Apprenticeship is a time-honored means of passing on the skills of many trades. Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) is the first beginning farmer training program registered as a formal Apprenticeship with the U.S. Department of Labor. DGA provides not only hands-on, work-based training, but a pathway to farm ownership under the guidance of more than 100 approved farmer-trainers (Masters) in nine states. Most DGA Masters are mid-career farmers interested in helping professionalize profitable, grazing-based dairy farming. Several are training their second or third Apprentice. This comprehensive dairy farm management program ensures that trainees gain skills in low cost managed grazing practices that enhance soil health, protect water quality and provide high quality habitat. As the dairy industry trends toward consolidation and confinement, DGA trains the next generation of skilled pasture managers who can run profitable, environmentally sound, family-scale dairies. Investing in professional development for farmer-trainers will contribute to the sustainability of the dairy industry by creating a culture of skills transfer.
The goal of this two-year project is to enhance the learning experience of aspiring dairy farmers by training their trainers. Experienced farmers have the technical skills needed, but often lack the teaching skills and tools to be effective trainers. Two identified areas of needed professional development are: 1) adult learning styles, coaching, and mentoring practices, and 2) curriculum development for dairy grazing technical training modules. They will be delivered to DGA Masters and other farmer-mentors via workshops, a conference seminar, group and individualized trainings, webinars, and the DGA website.
The overarching objective of this project is to enhance the learning experience of aspiring and beginning farmers as they participate in DGA and other work-based training programs and mentoring relationships, with the ultimate goal of contributing to their success as farmers. We will accomplish this by providing professional development to their trainers, including dairy farmers serving as DGA Masters, other farmer-mentors, and agricultural professionals who work with beginning farmers.
Short-term: learning outcomes
As a result of the professional development materials and training provided through this project, approximately 200 participants will increase their ability to recognize and adapt training to different adult learning styles and will gain skills in understanding individual motivations and goals of aspiring farmers, allowing them to adapt their training programs to the unique needs of each learner. As a result, more mentoring relationships will succeed, and a higher percentage of DGA Apprentices will complete the two-year program.
Fifty DGA Masters and other mentors will learn to use dairy learning modules for training aspiring dairy farmers in the skills needed to operate a successful dairy farm business and will employ those tools to training their current interns or apprentices.
All participants will gain awareness of the importance of training the next generation and the value they, as experienced farmers, bring to that effort.
All participants will gain awareness of opportunities that a pool of skilled farm managers, trained through Apprenticeship, can provide for transitioning farms or growing farm businesses.
Intermediate-term: Initial Actions.
As a result of gaining new knowledge and skills, beginning farmer trainers will improve their Apprentice or intern training practices. DGA Masters and other farmer-mentors will utilize new knowledge to improve their mentoring and teaching skills, creating more effective communication with the Apprentice and an environment more conducive to learning.
More DGA Masters will have the confidence to select and hire a suitable Apprentice and more Masters will commit to training multiple Apprentices.
DGA Masters and other mentors will use dairy technical learning modules to improve the effectiveness of their teaching of dairy technical skills. Their trainees will gain a more in-depth knowledge of not only what they are learning, but why it is done in a particular way and how this function fits into the overall operation of the farm.
Fifty experienced farmers who have not considered mentoring will gain confidence in their ability to provide a high quality learning experience for aspiring farmers and will make decisions to contribute to passing along their knowledge.
Agricultural educators will gain knowledge of Apprenticeship and internship as a means of training beginning farmers and will utilize their roles as educators to encourage farmers to get involved such programs.
Sixty DGA Apprentices and other aspiring farmers will receive high quality training and mentoring from farmers trained through this project. They will receive increased support and coaching and gain management skills needed to establish and run their own dairy farm.
As a result of this project, the quality of DGA and other Apprenticeship and internship programs will improve, and aspiring farmers will have an enhanced learning experience. Upon graduation, these Journeyworkers and other trainees will have the skills and knowledge to successfully run a farm business. More aspiring farmers will complete DGA training, will successfully obtain Farm Service Agency beginning farmer loans, and will be more likely to successfully establish their farm businesses.
As a result of DGA and other work-based training programs, mid-career dairy farmers will benefit from a skilled workforce that can help manage their growing businesses. These farmers will provide opportunities to beginning farmers to enter into share-milking or other partnership relationships or to work into farm ownership.
As a result of DGA and other work-based training programs, retiring farmers will have the opportunity to train someone to transfer their farm business to or will have a pool of trained candidates to partner with and/or to transition their farms to. An estimated 70% of farms in the North Central region do not have an identified successor. This project will raise awareness of this issue and will help establish a structure to allow more farms to be transitioned to the next generation as independent farm businesses.
