Distance Learning for Farmers
-- Thought Leadership
While agricultural programs abound at universities around the country, not all producers have the wherewithal, the time or even the proximity to benefit from them. That’s why an increasing number of schools offer distance and online learning options for farmers (or would-be farmers) that provide access to some of the most critical aspects of ag education, like how to find and apply for loans, and how to manage farm finances.
Four years ago, dairy farmer Kyle Serwe of Campbellsport, Wis., took advantage of the University of Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers’ "short course," which offers online education through distance learning labs at up to 18 sites around the state. "I liked that there were six or seven different areas of study and open discussion about each one," Serwe says. "If you had a question, there was always someone else who could help you out."
The short course is affordable too—only $300 per student. Richard Cates, Ph.D., director of the university’s Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems in Madison, says some 500 students have taken the course in the past 20 years, and about 75% of those are actively farming or have started their own ag-related businesses. "Our main job," says Cates, "is to keep [students] from making big mistakes that will crush them."
Plenty of other schools offer similar opportunities for online education, including Cornell University in New York and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Erica Frenay, online course manager for the Cornell Small Farms Program, says the school realized it needed online training for students who were far away from educational facilities. Launched in 2007, the program offers 14 different courses ranging from how to maintain soil health to how to plan for a business that stays in business.
Frenay says about 75% of students taking the online courses are from the northeastern United States, but it’s open to anyone, and she’s even had international students. About 400 students go through the online program each year. "All courses are instructor-led, and we have real-time webinars once a week where students can ask questions," Frenay notes.
"Most of our demand is from people with no agricultural background," Frenay remarks. "We emphasize how to farm for profit."
For resources and more information, visit the full story at http://www.myfarmlife.com/first-gear/distance-learning-for-farmers/