Elected to the highest office in the Future Farmers of America in 2020, Doster Harper points to a science fair project during his sophomore year in high school as the starting line for what has been a whirlwind adventure as the organization’s national president.
by Chris Bridges
Doster Harper admits he never expected the Future Farmers of America to play such a significant role in his young life. Currently a student at the University of Georgia, the Covington native first linked arms with the nationally known organization by accident.
“I did not grow up on a farm,” Harper said. “I actually grew up in a subdivision in Covington. During my freshman year of high school, I was in ag education and was an FFA member, but I really did not get involved in it fully until the next school year.”
Through the encouragement of high school agriculture teacher Dr. Marcus Pollard and others, Harper became more and more involved. Today, he finds himself at the pinnacle of the organization, serving as the national FFA president for 2020–21. Because of the time-consuming nature of his position, Harper has taken off a year from college as he travels the country attending conferences and other FFA-related functions. It has been a whirlwind, but Harper would not trade the experience for anything.
Harper, who majors in agriscience and environmental systems at Georgia, was in FFA all four years of high school. He took one class a day at Eastside, then moved to the Newton College and Career Academy, which has its own FFA chapter. All of his agriculture-related classes were at the career academy. His involvement in the Future Farmers of America started with the study of bees and a science fair project for a chemistry class. By the end of the school year, Pollard had encouraged Harper to enter the project in an FFA competition. He traveled to the state convention as a sophomore, even though he was not overly excited about doing so.
“Dr. Pollard had done a lot for me, so I decided to return the favor by competing,” Harper said. “As it turned out, I had a blast at the convention. It was the first time I put on a blue jacket. On the way home, two officers encouraged me to run for office, and I was elected treasurer of my high school chapter.”
By the time he was a senior at NCCA, Harper had been elected chapter president. His climb on the FFA leadership ladder continued during his freshman year at Georgia, where he was chosen for a state office.
“I lacked confidence when I was younger. I never saw that much potential in myself, but my teachers and fellow FFA members pushed me to go further.”Future Farmers of America National President Doster Harper
“I just continued to become more and more involved by that point,” Harper said. “I had no idea this would go as far as it has. It was really one small step at a time. I have always had a ton of encouragement every step of the way.”
He admits that not long ago he never could have imagined being in this position, which affords him the opportunity to travel the country and speak to large groups. National officers are called upon to deliver keynote speeches at conferences.
“I lacked confidence when I was younger,” Harper said. “I never saw that much potential in myself, but my teachers and fellow FFA members pushed me to go further. They just kept encouraging me. My ag teacher was always one step ahead of me, and he always pushed me. When I told him I was thinking about running for national office, he was not surprised.”
Harper’s success has not surprised Andy Paul, a fellow Georgian who was selected as national FFA president in 2014.
“From the moment I met him, he had one of the strongest characters of anyone you could meet,” Paul said. “He was always encouraging his teammates or leading by example. He is someone who is always making sure the job gets done. He really takes pride in showing them what a strong man of faith and character he is. He has made such a positive impact on students this past year.”
Harper’s one-year term as national FFA president runs through October. He admits it has been challenging to deal with the busy schedule while navigating the coronavirus pandemic. Harper’s role as national FFA president has taken him to multiple states, including Arizona, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia.
“All of the national officers on our team have been great,” Harper said. “We spent the year with FFA members virtually and in-person. We simply look to inspire, motivate and encourage personal growth in themselves as leaders. Our job is really being with FFA members and helping them achieve success in whatever way we can.”
Harper has handled the magnitude of the role in stride, drawing praise from predecessors in whose footsteps he has followed.
“He has exceeded all of our expectations,” Paul said. “If national FFA didn’t pick him, they would have really missed out on someone who is a special leader.”
Harper has reached the top of the mountain in terms of serving the Future Farmers of America, but once his term as national president ends, so, too, will his FFA duties.
“This will be it for me,” he said. “I am fortunate to still be involved. Most are only active during their high school careers. Beyond holding national office, there is no additional office one can serve in. Whenever I retire from national office, that will be the final time in a blue jacket as an active member. I will be part of the national FFA alumni and supporters to help give back, but there will be no more active competitions.”
After he graduates from college, Harper plans to join the United States Army. He currently serves as a member of the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps chapter at the University of Georgia.
“That will be my career for at least the four years after college,” Harper said. “After that, I will look at things and see if I want it to be a long-term career or work in the agriculture industry in some way. I know I am passionate about researching in agricultural science. It might be doing research at a university or even going back to the classroom to be a teacher and FFA advisor.”