A John Deere Publication

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Jay Armstrong's agricultural leadership career has aimed to build coalitions between farmers and end-users.

Agriculture, Sustainability   June 01, 2024

The Man from Muscotah

Jay Armstrong pays forward the lessons he learned from his ancestors.

by Bill Spiegel

When Jay Armstrong enters the Muscotah Mercantile Cafe, he makes eye contact with every person in the room. One diner asks him about last night's basketball game; another speaks with him about the condition of county roads. Everyone in the room is a friend.

Muscotah—a Kickapoo Indian word meaning "prairie"—is home to about 150 people in northeast Kansas. As Armstrong drives around the community following a hearty fried chicken lunch, he points out the landmarks of his beloved hometown: the Muscotah Community Church, where he was baptized and raised; the vacant lot where Armstrong recalls playing touch football with his friends and cousins as a youth.

The community of Muscotah and his close-knit family were pivotal in arming Jay Armstrong with the skills and confidence to take on leadership roles in the global agricultural community.

He represents the fourth generation of Armstrongs who migrated from Ireland to Kansas. Jay recalls the steady influence of his grandfather, John Armstrong, who shared important wisdom with his grandson: "Always stay involved in your community, your state, and your country," Jay recalls. "To not be involved is to not know where things are headed, and thus being unable to influence them."
Both sets of grandparents raised their families during the Depression. Jay never forgot the stories they shared with him about their hardship and sacrifice.

"I'm enjoying the fruits of their work. I had something to start with, and they never did," he says. 
Grandfather John Armstrong farmed the Delaware River Valley alongside Jay's father, John Junior Armstrong. The latter was a longtime president of the Kansas Farm Bureau, leading that agency's response to the farm crisis of the 1980s.

Junior gave his son more guidance: "Never forget where you came from."

"I have tried to live by those two things," says Jay, adding that the last stanza of the fifth paragraph of the FFA Creed continues to inspire: "...I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task."

Above. In 2016, Armstrong hosted a contingent of wheat end-users from Cuba as the two countries explored a trade pact. As a member of the U.S. Wheat Associates' board of directors, Armstrong traveled the globe to boost wheat trade. A memento from his dad's time serving the wheat industry adorns Armstrong's office.

Meeting the teacher. Jay's first year at Kansas State coincided with agricultural economics professor Barry Flinchbaugh's arrival in Manhattan. Armstrong was his first teaching assistant.

Flinchbaugh mentored Armstrong, who learned to apply the teacher's mindset of "alternatives and consequences" to the organizations he has served on: the Kansas FFA Foundation, the Farm Foundation, U.S. Wheat Associates, Kansas Wheat, Kansas Board of Agriculture, Kansas Agricultural and Rural Leadership, and more, all while farming corn, soybeans, and soft wheat.

"When it comes to his passion for agriculture, Jay is an agricultural legacy leader," says Justin Gilpin, CEO of the grower organization Kansas Wheat.

Gilpin says Armstrong was a driving force behind the newly established Barry Flinchbaugh Center for Ag Policy on the K-State campus, the objective of which is to further his mentor's legacy for student education in ag policy.

"It will take Dr. Flinchbaugh's approach to solving problems," Armstrong says.

"I use what he taught me every day," he continues, "and I believe you have to pay it forward." ‡

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