At this time of the school year many agricultural teachers are teaching their first year students about the various FFA degrees that can be earned in the FFA organization. If you want to amaze your students with additional information beyond what one would find in the FFA manual, this Footnote is for you.
Before you read the rest of this Footnote you might want to print the FFA Degree Quiz and see how much you know. When you teach about the FFA degrees, this quiz might make a good interest approach to use with your students.
Dr. Jim Connors from the University of Idaho is our guest author this week. He shares information about FFA degrees that many of us may not know. Take it away Dr. Connors.
When many youth and adult organizations were established, they decided to include types, degrees, or ranks of members. Just as schools have underclassmen (Freshman & Sophomores) and upperclassmen (Juniors & Seniors), other organizations developed hierarchies of membership. The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts of America are well known for having ranks from Tiger Cub all the way to the Eagle Scout rank. The Freemasons, from which a lot of the FFA traditions arose, have up to 33rd Degree memberships in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s fraternal organization also has four degrees of membership.
This Friday Footnote will focus on the FFA degrees. Next week we will look at the degrees of membership of several related agricultural youth organizations including the Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV), Future Farmers of Dixie (FFD), and the New Farmers of America (NFA). So stay tuned.
In the Beginning
When the FFA was established in 1928 the organization included four degrees: Green Hand, Future Farmer, State Farmer, and American Farmer. The second degree of Future Farmer led to confusion in the organization but that will be discussed later in this Footnote.
In the first few years of the FFA, only the emblem for the national level (the American Farmer) included the eagle. The pins for the Green Hand, Future Farmer, and State Farmer degrees did not include the eagle. The photo below is from the personal collection of the author.
At the 1936 FFA Convention the delegates approved having the eagle on all FFA degrees. The national constitution was revised in 1937 codifying this change. Starting in 1938 all FFA degree pins had the eagle on them.
The National Farmer Degree
Have you ever heard of the National Farmer Degree (or the “X” Farmer degree)? You may say there is no such degree, and you would be correct. However during the 1930s the FFA considered adding such a degree.
The “X” Farmer Degree
The addition of another FFA degree was considered in 1937. At the April 1937 FFA Board of Directors (BOD) meeting there was discussion of proposed constitutional amendments. Page 3 of the BOD minutes reminds me of algebra class. Here is what was written:
Motion made and seconded that the requirements be $50, $250, $500, and $1000 respectively for the Future Farmer, State Farmer, “X” Farmer, and American Farmer degrees. Motion amended and carried to require $25 for Future Farmer degree. Motion carried as amended.
Moved, seconded and carried that a member be in the upper half of his class in scholarship to qualify for the State Farmer and “X” Farmer degrees.
So exactly what is the “X” Farmer degree and where does it fit? From the minutes it shows that it is between the State Farmer degree and the American Farmer degree. However, it appears the proposed “X” Farmer degree was later given a real name (National Farmer degree) and was placed above the American Farmer degree in the final analysis.
The Proposed National Farmer Degree
A search of the FFA Archives will lead to a document titled Suggested 1937 Revision National Constitution – Future Farmers of America.
Article V Membership Grades and Privileges – Section A reads as follows:
There shall be five grades or degrees of membership based upon achievement. These grades are: (1) Green Hand, (2) Future Farmer, (3) State Farmer, (4) American Farmer, and (5) National Farmer.
All “Green Hands” are entitled to wear the bronze emblem pin. All “Future Farmers” are entitled to wear the silver emblem pin. All “State Farmers” are entitled to wear the gold emblem charm. All “American Farmers” are entitled to wear the gold emblem key. All “National Farmers” are entitled to wear a gold key bearing the emblem superimposed on a triangle. The words “economic”, “social”, and “educational” shall appear on three sides of the emblem and the designation “National Farmer” shall appear below it.
The minutes of the National FFA Convention (Future Farmers of America, 1937) indicate that the revised constitution was adopted by motion, section by section. Delegate Arnold Sawyer of Kansas moved to adopt Article V – Section A. There is no reference in the minutes to the section being amended. However, it is obvious that the proposed constitution was amended by deleting any reference to the National Farmer degree.
The copy of the suggested revision of the FFA constitution in the FFA Archives does include a cryptic statement handwritten by an unknown individual. Written on the last page of the proposed constitution is this message:
Fellows, we are discussing a vital problem concerning the Future Farmers of America. It is a problem that will affect over 143,000 of the best youth and young manhood of this great nation.