As the farming population ages, the agricultural community will gain awareness of the unique capacity that Apprenticeship has to address the issues of knowledge transfer, beginning farmer land access, and future food production by providing aspiring farmers with the skills, knowledge, and experience to successfully launch a farming career. Apprenticeships in other fields of agriculture will be established.
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) is a two-year training program consisting of 4000 hours of training, including 3712 hours of paid, on-the-job training and 288 hours of related instruction and networking opportunities. The core of this work-based training program is conducted by experienced dairy farmers on their own farms. These farmers are our trainers and this project is focused on building their teaching and mentoring skills.
This project has two phases: a planning/content development phase and a content delivery phase. Development of content includes materials on two subject areas: 1) adult learning styles and mentoring/coaching practices and 2) curriculum development for dairy technical training modules.
DGA is working with Extension collaborators and DGA Master Dairy Graziers in the planning and development phase. Dairy graziers and agricultural professionals serve as a focus group for both generating topics/issues to be covered and reviewing the finished products.
For the mentoring topics, initial focus groups suggest the need for information on understanding different learning styles, giving constructive criticism, improving communication, and empowering the Apprentice to take charge of their learning. These materials take the form of two to four-page fact sheets covering individual topics that can be posted on the DGA and Extension websites. Power points and other presentation materials will be developed for professional development workshops, conference seminars, and individual training sessions, and webinars will be created and posted on the DGA website for public use.
For the dairy technical learning modules, DGA Education Coordinators, University Extension collaborators, and DGA Master Dairy Graziers will generate ideas for teaching protocols, exercises, and activities for teaching dairy farming skills. These materials will provide detailed teaching outlines for the general competencies listed in the DGA Training Guidelines.
The content delivery phase will include six outreach mechanisms: 1) regional standalone professional development workshops targeting agricultural professionals and farmers interested in mentoring or training beginning farmers, 2) webinar versions of the workshops to be posted on the DGA website, 3), a GrassWorks Grazing Conference half-day seminar targeting agricultural professionals and farmer- mentors, 4) DGA Master Dairy Grazier discussion groups and individualized training sessions, 5) public pasture walks, and 6) materials posted for download on the DGA website.
Six part-time DGA Education Coordinators in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri will be trained on these materials. In addition, six ECs from Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, and Maine will also be trained. We will begin delivering this material through local discussion groups for DGA Master Dairy Graziers as well as individually to new Masters as they are approved for the program. The final outreach activity will be a professional development seminar as part of the GrassWorks Grazing Conference, which attracts more than 400 attendees from several states.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
To provide DGA Education Coordinators (ECs) with the tools and knowledge they need to effectively support their cohorts of Masters in their efforts to gain mentoring and teaching skills.
DGA’s 12 regional ECs work directly with cohorts of Masters and Apprentices in the following states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri, as well as New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. These ECs provide group education as well as one-on-one coaching for paired and unpaired Masters. Training of Education Coordinators took place via 20 bi-weekly 60-90-minute video conferences and an annual three-day training retreat. Educational content includes training on DGA programmatic practices, adult learning practices, coaching, and conflict resolution, among other topics.
The 2018 DGA EC Retreat included panel discussions with DGA Masters and Apprentices, along with presentations by each EC on their programming, successes and challenges in their region. The following are evaluation results from the training (scale of 1 = low to 7 = high).
Value of Master panel: 5.4
Value of Apprentice panel: 5.6
Value of partner presentations: 6.0
Overall value of the retreat: 6.4
Selection of ideas that they will bring home and use in their programming:
- Get to know Apprentice candidates to help Masters choose the best one for their needs.
- Seeking out advice from other Education Coordinators to help solve problems.
- Use DGA learning plan tool to help guide the Master in their training.
- Empower Masters to organize themselves to conduct local pasture walks and Master roundtables.
To provide Masters with opportunities to gain mentoring and teaching skills to enable improved training for Apprentices.
This objective involves creation of learning materials, including Master tip sheets on employee management and soft-skills topics, webinars and workshops on these topics, and training DGA ECs to deliver this content via their one-on-one and group education activities.
