Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 5, Issue 1 - May, 2012


Utah 4-H and FFA Relationship Dynamics

Sulser, A., County Agricultural Agent, Utah State University
Greenhalgh. L., County Agricultural Agent, Utah State University
Parent. V., County 4-H Agent, Utah State University
Sagers. S., County 4-H Agent, Utah State University


This study sought to identify the attitudes and perceptions that extension educators and agriculture educators had of one another. A total of 104 secondary agriculture educators and 33 extension faculties were surveyed during the summer of 2011 served as the population for this study. The study collected data in one round utilizing an online instrument. The results showed significant differences in attitudes regarding understanding of their counterparts’ jobs, knowing each other’s background, sharing information and sharing resources. Recommendations include using this information to encourage Extension and FFA professionals to improve their communication, share resources, and have a better understanding of their counterparts’ professions.  In-service training will occur with both the agriculture educators and extension faculty.  This will benefit both programs since they can complement each other and will better serve youth.


Among the first national youth development organizations in the United States, 4-H and National FFA Organization (or FFA) organized in 1902 and 1926 respectively were established to promote agricultural education (National 4-H Headquarters, 2011; National FFA Organization, 2011).   4-H became a part of the Cooperative Extension Service under the jurisdiction of the land grant universities in 1916 under the Smith Lever Act.  The United States Department of Agriculture administers the 4-H program through the state land grant university’s cooperative extension service. It operates as an informal, educational network, which utilizes volunteers. Youth are organized in 4-H clubs usually consisting of a group of neighboring families and friends with similar interests.   Clubs and leaders are supported by local extension faculty (county agent). They help organize contests and venues for youth to display projects, provide expertise in various areas and recruit and train club leaders. Any youth age 8 to 19 can be enrolled in 4-H; children under the age of 8 can participate in a limited number of non-competitive activities.  Originally 4-H centered on agricultural projects.  As our country has become more urban, 4-H has expanded its programming to include science and technology and other contemporary programs. Membership is around 7 million nationwide in approximately 90,000 clubs, with 500,000 leaders, and 3,500 extension agents.  The ratio of volunteer leader to youth ration is around 1/14 while the ratio of youth to extension agent is 1/2000 (National 4-H Headquarters, 2011).

FFA was started by a group of agriculture educators; the first clubs were started in Virginia in 1926, with the intent to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population and provide leadership training for rural farm boys. The organization was officially started by 33 students from 13 states as they ratified the constitution in 1928 during the American Royal Livestock Judging contest in Kansas City, Missouri.  The United States Department of Education administers the FFA and Agriculture Education programs under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006; it was originally the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act of 1918.  Each high school chapter has an advisor(s) responsible for formal classroom instruction as well as direct on farm, placement, and exploratory project advisement during the year. Agriculture teachers who also work as FFA advisors to students that join the chapter are employed by local school districts.  In addition, the program is supported by state and national coordinators who track the programs’ progress. The agriculture education teachers work with students ages 14-19, grades nine through twelve in most instances, though there are middle school programs for younger members. Membership is 543,079 with 7,489 chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. With approximately 11,000 FFA advisors in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands the teacher/student ratio is approximately 1/48 (National FFA Organization, 2011).

Because both organizations have similar objectives they often work closely with, or in competition with one another at local, regional, and national events.  But in recent years both programs have suffered budget cuts and both have been forced to “do more with less”.  Opportunities to expand cooperative programming should be sought after (Hillison, 1996), but often times face roadblocks.  According to Grage, K., Place, N., Ricketts,J. (2004), three major themes contribute to the success of 4-H and FFA Collaboration: personal relationships, awareness of other profession, and understanding of perceptions and competition .   

Community involvement and relationships are affected by turnover or long standing tenure of an extension agent or agriculture teacher. Youth are allowed to be members of both organizations at the same time, however at competitive events such as livestock shows and judging contests they must compete as either a member of 4-H or FFA (National 4-H Headquarters, 2011).  Many 4-H youth interested in agricultural and livestock join FFA once they enter high school.  Some continue to participate in both programs, while others become less active in 4-H or end their affiliation altogether.  Competition for participants can foster discontent between organizations that don’t have a clear idea of the other’s focus and mission (Hillison, 1996).  Mutual understanding of responsibilities can help strengthen relationships between organizations.

