Ag teachers ask for year-round support

ST. PAUL — Minnesota FFA has topped 10,000 members, but challenges remain.

Amber Seibert is the agricultural education teacher and FFA adviser at Fairmont.

ST. PAUL — Minnesota FFA has topped 10,000 members, but challenges remain.

Members of the House Agriculture Policy Committee devoted their first meeting on Jan. 14 to learning more about agricultural education and FFA.

Brady Wulf, state FFA treasurer and South Dakota State University freshman, said there are students in schools without agricultural education who want to be in FFA, but it's challenging because FFA requires students to take at least one agricultural education class per year.

Some districts have outreach efforts — his agricultural education teacher offers an online course and Randolph has night classes — but Wulf said all students should have the opportunity to participate in FFA.

Minnesota has 236 agricultural education teachers, said Eric Sawatzke, teacher and adviser at Dassel-Cokato. A shortage of qualified teachers exists.


Amber Seibert, agricultural education teacher and FFA adviser at Fairmont schools, said being an agricultural education teacher and FFA adviser is a year-round job, though teachers might or might not be compensated for their time.

They are involved in county fairs, worksite visits and leadership training, Sawatzke said. His 22-day extended contract doesn't cover the time he spends with students. He also supplements his income working construction in summer.

Ag teachers are expected to be at events in summer, Seibert said, but often their time isn't compensated, which makes for difficult choices.

Sawatzke said 31 percent of Minnesota's ag teachers lack extended contracts. Only a quarter have 20 days or more. Less than a handful in the state have a full-year contract.

But it wasn't always that way. Before the 1980s farm crisis, many agricultural education teachers had year-round contracts, he said. Many southern states still do.

Going to a 12-month contract would be a game-changer for agricultural education teachers and FFA advisers, Sawatzke said.

Now, many agricultural education graduates pursue careers outside teaching because of the pay differential. Seibert graduated with 15 ag ed majors. Only five of those students are teaching. The other 10 students have industry careers.

A 12-month contract will not only help with recruiting new teachers but also take away the need to have second summer jobs. It will give teachers the time they need to grow their programs and students' skills.


Sawatzke has 250 students in his classes where he teaches courses including agribusiness, mechanics, animal science and horticulture. He works with students to develop their supervised agriculture experiences and coaches career development event teams.

Seibert has taught in Fairmont for three years. She is the first teacher in the program that was restarted in 2011 with the financial backing of the area's agricultural community. More than 70 local businesses put money toward restoring the program that ceased sometime in the 1980s.

Agricultural classes give students the hands-on understanding of what they learned in their core classes and some of the courses qualify for dual credit, Seibert said. Classes run the gamut from welding to genetics.

Most local school districts don't have the money to fund a full-year contract, the ag teachers said, so a proposal may emerge later this session where the state pays for a portion of the summer ag teacher contract.

Brady Wulf, Minnesota FFA State treasurer, testifies before the House Agriculture Policy Committee on Jan. 14.

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