What will the American degree and proficiency award application changes mean to FFA advisors?

By Bed Buehler

The Awards and Recognition Advisory Committee was charged by the National FFA Board of Directors to insure that supervised agricultural experience (SAE) projects and awards programs meet the industry standards for those industries they represent.

“Too many times, we forget that we are talking about 17, 18, 19 and 20 year olds,” stated Jim Armbruster, senior relationship manager at the National FFA Organization. “Some are just starting college when the standards being applied are for college graduates. We have to evaluate a student based on age-appropriate standards for entering that career field.”

The committee, chaired by Illinois state staff member Jim Craft, worked over a two-year period to come to agreement on the best tool for the application process, keeping in mind how SAEs and awards are implemented across the country.

“We understood that we needed to be more accountable in preparing students for ag careers,” explained Craft. Now the award applications are aligned with the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) National Content Standards and utilize the Farm Financial Standards Council’s Financial Guidelines for Agriculture Producers for collecting and reporting financial data utilized in the award applications.

A historical glimpse
Since the early 1980s, the Farm Financial Standards have served as the standard, defining how agricultural accounting is reflected in farm records. It was clear to the committee that these standards needed to be incorporated into student record keeping and reflected in the data assembled in award applications.

The new applications, to be implemented in the fall of 2012, use the language of generally accepted accounting principles that will ultimately be used by students in agriculture careers in their futures.

So, for example, a student purchases a piece of equipment as a freshmen. Using record keeping that simply focused on paying taxes, the equipment would be depreciated as quickly as possible. At the time of their application, though, the student still may have the piece of equipment with an actual market value. This market value of the equipment is not reported in the current application. The FFA constitution outlines minimum financial requirements that a student must earn and invest. Documenting that a student has met this minimum requirement is the confusion. The use of depreciated values (tax value) does not provide a true picture of a student’s net worth. National FFA has determined that on the degree applications, actual investment in inventory will be used to determine productively invested. This is an FFA requirement, not an accounting principal or a Farm Financial Standards Council guideline.

Using the Farm Financial Standards, now the 2012 applications require students to report the fair market value and the asset-to-debt-ratio on their piece of equipment. “This is the biggest adjustment in the application,” Armbruster said. “There are other adjustments, and they are all tied back to the Farm Financial Standards.”

Armbruster went on to explain that the philosophy of using the Farm Financial Standards is to interject into the FFA awards applications the correct handling of assets to help students account for the actual acquisition costs in their investment. The Farm Financial Standards do not allow for appreciation of capital until the item is sold. Whether it is livestock or farm machinery, the student cannot account for the increase in value until they no longer own it.

Therefore the award applications are not a record-keeping system but rather a vehicle for gathering information from record keeping. They also provide a way to gather information about a student’s proficiency and whether they’ve met the standards for that award.

“Outside the award arena, there are other benefits of the revision process,” Craft adds. “FFA will now be able to share how students are preparing for agriculture careers. Data gathered from awards may inform curriculum improvement and demonstrate progressive training approaches.” Information gathered through award applications will provide evidence of learning in a time when school boards and state legislators are calling for this information for funding support.

Overall, Armbruster believes that the new applications reflect the organization’s efforts to remain rigorous and relevant to today’s rapidly changing agriculture industries. “The award program must help teachers recognize and support quality education programs, be relevant to industry needs as identified by our business partners and the AFNR Career Cluster Content Standards, and be organized in a way that is inclusive to students of all backgrounds.

Support for educators
Rebecca Carter, an education specialist in SAEs at National FFA, is working closely to support educators’ transition to the new applications.

“The new applications aren’t going to be released until the 2012-2013 school year. For this year we are using the old applications, giving us time to prepare the states,” she said.

The application is going through field tests, and there will be a national in-service for state leaders in February. She will also be going out to state conferences and other venues beginning February 2012 to help prepare everyone for the new applications.

“What we are trying to do through FFA in all levels is best prepare our students for careers in and beyond the ag industry in the future,” Carter said. The new application process will enable students to learn record keeping and financial reporting aligned with professional industry standards.

Carter’s role in the process is to answer questions – from helping people with multiple SAE applications to choosing the application in the right arena to working with state staff and helping resolve issues before or when they get to the national level.