Figure 1. shows the organizational structure of the 4-H and FFA programs from a national to local level.  It also represents who each individual Extension Agent and Agriculture Education teacher must account to in their profession.


Figure 1. Organizational structures of 4H and FFA.



The purpose of this study was to find out differences in the attitudes and perceptions Utah State University Extension employees and Utah Agriculture teachers had of one another.

Material and Methods

In order to assess attitudes and perceptions, 14 questions were created and electronically delivered via Zoomerang statewide on two separate occasions to 33 extension faculty and 104 high school agriculture teachers.  Responses from 25 Utah Extension Faculty and 60 Utah High School Agriculture Education Teachers were received.  


  1. I am aware of the agriculture teacher/ 4-H agent's responsibilities.
  2. I know the agriculture teacher/4-H agent's background.
  3. I share information and pertinent news with the agriculture teacher/4-H agent.
  4. I am involved with the agriculture teacher/4-H agent on a weekly basis.
  5. I share resources with the agriculture teacher/4-H agent.
  6. I have respect for the agriculture teacher/4-H agent.
  7. I use the agriculture teacher/4-H agent to recruit members for my program.
  8. I use the agriculture teacher/4-H agent to train my teams for competition.
  9. I have a relationship with the agriculture teacher/4-H agent outside of county activities.
  10. I understand the administration and structure of both the FFA and 4-H programs.
  11. I understand the administrative personnel that agriculture teachers/4-H agents are ultimately accountable for their performance.
  12. I believe there is competition between FFA and 4-H for members.
  13. I believe there is competition between FFA and 4-H for awards.
  14. I believe there is competition between FFA and 4-H for time.

All individuals received the same questionnaire and had a chance to rate their level of agreement on a scale from 1-5.

The Mann-Whitney U test was used to determine if there were any differences between the responses of the agriculture advisors and extension faculty. The measure of reliability of the attitudinal scale was Cronbach’s Alpha, which was measured at an internal consistency of α=.867.


The results showed significant differences in attitudes regarding understanding of their counterparts’ jobs, knowing each other’s background, sharing information and sharing resources.  In each case extension faculty rated their attitudes and perceptions higher than their counterparts.

Though there was no significant statistical difference in 9 of the 14 questions; agriculture teachers had lower responses regarding perceptions than extension faculty did. In each of the five cases where there were significant variations, agriculture teachers felt less positive about their interaction with extension than the inverse.  They had the lowest rating (below 2.5) on whether there was competition between the two organizations for awards. (Meaning neither felt there was extreme competition between the two organizations for awards.)

A further summary of attitudinal differences of high school agriculture teachers and extension 4-H professionals are presented in Table 1.


Table 1. Summary of Attitudinal Responses

Attitudinal Statement


Agriculture Teacher



Reject Null?

Aware of responsibilities of counterpart






Know Ag Advisor/4-H agent's background






Share information and pertinent news






Involved on a weekly basis






Share Resources






Respect the agriculture teacher/4-H agent






Use other program to recruit members






Use other program to train my teams






Relationship outside of county activities






Administration and structure of programs






Supervising personnel for FFA and 4-H






There is competition for members






There is competition for awards






There is competition for time








Previous studies have indicated a disconnect and lack of understanding between cooperative extension employees and high school agriculture teachers.  A study published in the Journal of Extension in 2004 highlighted some of these differences. “The major theme affecting interdisciplinary cooperation between agriculture teachers and extension agents included an imperfect relationship between the agriculture educator and the extension agent, a lack of awareness of the other’s profession, and the current understanding and perceptions regarding cooperation held by the participants (Grage 2004.)”

Our findings show many similarities to Grage’s study. The results from the study show that extension is more comfortable in their relationship with the FFA program and leaders than the inverse.  

