Agweek reporter Noah Fish was joined on the Agweek Podcast by Dan Dylla and Doug Sahr, advisors for the United South Central High School FFA chapter. Dylla talks about connections he's made through FFA over the years, and Sahr shares what it's like to be teaching alongside your former ag teacher. Other topics include the upcoming National Convention, the chapter's long-running annual corn drive and opportunities that exist in the ag industry for young people today.

Wells, Minnesota — The United South Central High School FFA is sending 10 students to the 94th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis, including a senior who's a finalist for a national award.

USC FFA, advised by Dan Dylla and Doug Sahr, has over 220 active members. At the Oct. 27-30 convention which returns to being in-person this year, three students from USC's chapter will receive American FFA Degrees, and USC senior Caldyn Huper, a National Proficiency Award finalist in Ag Mechanics Repair and Maintenance Entrepreneurship, will be honored.

Huper conducted his interview virtually in September with judges from the industry. Although it'll be his last year competing as a high school student, Huper said he's excited to continue FFA competition for a couple years post-graduation.

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Freshman FFA members at USC are required to fill out at least one Supervised Agricultural Experience proficiency application, said Huper. He was hooked after that first step.

"It's a good experience because it's basically like filling out your resume," said Huper of the SAE process.

For the first part his project in ag mechanics and entrepreneurship, Huper restored a 1944 Farmall-B tractor. It was a job he was capable of thanks to his upbringing, working alongside his dad who operates an independent repair shop outside of Alden, Minnesota.

"I've been working on tractors since I was 5 or 6 years old," said Huper.

He treated the SAE like more than just a competitive bid for FFA, but a chance to do a real professional job.

"I tore that tractor down and had pretty much every bolt out of it, and overhauled the engine and the transmission," said Huper. "As long as we had (the tractor) all apart, I decided to sandblast and paint it too."

Huper's restoration went all the way to redoing the tin work, which had the finished work looking "nice, shiny and working good", he said. The end result demonstrated just how sound his mechanical skills were — something he'd been aware of for a while.

"My goal eventually is to probably come home and work with Dad in his repair shop, and eventually take that over one day," said Huper.

While hands-on parts of the job always came natural to him, Huper said his years in FFA made him better at record keeping and organization.

"FFA kind of focuses more on the paperwork side of things and how to explain to others what you're actually doing," he said. "Instead of just going into the shop and turning wrenches every day."

He said his interview last month for the National Proficiency Award went well, and wasn't something he ever felt overwhelmed by.

"We don't normally practice much for it," he said of the contest interview. "I'm pretty well-rounded on what I'm talking about, so it came naturally."

Sahr said that's the right approach for a kid like Huper.

"If they know their project, it comes through in the interview," he said.

Sahr and Dylla appreciate how genuine Huper is in his category of competition.

"I've done a lot interviews for FFA in the past and I can tell when kids really rehearse, because it's like every word has been orchestrated, and it bothers me," said Dylla.

Dylla said that Huper's dad was one of the first students he advised in FFA, and he saw natural traits in Caldyn that his father had in high school.

"I've got quite a connection to a lot these kids," said Dylla.