Stoel Rives | Deeply Rooted Podcast Episode Two: A Bright Future for Agriculture

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For Episode 2 of the Stoel Rives | Deeply Rooted, host Kirk Maag sat down with Phil Ward, CEO of Oregon FFA—better known as Future Farmers of America. Phil is a fifth-generation Oregonian with deep roots in Oregon agriculture. He started his career as a high school agriculture instructor and went on to serve as the Executive Vice-President of the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Director of the Oregon Water Resources Department, and State Director of the Oregon Farm Service Agency. In the episode, Phil shared his bright outlook for the future of agriculture, and how organizations like the Oregon FFA are contributing to developing the next generation of leaders in the industry.

Phil WardOregon FFA’s Importance to the Future of the Agriculture, Timber and Natural Resource Industries

After retiring from a career spent largely in government service, Phil was working as an adjunct professor at Oregon State University when he was approached with the opportunity to lead the Oregon FFA. Serving over 11,000 students in 100 schools in every corner of the state, Phil said, “it was an opportunity to re-engage in an organization that had a big impact on my life personally, and to give back at this stage in my career.”

Stepping into the CEO role after a career in several different organizations that served the agriculture industry, he knew the powerful impact FFA has, saying “the FFA in Oregon, and nationally, profoundly impact the future of agriculture in this state and country. The opportunity for high school students in Oregon to learn from our programs has profound effects on who they become as professionals, whether they work directly in the agricultural industry or not.”

Phil is also proud of how the organization serves students from all geographic areas of Oregon, whether they are from a farming community or live in one of the state’s urban areas. The majority of students in Oregon FFA programs today do not come from full-time working farm families. “What these programs do is . . . draw folks in who may never farm full time, and give them a background and appreciation for the agriculture industry that they will carry for the rest of their lives,” Phil said.

Addressing the Urban-Rural Divide

Host Kirk Maag asked Phil about the deepening urban-rural divide, and how the FFA is helping bridge it. Phil said, “the urban-rural divide is perhaps more pronounced here in Oregon than other parts of the country. We have the urban parts of the state that certainly are impacted by those industries, but on a day-to-day basis do[ ] not see the contact (with agriculture). What FFA can do is give daily contact with the agriculture, forestry, and other natural resources industries. It is giving them appreciation and understanding of those industries. It is also training young people to be able to move into those industries.”

Representation of the agriculture and natural resources industries in politics and policy is also critical in helping address the urban-rural divide. Though, fewer and fewer people are coming out of those industries and going into politics. For those who do, Phil expressed the importance of how they can interface authentically with people making policy, like the state legislature or the people implementing policy with different government agencies. “If we do not have people in those roles that know what makes our industry work, then the industry is going to lose,” Phil said.

Optimistic for the Future of Agriculture

While Phil noted there will always be naysayers who state agriculture will be a thing of the past, he is optimistic for the future of the natural resource industries. There continues to be strong trade associations and support from private industry to develop future leaders in agriculture. Phil said, “people are so impressed by the ability of folks who have gone through a high school agriculture program and developed leadership skills, that they want to be a part of making that happen.”

In Oregon, our agriculture industry is very different from other parts of the country. The traditional commodities that have been supported by the federal government are not as prevalent, “we grow things that go directly from the farm to the marketplace,” Phil said. And because of that, Phil added, “we have shown ourselves we have the ability to adapt and bring on the new commodities and products that will enable agriculture to continue to be successful.”

To listen to this episode with Phil Ward and future episodes, subscribe to the Stoel Rives | Deeply Rooted podcast at or on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

The views expressed on this podcast are solely those of the individuals involved, and may not reflect the views of Stoel Rives LLP. Participation in this podcast by any individual is not an endorsement of such person or of any view or opinion expressed.

Key Contributors

Kirk B. Maag
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