The first major area for significant differences in this study was found in an understanding of responsibilities and background. Possible reasons for these differences are time in position and age. According to the demographic information provided, the average and median time an extension agent was in their position is between 10-15 years, while Agriculture teachers are between 5-9 years. The average age of extension employees surveyed is 40-49, while agriculture teacher’s is 30-39. 

Consistency within an organization can provide greater understanding of counterpart’s organization and role. While some Extension/FFA instructors have jobs at their organization for extended periods of time, the other organization may experience significant turnover as personnel leave for other areas. This situation can mean that residents of an area become more familiar with one set of leaders over the others (Grage, K., Place, N., Ricketts,J.,2004). This also means that at various times youth in both organizations may gravitate to the Extension Agent or FFA advisor depending on the circumstances in the county.

The next area of difference is found in the sharing of information and resources. We believe this difference can be found in how the two organizations are structured. It is a difference of program scale. Extension oversees a larger program audience and area, necessitating use of mass communication tools. FFA structure allows one-on-one contact with students where extension faculty utilizes volunteers for teaching.

The last area of difference dealt with training of youth. This was the largest difference in the study with a 0.000 level of significance.  Extension was much more likely to utilize the agriculture teacher to train teams for competition than the opposite.  A possible reason is that the teachers have a better knowledge of a student’s abilities and skills because of formal education experiences. Teachers grade tests and assignments, and are therefore more familiar with a student’s abilities.  It seems that they would be much more capable of training youth for competitive teams. The structure of the organization also plays a factor.  4-H is staffed by numerous adult volunteers recruited by extension agents so extension is much more likely to utilize others in training teams for competition.

The level of animosity that can exist between extension and FFA was not as widespread as thought.   Both the agriculture education teachers and extension agents indicated that on average they had high levels of respect for one another.  The average rating on the 5 point scale was 4.26 for extension agents and 4.23 for the teachers. 

We were surprised there was not more competition between extension and teachers for members, awards, and time of participants. There was some consensus that time of the participants was a small issue, but not a huge problem. This meant that both 4-H and FFA had the potential of utilizing the most skilled participants.

Since both organizations have the same mission of education and healthy youth development as a goal, so working well with one another should be a priority. (Ricketts, K., Bruce, J., 2009)


Past studies have shown that both agriculture teachers and extension agents agree that their highest motivation for cooperation is their respective organizations value to youth. (Ricketts, K., Place, N.,2005)  The results from this study agree with Ricketts and Place’s conclusions that generally High School Agriculture Teachers and Extension Faculty seemed to have very similar attitudes and perceptions of one another. However on issues relating to awareness, sharing resources, and using the other to train teams, there were statistically significant differences between the responses. In each case the 4-H Agents perceived that they had a greater understanding and worked better with FFA Advisors than the inverse.

Formal and non-formal education models must be understood. The programs overlap, but the level of cooperation was not highin most individual cases.This information will be used to encourage Extension and FFA professionals to improve their communication, share resources, and have a better understanding of their counterparts’ professions. This will benefit both programs since they can complement each other and better serve youth in Utah.

Literature Cited

Grage, K., Place, N., Ricketts,J. (2004)Exploring Cooperation Between Secondary Agricultural Educators and Livestock Extension Agents: A Case Study. Journal Of Extension, Vol 42, Num 6. 

Hillison, J. (1996). Agricultural education and Eooperative Extension: The early agreements. Journal of Agricultural Education, 37(1), 9-14.

National 4-H Headquarters., accessed 21 December 2011.  

National FFA Organization., accessed 21 December 2011.

Ricketts, K., Place, N. (2005) Cooperation Between Secondary Agricultural Educators and Extension Agents. Journal of Extension, Vol 43, Num 6.

Ricketts, K., Bruce, J. (2009) "Co-opetition?" Can It Exist between Extension and Agricultural Education?—A Study on Interdisciplinary Cooperation. Journal of Extension, Vol 47, Num 5.