MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin-College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is taking online its Farm and Industry Short Course program for the 2020-2021 school year. The change is due to the many unknowns caused by COVID-19. The course’s recent spring-2020 term ended just prior to the public-health emergency moving UW-Madison students off campus. It’s the expectation of staff members that the short-course program will return to on-campus instruction for the 2021-2022 school year.

The Farm and Industry Short Course was first mandated in 1885, referred to as the Farm Short Course. It was the first strictly agricultural course to be given in the state; it was in session by January 1886. The program was designed to make practical courses useful to those whose means and time were limited. It was directed at those who wanted the knowledge to conduct a farm business.

Those principles are still applicable during a pandemic.

“We decided to offer fewer courses and to offer them online this year to ensure the health and safety of our students, instructors and staff,” said Jennifer Blazek, program director. “It was a difficult decision because in-person learning and on-campus residential experiences have always been a central part of the program.”

She said her goal is to create an excellent and stable learning experience online. There will be two core courses offered by remote instruction during each of its two terms. During the fall term starting in late October, students can enroll in “Business Principles of Agricultural Management” and “Introduction to Soils.” The two-course sequence meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency educational requirement for its “Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loan” program. In spring 2021 students can take “The Business of Agriculture” and “Agribusiness Feasibility Planning.”

Nadia Alber has been since 2018 the director for the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers. The program is part of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems as well as the Farm and Industry Short Course. She teaches two elective courses that short-course students can select – the pasture-based Dairy and Livestock Seminar, and the new online Pasture Management course.

The classes will be offered online for the 2020-2021 school year. They can be used toward completing a specialization in certain Farm and Industry Short Course certificates.

Foundations of Farm and Agribusiness Management

Dairy Farm Management

Meat Animal Farm Management

Management of Crops and Soils.

Alber reiterated the courses will be online but if the COVID-19 situation changes she will add a fall field trip and/or a spring field trip as she has done in the past.

Scholarships will continue to be available to students who apply. And UW-Madison offers students access to loaned laptops to meet the technology needs for online learning.

“In a year that has presented Wisconsin agriculture with so many challenges and disappointments, we have an opportunity to test online learning with those looking to pursue a career in agriculture,” Blazek said. “We plan to use this unusual year to continue to expand and improve our programs so we can offer courses that meet the needs of the industry either on-campus, online or through other venues that serve students well into the future.”

Applications for the 2020-2021 school year are due by Aug. 1.

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Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer who owns woodlot property in eastern Marathon County, Wisconsin, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.