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Harry Stine reflects on his FFA days

February 16, 2018
By KRISS NELSON - Farm News news editor ( , Farm News


ADEL - The words "Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve" not only make up the FFA motto but could also be used to describe former FFA members.

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Harry Stine, chief executive officer of Stine Seed Company said he can attribute some of his successes to his experiences and lessons learned in FFA and his vocation agriculture classes.

One in particular is Harry Stine, chief executive officer of Stine Seed Company.

Learning to do and doing to learn

Stine attended Washington Township Consolidated School and was a member of the Washington Township FFA from 1954-1959 under the guidance of FFA advisor and vocational ag instructor Bill Schnelle.

Those programs, Stine said, were beneficial in a couple of respects.

During his time in FFA, it was the annual trips they would take that he remembers the most.

"Our FFA advisor would take a group of us students every summer on a trip some place," he said. "In retrospect, when I think about, he had a lot of patience to put up with us kids. I have a great respect for how hard instructors and teachers have tried to teach students and for what dedication they have."

Stine said those trips during his FFA career took him to Kansas City, Chicago and St. Louis, and were done with limited resources.

"Because most of us were rural farm kids with very limited finances, we would do this in an extremely economical way," he said. "We would travel with pup tents and we would stop along the way at a city park or wherever. We would cook our own food. What I thought was good was that the instructor was going to this much effort to make sure kids that otherwise couldn't afford this type of thing got to experience the city, certain industries, the whole nine yards."

He added FFA does well in teaching students in other areas besides agriculture. Parliamentary procedure is just one example he mentioned.

"That kind of background of the FFA, I feel, was very helpful in what we have been doing in agriculture," he said.

Stine said he learned a valuable lesson during a true and false quiz held in his vocational agriculture class.

"We had a true and false question and it stated all male pigs should be castrated at 10 days of age. I knew that to be the correct date, so I marked true," he said. "I missed the question. I was wrong, because the instructor said if you castrated all male pigs you wouldn't have pigs anymore."

The lesson Stine learned that day was instilled in him and is a part of how he handles his business today.

"I suggest that when you do contracts with me," he said. "I am pretty careful and I attribute that in part to that experience."

Many of Stine's projects in FFA overlapped with his 4-H projects back then. 4-H is another program he feels passionate about.

"4-H, I think, is also very valuable for young people," he said.

His projects consisted of keeping track of the pricing of the livestock or crops he was raising.

"Sometimes, the business aspects of agriculture get overlooked because we are concentrating on production, and farmers today will find that, yes, that's good to know the ins and outs of production," he said. "But the whole economic business complex is very important."

No matter a student's involvement in an organization such as FFA, Stine feels gaining the knowledge and experience is substantial.

"Philosophically, we think people with a broad background of knowledge, whether it's ag, non-ag or whatever is advantageous, no matter the profession or career they end up with," he said.

With those ideals, Stine strongly suggests students become involved with FFA.

"I would tell them that it's for their benefits," he said. "Regardless of what they may end up doing later in their life. The experience will give them the advantage over students that haven't had such an experience."

FFA, which was formerly known as Future Farmers of America, changed its name recently to "reflect the growing diversity in the industry of agriculture," according to information provided by the National FFA Organization.

It's that type of evolution, Stine said, that's not only good for FFA, but for agriculture.

"I know there are more urban connections in FFA then there was when I was in school and that has to be good," he said. "As you're well aware, because of the dwindling agricultural population, having the correct information on how agriculture functions and what it provides starts to be a problem, so the more that can be disseminated throughout our population the better."

Earning to Live, Living to Serve

Stine, who has been recognized as the richest person in the state of Iowa in 2017 by Forbes, has not only earned his way to live, but is also living to serve. He said they have helped to significantly finance the FFA Enrichment Center located on the Des Moines Area Community College Campus in Ankeny.

"Simply because the FFA and other agricultural organizations and the ag community have been very beneficial to me, and so we think those that can, should indeed support those organizations."



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