the national convention, which will be her fifth, for additional reasons than her proficiency award interview.
“I just look forward to being able to hang out with my friends from FFA I haven’t seen since I graduated, and friends from other chapters. The National FFA Convention is so memorable. It’s always exciting to go,” she explained.