For 15 years, Agriculture Future of America has been creating partnerships that identify, encourage and support college men and women who are preparing for careers in the agriculture and food industry. The program began in 1996 with just eight states, focusing on students of the Midwest.

"We had learned that's where the hardworking students come from," said AFA program coordinator Derek Mulhern. "That's where students are raised with values, that's where students have the opportunity to learn and to grow, and have those opportunities to continue to be hardworking individuals who give back to their community."

Mulhern was the guest speaker for the Salute to Agriculture Breakfast Friday morning at the Mervyn Jenkins Expo center. The event was hosted by the Chillicothe FFA Chapter and the Chillicothe Area Chamber of Commerce. The breakfast was furnished by the Chillicothe FFA.

Since its inception, the AFA program has realized 65 percent growth, now reaching into 43 states, and involving more than 200 colleges and universities throughout the country. More than $7.5 million in academic and leader development scholarships have been awarded since 1997. Students from 150 majors and degree programs have participated in AFA leaders development programs.

Participation in all programs and academic scholarships are based on competitive applications and evaluation. Part of the program involves giving participants the opportunity to talk with company executives to find out what steps they took to get them to where they are now, and learn what it will help make themselves become successful.

"It's really an eye opening experience for these students to gain more skills and understand that there are so many opportunities out there for them," Mulhern said. "AFA really wants to help provide those opportunities, whether through networking or through professional development."

Mulhern said that employers are highly satisfied with the performance of recent hires who have completed the AFA program. An employer satisfaction study showed an average of 8.5, or 1.4 points greater satisfaction of recent hires who completed the AFA program, compared to those who did not.

Mulhern thanked those attending Friday's breakfast for what they are doing to help prepare students for careers in the ag industry.

"If they get into the agriculture industry, they'll have a job when they graduate," Mulhern said. "When you get into the agricultural field of study in college, when you graduate, you will have a job. Every one in five jobs is going to an agriculture student."

Chillicothe FFA President Jordan Huddleston served as the event's master of ceremonies. The invocation was given by Crysten Lollar, FFA chaplain. Chillicothe Mayor Chuck Haney welcomed the approximate 125 guests in attendance.

There were 38 FFA members helping prepare and serve the meal.

Brent Kline, of Woody's Automotive Group, which was the event sponsor, thanked those who attended, and talked about Ram truck's popular "Farmer" Super Bowl video. He said that the Ram Truck brand pledged to make a donation to the National FFA Organization for every view of its two-minute "Farmer" Super Bowl video on the brand's website, with the intent of generating $1 million.

"It took less than a week to reach the 10 million view milestone equating to the $1 million donation," Kline said.

As of Feb. 14, the "Farmer" video had been viewed more than 18 million times at and www. and millions more times on other sites.

Kline reflected on comments made by Fred Diaz, President and CEO – Ram Truck Brand: "'Farmer' is about having America appreciate everything that farmers and farm families do on a daily basis and captures the hard work, determination and character of the farmer in all of us."

The video also launched the Ram Truck brand's 2013 "The Year of the Farmer" campaign aimed at bringing national attention to the significance of the American farmer.

Other exhibitors at the Salute to Agriculture Breakfast were Barnes Baker Motors, Citizens Bank & Trust, Livingston County Farm Bureau, Sydenstricker Farm and Lawn, Woody's Outdoor Power Equipment and Ziegler Ag Equipment.