DGA created the following 13 Master professional development tip sheets which form the foundation of our Master training program:
Thoughts on teaching adult learners (Adult-learning-tip-sheet )
Communicating with your Apprentice: Are you speaking the same language? (Communication-tip-sheet)
Leadership Styles: The example we set for our Apprentice (Leadership-Styles-tip-sheet)
Bridging the Generations: Differences between you and your Apprentice (Generations-Tip-Sheet)
Creating an Employee Handbook (Employee-Handbook-Tip-Sheet)
Sample Employment Agreement (Sample_Employment_Agreement)
Safety on the farm (Safety-on-the-Farm)
Sample dairy farmer job description (Sample-Dairy-Farmer-Job-Description)
Onboarding: an orientation guide (Onboarding-an-orientation-guide-for-your-Apprentices-first-days)
Safe livestock handling (The-Basics-of-Safe-Livestock-Handling)
Finding the right Apprentice (Finding-the-Right-Apprentice)
Interviewing Apprentice candidates (Interviewing-Apprentice-Candidates)
Interview worksheet (Interview-worksheet)
Apprentice candidate ranking scoresheet (Apprentice-Candidate-ranking-scoresheet)
DGA delivers farmer-trainer learning via Master Roundtables, informal, small group gatherings that foster peer learning and sharing of mentoring practices. Each Education Coordinator (EC) conducts periodic Master Roundtables using the Master Roundtable guide (Master-Discussion-Roundtable-guide), including 12 activities that ECs can use individually or mix and match 3 or 4 modules, depending needs and interests and the amount of time available. In 2018, 6 roundtables were held: 2 in WI (11 participants), 4 in MN (25), and 1 in MO (5).
In winter 2018-2019, a series of webinars on these topics is planned for DGA Masters and Education Coordinators. The webinars will be recorded for future use by DGA Masters as well as farmers and agricultural professionals interested in gaining mentoring skills. The first webinar was conducted on December 3. The topic was “Finding the Right Apprentice”. It highlighted DGA employee hiring tipsheets and included comments by two DGA Masters from Wisconsin and Vermont. There was a total of 14 participants. Participants were asked to rank their change in knowledge as a result of the webinar on a scale of 1 = low to 5 = high. The average of responses was 3.86. Participants were asked to place a value on the webinar on the same scale. The average of responses was 4.29.
To provide opportunities for agricultural professionals and farmer-mentors to gain skills in training beginning farmers.
This initiative provides public workshops and training opportunities for DGA and non-DGA ag professionals and farmers to gain knowledge and skills in beginning farmer training and farm transfer issues.
A nationally broadcast webinar was presented in June 2018 on formal registered Apprenticeship and adult learning styles (30 attendees) and is archived on the Ag Apprenticeship Learning Network website (https://nesfp.org/resources/apprenticeship/webinar-dairy-grazing-apprenticeship-61918).
In addition, DGA conducted 3 workshops at the 2018 GrassWorks grazing conference. Topics included an introduction to DGA for prospective Apprentices and Masters, a session on land transfer/farm transition, and a panel of early career dairy producers. A total of 90 attendees participated in the sessions.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The goal of this project is to develop and deliver high quality resources to build mentoring and teaching skills among our farmer-trainers. The materials developed include a series of 13 Tip Sheets including employee hiring topics (Employee Handbook template, sample employment agreement, finding the right apprentice, interviewing Apprentice candidates). Materials also include 4 tip sheets on mentoring/adult learning topics and 3 on onboarding. This content is delivered to our Masters by DGA’s 12 Education Coordinators and an ongoing part of this project is training our staff and partners on this material.
DGA delivers farmer-trainer learning via Master Roundtables, informal, small group gatherings that foster peer learning and sharing of mentoring practices. Each Education Coordinator (EC) conducts periodic Master Roundtables using the Master Roundtable guide, including 12 activities that ECs can use individually or mix and match 3 or 4 modules, depending needs and interests and the amount of time available. In 2018, 6 roundtables were held: 1 in WI (11 participants), 4 in MN (25), and 1 in MO (5).
A nationally broadcast webinar was presented on formal registered Apprenticeship and adult learning styles (30 attendees) and is archived on the Ag Apprenticeship Learning Network website (https://nesfp.org/resources/apprenticeship/webinar-dairy-grazing-apprenticeship-61918).
DGA conducted 3 workshops at the 2018 GrassWorks grazing conference. Topics included an introduction to DGA for prospective Apprentices and Masters, a session on land transfer/farm transition, and a panel of early career dairy producers. A total of 90 attendees participated in the sessions.
An additional 60+ Masters have been approved since this project began, bringing the total of over 150 farmer-trainers. A total of 41 Masters gained mentoring and teaching skills as a result of exposure to new DGA training materials.
A survey was conducted at some sites (n=9). When asked to rate the value of the discussion, responses averaged 4 on a scale of 1=low to 5=high. When asked to rate their increase in knowledge, responses averaged 2.5 on the same scale. When asked what they learned that they could use, comments included: Love worksheets, Sharing with other Masters is most important, Use provided worksheets/learn how to interview effectively, Hearing about others’ experience with choosing apprentices, We are teachers, not just employers, Communication with employee/Apprentice.