We are the representatives of that group of men, but they have given us no mandate at this time to adopt a new constitution that is going to govern them. Those other 143,000 boys know nothing of this new constitution that is proposed.
The proceedings of the 1937 convention includes the National Constitution and By-Laws Future Farmers of America (As revised and amended at the Tenth National Convention, October 1937) and it does not include the proposed National Farmer degree. While the National Farmer degree was not approved, we do have the description of what the degree pin would have included. We do not know which way the triangle shaped emblem would point. However the following is what the National Farmer degree may have looked like.
The proposed constitution included the minimum qualifications for election to the degree of National Farmer. The minimum qualifications included:
- Must have held the American Farmer degree for at least two years, have been an active member of the F.F.A. continuously for at least five years, and have a record of satisfactory participation in the activities of the local chapter and State Association.
- Must have satisfactorily completed at least four years of instruction in vocational agriculture (or have completed all the vocational agriculture offered in the school last attended) and be successfully established as a farm operator.
- Must have earned by his own efforts from farming at least $2,000.
- Must be actively affiliated with some adult farm organization or some local agricultural cooperative enterprise.
- Must not have reached his twenty-fifth birthday at the time of election to the degree.
Other Degree Related Information
In March of 1938 a question about making the American degree key out of platinum was raised. Walter Anderson from the L, G, Balfour Company replied “…that such a key would be almost impossible to manufacture and [be] very high priced.” (FFA Board of Directors Minutes, March 18, 1938, p. 8).
This was not the first time a question was raised about the “color” of the degree pins. At the 1934 national FFA convention it was suggested that the State Farmer degree be made of white gold. This suggestion was referred to the Board of Directors, but no action was taken.
At the 1942 National FFA Convention W. A. Ross, the National Executive Secretary, reported on the need to revise the FFA constitution and discussed the changes being recommended (FFA Convention Proceedings, 1942, p. 50):
The name of the second degree of active membership which, heretofore, has been known as the Degree of Future Farmer has been renamed the “Degree of Chapter Farmer.”
Over a period of years there has been no little confusion between holding the Future Farmer Degree and being a “Future Farmer” member. While all members are “Future Farmers,” only a certain number actually hold the Future Farmer Degree at any one time. The wording “Chapter Farmer,” seems, therefore, more typical of the membership status of those involved and more appropriate and descriptive compared to the titles used for the other degrees of active membership.
This change to the constitution was approved.
Another degree related request was handled by the FFA Board of Directors in 1954. The Schoharie FFA Chapter in New York voted on having a County Farmer degree and requested to use the FFA emblem on this new FFA degree. The Board of Directors denied the request (January 1954 Board of Directors Minutes, p. 11-12).
More Recent Degree Changes
The first FFA degree was known as the Green Hand (two words) through 1966. The 1966 FFA Manual references the Green Hand degree. The 1967 FFA Manual used the term the Greenhand degree (one word). There is nothing in the 1966 FFA Convention Proceedings or in the Board of Directors Minutes from 1966 indicating a change. Apparently this was a FFA staff decision. A big thank you goes to Troy White of Nebraska and David Laatsch of Wisconsin for helping to track this change down.
In 1989 the word Farmer was dropped from the degree names. The new names were Chapter FFA, State FFA, and American FFA degrees. This was to reflect the move from vocational agriculture to a more diverse agricultural education focus.
While the National Farmer degree was not adopted, the FFA did add a 5th degree of membership. When agricultural education expanded to junior high school – 7th and 8th grades, the FFA decided to add the Discovery Degree in 2000.
The Discovery degree is slightly different from the other degree pins. The kernels of the ear of corn are shaded national blue and the word Discovery was added to the bottom of the emblem.
Figure 3: National FFA Degrees
Many youth and adult organizations utilize a hierarchy of degrees of membership. Degrees of membership often utilize the emblem of the organization and are differentiated by different metals such as bronze, silver, and gold. Higher degrees often utilize a charm or key configuration.
The names of the degrees also indicate advanced levels of expertise from an inexperienced “green” hand to the advanced American FFA degree key. FFA members should always strive to improve their knowledge, skills, and leadership in order to advance to the highest degrees of membership and levels of excellence.
On-Line Etymology Dictionary (n.d.). Green. In On-Line Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/green
Stimson, R. W. (1942). History of agricultural education of less than college grade in the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.