Training and Transitioning New Farmers: A Practical Experiment in Farmer Self-Development and Institutional Reinvention
Objectives of this project include:
1) To work in collaboration with the grazing community, farm groups and agency personnel to further develop both apprenticeship and entry opportunities for beginning dairy farmers.
2) To expand the focus to other low-capital, grass-based livestock systems, first sheep and goat dairy systems, followed by beef and other sheep systems.
3) To build a self-supporting funding strategy for the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers (WSBDF) based on private support.
4) To broaden the Schools’ recruitment area beyond Wisconsin to other states in the Upper Midwest.
5) To develop and promote this pilot program as a model for other beginning farmer programs at the University of Wisconsin (UW) and throughout the North Central region.
The WSBDF offers qualified students the chance to attend the UW Farm and Industry Short Course, special training sessions, seminars in the management of grazing-based dairy farms, farm internships, monitoring by experience graziers and UW faculty, classroom and field experience and the potential for future support and training. WSBDF has been partially supported by the SARE program for five years. This project continues activities of prior grants for the School, which is transitioning to financial self-reliance.
The WSBDF/UW Grass-Based Dairy Seminar – the heart of the School’s winter classroom curriculum – calls on the resources of approximately 32 farmer, Extension and agribusiness speakers, as well as a farmer panel to critique student business plans. The Seminar was offered for the second year through both classroom and distance education. In the first year (1998/99) distance education students were hooked up to the UW classroom and speaker presentations by long-distance telephone conference call. Distance education students are now connected via the Internet. Distance education students are able to speak directly with instructors, classroom students and each other during the seminar sessions. Additionally, the course is supported by a website where students may access speaker handouts, photographs and PowerPoint presentations, as well as communicate with each other via message board, live chat or e-mail. The Seminar is the first course in the UW College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to offer distance education via the Internet.
The fifth WSBDF class was comprised of 20 individuals enrolled in the Seminar and about 40 students taking the class through distance education. Four students were enrolled in the internship component of the WSBDF, and all of these individuals are supported by scholarships at some level. There may be 5 to 10 interns for summer 2000. Internships involve contract development and mentor/intern visits and pasture walks. A pasture management class will also formally become a part of the WSBDF.
After graduation, the WSBDF is also available to help graduates find employment. As potential dairy farm employers, retiring farmers and landowners contact the WSBDF office, the School puts them in touch with graduates. The School also serves as a reference for students.
An effort to gain grassroots support for the School through private funding has been underway for the past several years. Wisconsin individuals, organizations and businesses in production dairy or dairy support, as well as environmental and ecumenical groups, have been contacted for funding support. Approximately $65,000 has been secured, primarily as endowment gifts from private individuals. Endowments in place are: the Milton H. and Velma S. Button Scholarship, the Mike Cannel Memorial Scholarship, the Clarion A. and Henrietta Clemens-Counsell Memorial Scholarship, and the Lyle C. Molstad Memorial Scholarship.