From chief animal caretaker and crop expert to family ringleader and CEO, today’s farmers play many roles. For success in present-day agriculture, especially with modern technology, many farmers benefit from one key aspect – continued education.
“The big deal with continuing education today is to keep up with technology,” says Doug Moore of AgAmerica. “Even a decade ago, people never imagined that GPS would drive a tractor.”
Bryce Philpot, also of AgAmerica, an agricultural lending company, agrees, adding that “the marketplace has become so complex that it’s imperative for farmers to keep up with the times.”
Here are five ways farmers can continue their education:
Higher Education Degrees
Several land grant colleges and land grant universities offer master’s degrees in specific agricultural fields as well as MBA programs (Master of Business Administration). Business savvy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when picturing a farmer, but it’s extremely important for a successful agricultural operation.
“It’s a great need that’s out there,” says Richard Linton, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University, on teaching farmers to handle the business and fiscal aspects of their farms.
NC State is one of many universities offering farming classes and agriculture training on a variety of topics. Along with master’s programs, the university has an Executive Level Leadership program on farm management, focusing on fiscal management and business decisions.
“We’ve found that for most farmers, it’s difficult to find time for a degree program, so we’re trying to provide the most important components for those farmers,” Linton says.
The school offers other leadership programs for farmers in their mid-30s and a separate one for the mid-40s age group where they’re exposed to international agriculture and other aspects of the industry.
Conferences and Seminars
Creating a network is extremely important for education purposes, and agricultural conferences are a perfect place to do that.
“I don’t know many farmers who have time to tie their shoes, let alone attend school,” Moore says, “but going to conferences every year and keeping up with colleagues is important. A farmer who grows corn and soybeans in Georgia could learn a lot from one growing the same crops in Iowa.”
Conferences are offered nationwide, focused on different topics, both specific and general. Information on where and when conferences take place can be found online, from county Farm Bureaus, Departments of Agriculture and other resources.
Cooperative Extension Services
Tied in with land grant universities, Cooperative Extension Services offer farming courses and workshops on everything from pest management to social media marketing to farm management.
“Through Extension, we have about 450 people involved in education throughout North Carolina teaching about all sorts of agricultural subjects,” Linton says. “We integrate with research stations and host 40 or 50 different field days.”
Linton adds that “almost all of the workshops are free, and if there is a fee, it’s usually small. Farmers can learn about upcoming workshops through Extensions’ websites or word of mouth.”
“There’s a strong relationship between county Extension teams and their local farmers. They do a very good job of ensuring they know the information surrounding the workshop,” Linton says.
For those who can’t find time to leave the farm, lots of different webinars, or online video series, are available. Again, most webinars are hosted by land grant universities and can be found on their websites. Farmers can register for ones they find helpful and log on when the webinar is scheduled. Webinars are almost always free.
Whichever method works best, the bottom line is to never stop learning.
“If you’re not continually learning, you’ll be behind and it will be much more difficult to compete. You have to stay ahead to be successful,” Linton says.