When Creed Ammons started his career in FFA, he didn’t have much experience in meat processing. By the time he completed FFA, he had become skilled enough to be nationally recognized.
Ammons won the 2020 FFA National Proficiency Award in agriculture processing. He is a 2020 graduate of Tyler Consolidated High School, in Sistersville, West Virginia. He’s attending West Virginia University, majoring in agricultural and extension education.
Agricultural Proficiency Awards honor FFA members who developed specialized skills through their supervised agricultural experiences, or SAE. Ammons is the 15th national proficiency award winner from West Virginia in the history of the FFA, which was founded in 1928.
He said his win speaks to more than just the skills he developed through the Tyler FFA program
“I think agriculture processing holds a strong part in what we can do with West Virginia agriculture, not being a major ag state,” Ammons said. “It’s very important to be diversified in what we do in West Virginia.”
West Virginia may not have the acreage or flat land that lends itself well to large-scale production agriculture. But they can meet consumer demand and build relationships locally.
“It’s important for people in West Virginia and these smaller states to find a way to fit into niche markets and to sell locally,” he said.
There are nearly 50 areas in which members can apply for a proficiency award, like ag communications, agricultural mechanics design and fabrication, beef production, diversified crop production and forest management.
Students first compete at the state level and must win there before moving onto nationals. Ammons was up against more than 30 state champions when he was named one of four national finalists.
Usually the finalists would go through an interview at the FFA National Convention. This year, with the convention being held virtually, finalists submitted short videos instead.
The Agricultural Proficiency Award program is meant to show a student’s growth throughout their FFA career, said Annie Erwin, one of the agriculture education teachers at Tyler Consolidated High School. Much of the application for the award asks about how knowledge, responsibilities and skills increased over time.
Ammons started out in processing the way many FFA students do in West Virginia, through the ham and bacon program. Students raise hogs that are processed at the school’s meat lab into hams, bacon and other fresh pork products. The hams and bacon are auctioned off at a sale in the spring.
“It’s a pretty unique opportunity,” Erwin said.
Ammons raised a couple of hogs his first years of the program. He learned how to make the right cuts, cure meat, load the smoker and package pork to be visually appealing to consumers.
He took the other cuts from his hogs and cut them into pork chops, ground it into sausage and sometimes sold other cuts, like spare ribs or tenderloins, he said. These cuts were then sold to the public. His senior year, he raised eight hogs for the program.
They calculated he sold about 2,000 pounds of fresh pork products throughout his entire high school career. That’s not counting the ham and bacon sale products.
He started raising Thanksgiving turkeys his junior year, after noticing a growing demand in his area but a lack of supply. He started with about a dozen the first year and figured out how to properly slaughter and process them on-farm the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
He marketed them as non-GMO, never frozen and locally grown. He jumped up to about 30 turkeys last year. This year, they’ve increased the flock to about 70 turkeys, now that his younger brothers have joined his business venture.
After killing, eviscerating and plucking the turkeys on the farm, he took them to the high school meats lab to vacuum seal them and store them in a cooler until they could be delivered to customers. Vacuum sealing them is an extra touch that keeps the turkeys fresh longer, if people want to save them for Christmas, and also makes them easier to handle and transport safely.
“I’m very thankful I have the opportunity to use that piece of equipment,” he said. “With our meats facility, I just have to pay for the bags I use, but not to use the equipment.”
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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