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Vocational Education

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The nation's future farmers are on the move--literally.

In a maneuver that has residents of Kansas City, Mo., grumbling, the National FFA Organization is transplanting its annual convention from that city, where it has been a fixture since 1928, to Louisville, Ky., beginning in 1998.

The 453,000-member group, which is devoted to agricultural education and leadership training for the nation's youths, is also pulling up the roots of many of its business operations and shifting them from Alexandria, Va., a suburb of Washington, to Indianapolis.

Despite that move to the heartland, the headquarters of what formerly was known as the Future Farmers of America will remain in the Washington area. Jennifer Conway, a spokeswoman for the group, said the headquarters would stay put in large part because the two top officials of the congressionally chartered, nonprofit group must be U.S. Department of Education employees.

The convention's switch to Louisville has inflamed commentators in Kansas City, where the meeting has been held since its start nearly seven decades ago. The gathering adds an estimated $20 million to the local economy, according to the FFA, and the organization's clean-scrubbed, rural image makes the convention an attractive guest.

Kansas City banker R. Crosby Kemper--long a prominent FFA booster--was especially upset. He and other backers have pledged $750,000 to start a competing organization, focused on youth leadership and traditional agriculture in high school and college agricultural and animal husbandry programs.

Mr. Kemper said the FFA now emphasizes science and business at the expense of traditional farming. "There are still thousands of kids out on the farm that would benefit from what we want to provide," he said.

But Ms. Conway said the FFA's broadened scope reflects changes in "farming and the whole industry of agriculture" in the past several decades.

Moving the group's business operations from the nation's capital to the outskirts of Indianapolis is not an attempt to get closer to farmers but to reduce operating expenses, Ms. Conway said.

Joining the cost-cutting move is the National FFA Foundation, which raises more than one-third of the FFA's annual budget of $18 million, Ms. Conway said. Foundation officials recently announced that they, too, will relocate to the FFA center planned for Indianapolis by 1998, leaving behind their Madison, Wis., home.


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