Ag adventure down under
A Waterloo High School graduate recently returned from a trip to Australia, bringing home both fond memories and a new perspective on agriculture from outside the Midwest.
Haley Bode is one of many local students with an interest in agriculture that blossomed in the Waterloo FFA chapter, though she stands out as one of just a few who has furthered that FFA career well into college.
Bode was honored in 2023 with an American FFA Degree – the highest degree in the organization, on par with the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout Award – and also served as an FFA state officer over the past year.
It was in that role she learned about the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers.
The program, supported by FFA partners Bunge and John Deere, sends about 75 current and past FFA officers to a foreign country to gain a better idea of what agriculture is like around the world.
“You get to go on an international agricultural excursion in order to benefit your leadership and grow as an agriculturalist, to experience that international agriculture and be able to have something to bring back to your home state and show them truly the difference between two different worlds of agriculture,” Bode said.
She had hoped to join the trip to Costa Rica last year, but said she simply wasn’t available for it.
Bode did, however, apply for this year’s trip last summer, ultimately finding herself the sole officer from Illinois to earn a spot.
She accepted the opportunity in August of last year, raised funds for the trip and wound up in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 4.
There, she and the other officers met and went through training to prep for the 10-day trip. They flew out Jan. 5 and arrived Jan. 6, losing a day due to time zones.
As Bode recalled, the trip took them from Sydney to Melbourne, where they were drawn into the typical tourist activity at both the start and end of the visit.
In driving to Melbourne, the FFA members traveled through a number of Australian towns and agricultural hotspots, primarily a collection of family farms, though Bode also specifically noted visiting a John Deere location as well as a cotton gin.
She also recalled a rice farm, Angus genetics farm, several irrigation farms and a sunflower farm. Participants also ate several dinners with representatives from agriculture companies as well as dairy farmers who did a reverse of their trip, getting a feel for the American dairy industry in Wisconsin.
While the trip was very informative, the first big takeaway from the trip Bode spoke about was the exceptional kindness and hospitality she and her peers encountered.
Bode stressed how welcoming everyone was, even as the group spent time in larger cities. The owners of the farms they visited were more than willing to offer drinks and snacks, making sure visiting FFA members felt right at home.
“I went in expecting nothing, and I was gracious for everything, but the hospitality over in Australia was just incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced before,” Bode said. “Every farm we visited was a family-owned farm that was ready to welcome us in with open arms, and they had 81 random Americans they had never met before just coming in to tour their farm.”
Bode also, of course, recounted her experiences with a focus on education.
“I really was interested in the rice farms, things like that, and the cotton gin, because in Illinois we’re used to a lot of grain farms and row crop operations, so getting to see a rice farm and more the irrigation standpoint – because they can get all that water from their local rivers and all of the river streams that run through Australia – I thought that was a really different way of looking at the agriculture industry that I can bring back to Illinois and show people just how diverse agriculture can be,” Bode said.
She also mentioned taking a special interest in the sunflower farm the group visited as it brought her back home given her family’s specialty crop operation growing sunflowers.
Bode also spoke highly of a wool operation the group visited, noting how it specifically impacted her seeing a family have such a passion for wool production while also enjoying a hobby that has been quite successful for them: raising race horses.
Focusing on the educational impact of the trip, Bode spoke about how beneficial the Australia visit was for her current work.
“One of the biggest goals that I set for myself was being able to turn what I learned into curriculum,” Bode said. “I actually work as the Union County Ag in the Classroom coordinator right now while I’m attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale majoring in agriculture education, and getting to work at that job is really amazing because I get to impact kids, and I get to go teach kids about agriculture and the agriculture industry, so one of the main goals I had was being able to take all of the information I learned and kind of create an international agricultural lesson.”
Bode expressed interest in another excursion like this to further expand her own agricultural knowledge as well as her teaching capabilities.
“I’m really interested to see what location they pick next year,” Bode said, “and even if they don’t pick a location that I’m keen to attend, I have already started looking into studying abroad because I think it is so important that students here studying agriculture expose themselves to all aspects of the agriculture industry so they can truly expose others of their part of the industry, but also appreciate everything that goes into feeding our world.”
Bode offered thanks for those who helped her attend this trip, including the Waterloo Optimist Club, Waterloo Rotary Club, Waterloo FFA Alumni, Farm Credit Services, Waterloo Odd Fellows and Monroe County Farm Bureau.