Who’s Your Daddy? Predecessors of the FFA Degrees (9/9/2022)

Toby Keith sings the song “Who’s Your Daddy.” This Footnote has a different message than Toby’s song, but the title of the song is appropriate for this Footnote. Before the FFA, there was the Future Farmers of Virginia and there were plans for a Future Farmers of Dixie. These two organizations had degrees of membership. We will compare those degrees with the eventual FFA degrees and see how they were similar or different. We will also look at the degrees of membership of our sister (or is it brother?) youth organization – the New Farmers of America.

It is a pleasure to welcome back Dr. Jim Connors from the University of Idaho who authored this Footnote. Take it away Dr. Connors.

Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV)

The predecessor of the FFA, the FFV was established in 1926 and included three degrees of membership: Green Hand, Virginia Farmer, Virginia Planter.  There is no evidence of where the idea for the Green Hand came from.  “Green” has long been associated with plants that were unripe, and people who were immature or inexperienced. The first two degrees were conferred by the locals (FFV used the term “locals” instead of “chapters”).  The Virginia Planter degree was awarded by the state organization.

Figure 1 describes the three degrees of membership in the FFV with their corresponding pins.  It would be very exciting and interesting to know if FFV Green Hand (Bronze) and Virginia Farmer (Silver) pins are still out there in someone’s collection.  The Green Hand pin in Figure 1 has been colorized to approximate a possible appearance. The picture of the Virginia Planter gold key is from when that historical item was put up for sale on Ebay a few years ago.

Figure 1:  Future Farmers of Virginia Degrees

Future Farmers of Dixie

Around the same time as the Future Farmers of Virginia was being formed, a group of states in the southeast decided to collaborate to form the Future Farmers of Dixie (See this Footnote for more details about the Future Farmers of Dixie). The first FFD convention was scheduled for 1929 but was cancelled after the FFA was established in the fall of 1928.  However, we do know of the degrees of membership that were proposed for the Future Farmers of Dixie.

Degree Description
Greenhand1 Bronze pin
Farmer Silver pin
“State” Planter Gold key
Dixie Planter Key (Metal undetermined)

1The early FFV documents used the term “Green Hand”, but the FFD documents used the term “Greenhand”.

So a member of the Future Farmers of Dixie from the state of Georgia would start their membership as a Greenhand, Farmer, and then hopefully earn the rank of Georgia Planter and eventually Dixie Planter (Stimson, 1942).

Since the Future Farmers of Dixie never came to fruition, I don’t believe these degree pins were ever produced.  However, there is evidence that the insignia for each state’s Future Farmers organization would have used the Future Farmers of Virginia emblem with the initials for each state.  A rendition of what the Future Farmers of Georgia emblem may have looked like is below:

New Farmers of America

The New Farmers of America (NFA) had a similar layout of degrees of membership as the FFA.  However, they used very different titles for their degrees. The two degrees awarded by the local chapter were the Farm Hand and Improved Farmer degrees.  The Modern Farmer degree was awarded by the state association, and the Superior Farmer was awarded by the national NFA organization.

Figure 2:  New Farmers of America Degrees

I have never seen a pin for either the Farm Hand or Improved Farmer degrees.  The Improved Farmer degree above was scanned from a NFA Plaque. The Modern Farmer pin shown is a more recent one. The one below does not have the eagle on it which follows the FFA tradition of not having an eagle on the first three degree pins until 1938. Maybe another historian or former NFA member has a NFA Farm Hand or Improved Farmer degree pin.

Figure 3. An early Modern Farmer degree pin.

A teacher-made visual for showing the NFA degrees is pictured below (Figure 4). The plow was given to NFA chapters (and FFA chapters) by John Deere. This teaching aid is on display in the historical display at the FFA Center in White Lake, NC.

Figure 4. A visual representation of the NFA degrees.

A Degree Comparison

Table 1 contains a comparison of the degrees discussed in this and last week’s Footnote as they would have been in the early days of the various organizations.

Table 1 Comparison of Agricultural Education Youth Organizations

Future Farmers of Virginia Future Farmers of Dixie New Farmers of America Future Farmers of America1
Green Hand Greenhand Farm Hand Green Hand2
Virginia Farmer Farmer Improved Farmer Future Farmer3
Virginia Planter ”State” Planter Modern Farmer State Farmer4
Dixie Planter Superior Farmer American Farmer

1A 5th degree for middle school students, the Discovery degree, was added in 2000. In 1989 the word Farmer was dropped from the degree names.
2Green Hand (two words) was used through 1966. Starting in 1967 the degree was known as Greenhand (one word).
3In 1942 the name of this degree was changed from Future Farmer to Chapter Farmer.
4A number of states have unique names for their state degree such as Lone Star Farmer or Keystone Farmer.


It is nice when someone blazes a trail before you. We owe a debt of gratitude to Henry Groseclose and his colleagues in Virginia who developed the degrees of membership that inspired the FFD, FFA and NFA degrees of membership. In a month or so we will formally introduce the Virginia ancestors of the FFA in a Friday Footnote.

 Our Virginia FFA ancestors left a legacy for us. As educators, we will leave a legacy for our students. What will that legacy be?


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.