JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Mike Parson celebrated agriculture's influence in Missouri on Wednesday with John Deere tractors, hundreds of FFA students and a meeting with the Missouri Farm Bureau.
Keeping up with tradition, Parson ditched his usual security SUV for a green John Deere tractor Wednesday morning for his commute to the state Capitol.
Celebrating National FFA Week, Parson joined thousands of students who drive tractors to school for a day each year. After arriving at the Capitol, Parson presented a proclamation declaring Feb. 19-26 as National FFA Week in Missouri and then traveled to the Missouri Farm Bureau to talk about agricultural priorities for the state.
"I got a lot of green paint in my own barn at home, but I'm not going to get into that dispute because a lot of people got red paint and all different colors out there," said Parson, who owns a cattle farm in Bolivar. "But today it's kind of fun to drive a John Deere tractor to work."
The tractors, supplied by the area Heritage Tractors dealership, left the Governor's Mansion around 8:30 a.m. and traveled on West Capitol Avenue to park in front of the state Capitol.
Parson drove one tractor with Missouri FFA President Kaitlin Kleiboeker, of Pierce City, and he was followed by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe in a second tractor with Missouri FFA Vice President Abigail Miller, of Eldon.
"Short drive it was, but you get a chance to talk to them and find out why they're here today, what got them involved in FFA, and it's always good to talk to those young kids about their dreams and about their vision for things," Parson said. "It was a fun little ride and drive to the Capitol this morning."
FFA, which stands for the Future Farmers of America, is an agricultural career oriented student organization with local, state and national chapters. Missouri has nearly 26,000 FFA students and is among the nation's top 10 states for FFA membership.
Approximately 300 FFA officers and members from local chapters throughout Missouri traveled Wednesday to the Capitol City for the governor's proclamation and to hear from agricultural leaders.
Parson said the number of FFA students that were at the Capitol on Wednesday shows how important agriculture is to Missouri and future generations of farmers and businesses.
"What they're going to be able to do in their lifetime is going to be an incredible opportunity with technology the way it's going," he said.
Parson was joined by Kehoe, state agriculture director Chris Chinn and Margie Vandeven, state commissioner for elementary and secondary education, for the proclamation in the Capitol Rotunda.
The state leaders encouraged FFA students to continue talking about the importance of agriculture in Missouri and the value it adds to the state. Kehoe also urged the students to take those discussions to state lawmakers.
"We need you to be the voice of agriculture," Chinn told the future farmers.
After declaring this week National FFA Week in Missouri, Parson continued his focus on agriculture by setting state priorities at the Missouri Farm Bureau's 2022 Legislative Briefing.
Parson said he's expecting inflation and the foreign conflict in Ukraine to raise the price of natural gas and fertilizer, which could create tough conditions for farmers.
He encouraged the farmers to "probably tighten the belt just a little bit and try to ride through this storm."
"We need to do everything we can to be as efficient as we can and to make sure we're taking care of our fellow farmers in this state," he continued.
Parson said the agriculture industry is evolving to include more business, technology, science and infrastructure.
He said the state should be looking at farmers as small-business owners and addressing issues that prevent farmers from being successful business owners, such as a lack of broadband internet access.
Parson has proposed a $400 million investment to expand access to broadband throughout the state. He said it seems like most lawmakers are on board with the investment, which he expects to impact rural, suburban and urban areas of the state.
In addition to broadband, Parson said eminent domain, improvements to minor routes and agricultural tax credits will be priorities this session.
The state Legislature was going to address agricultural tax credits last session but didn't get the legislation passed the finish line.
"What happened last year should have never happened," Parson said. "Those agriculture tax credits should have gotten passed. We rely on them in the state of Missouri, and we can't miss that opportunity again."
Parson said the Farm Bureau should pay attention to any extra measures that get added to agriculture tax credit bills because he won't support them.
"We're not here to do other people other favors in the private sector that has nothing to do with agriculture," he said. "I will be very sensitive to that. I will tell you as governor I want everyone of you to know that, so if they do that, chances are that won't pass -- if they put additional language in there."
Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins said Parson has brought steady, common sense leadership to the state and agriculture industry.
"If there's anyone in leadership who gets it, in terms of our desire to bring home the next generation -- to bring the kids home if they so choose to farm -- we have a governor who gets that," Hawkins said.
Lucas Alexander, a 13-year-old and eighth-generation farmer from Webster County, said he attended the legislative briefing to talk to lawmakers about broadband and eminent domain.
His father, Mark Alexander, said they regularly visit with their state representatives to talk about property rights, initiative petition concerns and the importance of broadband access.
Their family farm is roughly 12 miles away from the nearest town and the Alexanders got internet fiber to their area two years ago.
"It has completely changed the way that we've been able to operate our farm," Mark said. "I work an off-farm job, but because of the broadband, I have been able to start working from home and so I'm a little closer to the farm now even though I'm working off-farm to support the farm. That's been a huge, huge opportunity."
In the accompanying video, Gov. Mike Parson rides his tractor to work and talks about the National FFA Week tradition.