Sylvester selected to be national FFA officer
FELTON, Del. — Delaware FFA member and state officer Jackson Sylvester has been elected by the delegates of the 94th National FFA Convention to serve as the National FFA Secretary of the 2021-22 National Officer team.
Sylvester is the first member from the Lake Forest FFA Chapter to be elected as a National FFA officer and only the fourth member from Delaware to ever hold a national office since the inception of the Career & Technical Student Organization we know as the National FFA, in 1929.
Sylvester is a 2019 graduate of Lake Forest High School. He was very active in its FFA chapter and Agri-science program, led by Will Currey, Alison Scott, and Lindsey Saxton.
He said he first learned about FFA through his father, Greg Sylvester, who was a state officer.
This inspired him to run for state office, which he said was his most challenging FFA experience.
In March 2020, Sylvester was elected as the 2020-21 Delaware FFA State President, and previously held the position of Delaware FFA State Sentinel in 2019-20, serving a membership of more than 10,000 students. He is employed at Miller Metal Fabrication Inc. where he specializes in operating the HAAS VF-2 and VF-11 machines within their machine shop.
National officers commit to a year of service to the National FFA Organization, which requires them to take a year off from their college, or in Sylvester’s case his career.
Each National FFA Officer travels more than 100,000 national and international miles to interact with business and industry leaders, thousands of FFA members and teachers, corporate sponsors, government and education officials, state FFA leaders, the general public, and more. The team will lead personal growth and leadership training conferences for FFA members throughout the country, and help set policies that will guide the future of FFA and promote agricultural literacy.
As he prepares to spend his next year engaging with FFA members, Sylvester said he is looking forward to connecting with individuals all over the country and the world.
“I firmly believe all people want to feel valued and appreciated,” he said. “I want members to feel as if they own the square foot of ground they stand on.”
The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 735,038 student members, and part of 8,817 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.
The National FFA Organization operates under a federal charter granted by the 81st United States Congress and is an integral part of public instruction in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Education provides leadership and helps set the direction for FFA as a service to state and local agricultural education programs.
Joining Sylvester on the 2021-22 National FFA Officer team is: President Cole Baerlocher (Washington); Central Region Vice President Courtney Zimmerman (Wisconsin); Eastern Region Vice President Mallory White (Kentucky); Western Region Vice President Josiah Cruikshank (Oregon); and Southern Region Vice President Erik Robinson (Georgia).
These members were selected from 37 candidates vying for the honor. Candidates take part in an extensive interview process with the National FFA Officer Nominating Committee leading up to the selection.
The new team was announced during the seventh general session of the 94th National FFA Convention & Expo on Oct. 30.
Things did not look good for the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association in March 2018.
The dairy industry around it appeared to be crumbling, with regional dairymen divesting of herds, auctioning equipment and even selling farms amid rock-bottom milk pricing. The cooperative had lost several bulk customers, and, strapped for cash that month, cut advance milk checks to members — a particularly acrid symptom of its apparent financial state. Regional farmers expressed concern that the cooperative, founded in 1920, was in jeopardy.
“More than anything else, it’s a psychological thing because you’re already concerned about your co-op,” Kate Dallam, owner of Broom’s Bloom Dairy in Bel Air, Md., told The Delmarva Farmer then. “There is a fear that your worst-case scenario is coming true, which is that you’re going to have to find some place else to ship your milk.”
Three years later, its future, thankfully, looks quite different. It’s a recovery that deserves recognition.
The cooperative, which stretches from Pennsylvania to Georgia, is significantly smaller than it was in 2018 — its membership has shrunken from about 1,400 farms in 2017 to 900 — but the aggressive retail strategy it’s pursued for years appears to be paying off.
In August, it spent a reported $8.2 million to purchase a North Carolina milk processing plant from the Harris Teeter grocery store chain.
Earlier in the summer, it announced that Costco was selling some of its dairy products in their warehouses, and the cooperative, along with Food Lion, also faced off in court with Dairy Farmers of America after they began aggressively expanding in the Carolinas. That lawsuit was ultimately settled.
The cooperative has spent tens of millions of dollars rejiggering itself from a bulk milk producer into a retail-focused company that sells cartons of milk, half and half, heavy whipping cream and even eggnog.
When cooperative officials spoke with The Farmer in 2018 they pointed to investments in their existing processing facilities, a desire to use more milk in their own products and new innovations such as “caseless” milk jugs that appealed to superstores such as Costco and Sam’s Club.
From the outside it felt like a Hail Mary as forces of consolidation bore down on farmers and processors alike.
But remaining farmers have expressed some relief to us in recent months when asked about the cooperative’s future. David Herbst, owner of Misty Meadow Farm Creamery in Washington County, Md., told us in 2018 that “nobody was making money milking cows.” His farm had been losing money for years.
Recently, he offered a more positive outlook. Some of that was due to sunnier feelings about his cooperative. He’s also had to behave like the cooperative and push more milk through his own farm creamery, which sells ice cream.
But he sees the necessity of the cooperative’s new, consumer-facing focus.
Retail is “where we want to be and where we want to go,” he said.
Heavy challenges remain across the dairy industry. Few of them are new. Milk prices could be worse, but feed prices are rising while the country continues to recover from the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has throttled supply chains and exacerbated labor shortages. But a recent USDA forecast signaled improving milk margins based on strong demand and declining production.
Few sectors of the agriculture industry are worry-free these days, particularly in the costly Delmarva region, but it’s reassuring to know that for at least one cooperative and its farmers, adaptation is still possible.
Changes can work, new goals can be realized, and dairy farming, despite rising challenges, can endure.