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The FFA Sentinel

By Jacob Davis

The years following World War II have been associated with improved living standards throughout the United States. According to historians, in 1947 a housing crisis became a national concern. On a more positive note, "Howdy Doody" premiered on NBC in December 1947 and by 1950, nine percent of the homes in the U.S. had television sets.

Two of the past four Sentinel articles have focused upon FFA activities from the 1930s to the war years of 1940-45. The lifestyle of most rural Americans changed dramatically during the years of 1946-50, because of indoor plumbing, electricity provided through electric cooperatives and improved medical care. The 1940-41 school year, per the June 1941 Alabama Future Farmer, listed the Alabama FFA Association with 5,837 members in 202 chapters. The 1949-50 school year had 11,897 members in 250 chapters said the June-July 1950 Alabama Future Farmer. A 49 percent increase in membership and an increase of 48 chapters during this same nine-year period. Not only were American lifestyles improving, so was the FFA and FFA membership.

The boost in membership evidently caused a problem for Alabama cattle producers for calves for the "fat stock shows" to be held in the spring of 1946. Three carloads of steers were shipped from Texas to help meet the demand for calves, said the November 1945 Alabama Future Farmer. Calves shown were primarily Angus, Hereford/Polled Hereford and Shorthorn. Chapters reporting members showing calves was astounding. The chapters reporting the most members showing were Elba with 26 members showing 42 calves, Paint Rock Valley with 19 calves, Sidney Lanier with 16 calves and Collinsville with 21 members showing 31 calves.

The Birmingham Fat Stock Show was presenting special awards for the top three carcass grades consisting of prime, choice and good at its spring 1946 show. Joe Farquhor, president of the Livingston Chapter, had champion steer at the Demopolis Fat Stock Show. At the Montgomery Fat Stock Show, Sidney Lanier members won seven of the nine classes. At this time, the Sidney Lanier chapter was only three years old.

Elba FFA members discovered there was not enough corn produced at their family farms to sufficiently feed their calves. Under the guidance of their adviser E.P. Gieger, the members decided to corporately purchase 600 bushels of yellow corn at $1.70 per bushel, reported Donald Kelly, 1946 Elba Chapter Reporter, in the April 1946 Alabama Future Farmer.

Collinsville members were profit makers on their steer projects according to the June 1946 Alabama Future Farmer. Members received $7,385.41 for their calves. The total cost of calves and feed was $4,402.89. This left a net income of $2,982.52. Collinsville calves also placed second in the county group benefiting the chapter $25. Total prize money received by Collinsville FFA members was $181.

There were nine district or area "fat stock shows" throughout the state. Dates ranged from late March to early May. The host cities included Grove Hill, Demopolis, Montgomery, Selma, Dothan, Gadsden, Mobile, Decatur and Birmingham.

The State Star Farmer began in 1946. Joe Minter of the Camp Hill Chapter (Tallapoosa County) was the winner of the first Star Farmer. He was one of 147 state degree recipients. Minter’s supervised agricultural experience project was dairy production. He averaged a profit of $200 per month selling milk. Not bad for a high school FFA member considering in today’s currency it would be equal to $1,549 per month.

Advertisement, evidently, played an important part in supporting the Alabama Future Farmer. Swift and Company of Chicago and Portland Cement Association of Birmingham advertised in every issue. The Progressive Farmer magazine occasionally advertised.

Swift and Company had "small" articles within its two pages of monthly advertisement.

Subjects included animal nutrition, health and selection, pasture improvement, weed control, agriculturally related economic information and recipes.

In the February 1948 Alabama Future Farmer, Swift and Company ad detailed how the company’s dollar was divided. Out of each dollar 79.3 cents went to producers, 9.7 cents to employees, 3.8 cents for supplies, 1.8 cents for transportation, 1.3 cents for taxes, 3.1 cents for other expenses (employee benefits, research, insurance, advertising, postage, telephone, etc.) and 1 cent as earnings. According to the ad, approximately $30 billion was received by ranchers and farmers for their agricultural products, which was a record high year for agricultural sales. Out of that amount, $1,782,472,718 went to producers from Swift and Company in payment for the products sold to the company.

Portland Cement Association, as expected, advertised the effects of concrete usage around the farm. Ads encouraged the use of concrete to "build farm improvements which will save labor and increase profits." Barns and feeding floors, walks and runways, foundations, watering troughs, septic tanks, well platforms and manure pits were just a few of the suggested improvements that would increase profits and give "a lifetime of service with little expense for upkeep," said the December 1947 Alabama Future Farmer.

The 1948-49 school year saw an increase in advertisements for the Alabama Future Farmer from other companies like Alabama Power, Standard Oil Company, American Turpentine Association, Dixie Canner Company, Ball Brothers Company and the L.G. Balfour Company. Each company echoed its products and services.

Community Service has always been a part of the FFA. Many readers can remember the community canning plants. Most counties had at least one and several had two canning facilities. Clay County had three. Vegetable growers and gardeners could take their produce to the canning centers where it was processed and canned, which was an alternative to the home canning practices. Most often, but not always, the local vocational agriculture teacher was the person in charge of the canning centers. Local FFA members assisted from time to time.

The FFA membership for Alabama in 1948-49 was 10,527, which ranked the state seventh nationally. The Northport Chapter (Tuscaloosa County) had 128 members. There were 223 chapters by this time. Membership ranked from Northport’s 128 members to Kennedy’s (Lamar County) 10 members said the August-September 1949 Alabama Future Farmer.

The 1949-50 school year saw the implementation of a swine improvement program commonly known in FFA and state agricultural circles as the Sears Pig Chain, then commonly referred to as the Sears Roebuck (Foundation) Pig Chain. (The Sears FFA bull program had been established about a year earlier.) Twenty-five registered bred gilts were placed in selected chapters throughout the state.

According to the October-November 1949 Alabama Future Farmer, the pig program worked as follows. A Chapter received a bred gilt. When her pigs had been weaned, the males were sold or disposed of as the chapter desired. The gilts were to be placed with deserving boys (FFA was for boys only from 1928 until 1969) in the local Chapter. (Some chapters kept all the gilts.) The gilts were to be grown out as breeding stock, as directed by the Chapter. When these gilts reached six to eight months-of-age, the local Chapter was to hold a local show. At this show, the two top exhibitors were selected to enter the area show.

After the boys attended the local and area shows, the gilts were to be bred as directed by the Chapter and when the gilts farrowed each boy was to return to his Chapter one choice pig, as selected by the Chapter. He then had completed his obligation and would have paid for the pig placed with him by the local Chapter.

The gilt returned to the Chapter could be given to another boy or kept by the Chapter. The original gilt was to be bred again so as to keep the chain going and continuing the process. One of the objectives of this program was to eventually provide local swine producers with better breeding stock.

There were 10 bulls in the Sears Bull Chain Show in 1948-49. The show was held during the State Fair at Birmingham. The Five Points Chapter (Chambers County) had the champion bull, which happened to be a Horned Hereford. The Sears gilt and bull programs still exist.

1950 saw color introduced in the Alabama Future Farmer Magazine, as well as "slick paper," like what most magazines use today. Twenty-six more chapters were added to the state making a total of 250 chapters.

As our country, states and local communities were growing economically, so was our population with the millions of Baby Boomers. Because of improved living conditions and prosperity brought about by better technology and farming practices, the FFA was a benefactor as evident by the written record. The FFA was on a course for continued growth and success.

Next time we’ll reminisce about the years of 1951-55.

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Date Last Updated January, 2006