Enhancing the Quality of Work-based Beginning Farmer Training Programs Through Trainer Professional Development

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $74,107.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Laura Paine
University of Wisconsin-Madison


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy
  • Miscellaneous: Well managed pasture


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: apprentice/intern training, business planning, farm succession, financial management, labor/employment, land access, new enterprise development, risk management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, employment opportunities, leadership development, new business opportunities, partnerships, quality of life, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    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.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    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.


    Long-term: Conditions.

    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.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.