By Mary Ann Inman


CLINTON – Erica Ballmer, Clinton High School graduate (2012), attended the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky. on Oct. 31 and received the American FFA Degree. Her mother Ronna and siblings Ciera and Kenny traveled with her to share her experience.

The family watched as Erica received the American FFA Degree bestowed upon a select group of students in recognition of their years of academic and professional excellence. Erica was one of 3,434 American Degree national recipients this year.

This year, the National FFA Organization honored FFA members who show the utmost dedication to the organization through their desire to develop their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

As a special project of the National FFA Foundation, the award recognizes demonstrated ability and outstanding achievements in agricultural business, production, processing or service programs. To be eligible, FFA members must have earned and productively invested $10,000 through a supervised agricultural experience program in which they start, own or hold a professional position in an existing agriculture enterprise. Recipients must also complete 50 hours community service and demonstrate outstanding leadership abilities and civic involvement.

Each recipient of the American FFA Degree receives a gold American FFA Degree key, certificate and matted frame after being recognized on stage at that national convention.

The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

Erica is now a senior at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she is majoring in Dairy Science and Life Sciences Communication. At school, she is active in several agricultural-related student organizations and most actively involved in the National Agri-Marketing Association, where she serves as Secretary and in the Association of Women in Agriculture, where she serves as Treasurer. She is also involved with Collegiate FFA as well as Collegiate Farm Bureau and is a member of the Dairy Judging Team.

Ms. Ballmer has been familiar with agriculture her whole life, despite spending the first 10 years of her life living in the city of Janesville. She moved to rural Janesville/Clinton Community School District just prior to starting 6th grade.

Both of her parents grew up on dairy farms. Even though no one in the family still milks cows, the majority of her family is still involved in agriculture in some way. While Erica was growing up, her grandfather, Archie Morton Sr., and uncle, John Morton ran a livestock transportation company.

Her uncles, Arch Morton Jr. and John Morton both grow crops. Arch Jr. is also actively involved in various agricultural associations at the local and state level and serves on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

Erica’s Grandpa, Uncle John, and her cousins Ashley, Marissa, and Alex also have an antique tractor collection, the Morton Family Farmalls. One of her favorite parts of summer is driving her grandpa’s Farmall A through the Shopiere Parade and at the Rock River Thresheree. Agriculture has always been a key part of her life, and she hopes it always will be.

Erica explained, “Most of my Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) entailed raising and showing dairy cattle at the Rock County 4-H Fair, but I also worked in the office of the Red and White Dairy Cattle Association during my senior year of high school.

“During the summer of 2014, I was the intern for the Wisconsin Dairy Youth Program. In this role, I assisted with the planning and preparation of various youth events including 4-H and FFA Dairy Judging Contests, 4-H Dairy Bowl, 4-H Dairy Management Contests, and Badger Dairy Camp.

“This past summer, I actually explored a different agriculture industry – the agricultural equipment industry. I interned for Case IH as their Events Marketing Intern. It was a tremendous opportunity and I got to experience, see, and practice what marketing entails in the agricultural equipment industry.”

She added, “A defining moment for me was when I was in eighth grade enrolling for high school classes. I was told that someone like me shouldn’t be taking agriculture classes in high school. I’m still not sure what that was supposed to mean.

“Regardless, I enrolled in an agriculture class each year of high school and chose to study agriculture in college and am looking to have an agricultural related career in the future. On that topic, not many people realize the many opportunities available in agriculture.

“In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that there are not enough graduates to fill agricultural jobs throughout the U.S. (Only 35,000 graduates, but 60,000 openings for highly-skilled agricultural jobs.) Agriculture includes more than just production agriculture or farming. There are so many opportunities; one just has to seek them.”

A lot of people often give her a weird look when she tells that about studying Dairy Science. Most people also assume that she wants to become a dairy farmer.

While dairy farming is a potential option for graduates of Dairy Science, there are also other opportunities such as being a nutritionist or geneticist or a researcher.

Ms. Ballmer noted, “For me, I am more interested in the communication/education aspect of agriculture. While I graduate from UW-Madison this May, I am still debating what I would like to do following graduation. I’m leaning towards furthering my education and pursuing a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Education.

“Someday, I would love to be a 4-H and Youth Development Extension Agent, but would also consider being an Agricultural Education instructor/FFA Advisor. On the other hand, I’m also considering pursuing a career in agricultural marketing or communications.

“I’m going to be spending a lot of my Winter Break deciding and preparing for whichever is going to happen next. Whichever option I choose, I hope to enlighten others about agriculture and inspire youth to become involved in agriculture as well.”

Erica credits 4-H and FFA experiences as inspirations that have led her to where she is today. Both have molded her and provided her with a solid foundation. She beams with excitement when she talks about both programs.

Erica said, “Both organizations provide youth the opportunities to explore their interests, participate in community service activities, enhance leadership skills, build teamwork skills, and expand communication skills. They contribute more than agriculture.

“For example, through 4-H I performed in the Rock County 4-H Show Choir, Heatwave for 6 years and through FFA, I performed in the Wisconsin State FFA Honors Band for 4 years and the National FFA Honors Band for 2 years. Not many people would think of music when thinking of either organization. This is just one example of the boundless opportunities the organizations provide.”

As a student at UW-Madison, Erica doesn’t have a lot of time for hobbies or travel. But she does like to cheer on the Wisconsin Badgers, especially the football team.

Ms. Ballmer concludes, “One thing that I really miss from my high school years is music. I play clarinet and piano and sometimes even sing, but I don’t have a lot of time for that these days. When I’m visiting home, I enjoy spending time with my family and just taking in peaceful rural view. I love being in Madison for school, but it’s always nice to come home to enjoy the countryside.”Erica Ballmer

Courtesy photo

Clinton High School graduate (2012), Erica Ballmer, attended the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky. on Oct. 31 and received the American FFA Degree.