“I believe in the future of agriculture.”
Jim Ertl’s career has been guided by those first words of the FFA Creed. He first recited them as a student at Waconia High School in the mid-1960s. As executive secretary of FFA for Minnesota, he has mentored hundreds of other students who believe the same thing.
Ertl retired in January after 33 years working with “some of the state’s finest young people.” He says watching students progress through the organization to take on leadership roles as high school and college students and then community leaders “has been an incredibly gratifying experience.”
Ertl’s leadership skills were honed in FFA, where he served as District 13 secretary among other roles. “I was privileged to observe not only my own advisor but others across the district and state, who provided exemplary service in terms of training and mentoring students. They inspired me to try to do the same.”
So after graduating from Waconia and serving four years in the military, Ertl studied dairy production at the University of Minnesota-Crookston and then transferred to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he earned a degree in agricultural education. He taught at St. Francis and Kasson-Mantorville for four years before being named FFA executive secretary in 1981.
For more than three decades, he’s directed the organization through a variety of changes, including tough economic times as well as membership and programmatic challenges. He’s seen the number of women in the field expand tremendously, and he’s witnessed the impact of the technological and communications revolution in agriculture.
Today, he sees “a renewed vibrancy in the study of agriculture and the career opportunities for young people. As we tackle issues such as food safety, water quality, and plant and animal diseases, we need the youth to help us find solutions.” He says FFA leaders are just the kind of people to do that because they are disciplined, focused and well trained.
“FFA provides so many opportunities for our young people to get hands-on experience, problem solve and refine their professional skills,” says Ertl.
“Our job is to ensure those opportunities are accessible inside and outside the classroom so students can find their passion and pursue it. Our job is to listen to what they want to do and then help provide the tools to get them there.”
Ertl’s FFA experience prepared him, and he made it his mission to prepare the agriculture leaders of the future.