While many people merely lament the decline in numbers of new farmers and the subsequent decline of family farms numbers in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers is taking steps to help energetic young people enter farming as a profession.
By training young, would-be farmers to establish their own grass-based dairies, the school offers a one-of-a-kind program that combines financial support, classroom learning, networking events, and on-farm internships with graziers. Classes for the school”s third year began Nov. 10, and will run through March, 1998.
The students in the class of 1997-1998 share an enthusiasm for the opportunities available in grass-based dairying.
For Jim Schweers, 22, of Wind Lake, the instruction the school provides on how to start farming at a lower cost of entry is critical for persons like himself who have a strong interest in farming but no family from whom they can take over existing operations.
In the words of student Zach Leaver, 18, of Beaver Dam, “grazing is the easiest, healthiest and cheapest way to go” for new farmers. The school”s emphasis on grass-based dairying is thus particularly appealing.
Students are also looking forward to their upcoming internships. Wade Loresch, 22, of Madison, states that he believes his on-farm experience will “be the place to learn the most about grazing.”
Alex Crockford, 23, of Livonia, Mich., agrees, noting that the school may provide as much information as a four-year college degree, but in a fraction of the time.
According to school coordinator Dick Cates, a grazier from Spring Green, giving students an internship opportunity with experienced farmers is an extremely valuable aspect of the program. Cates states that the internship “allows students to put to the test the things they learned in the classroom, and to understand firsthand the real risks and rewards of grass-based dairying.”
Cates notes that the school is eager to build its pool of mentors, and encourages anyone interested in serving in this role to contact him for an application.
Internships begin in April. In early winter, students will begin to review mentor applications and to visit the farms of their potential hosts. Each student will complete two, two-month internships.
Cates says, “The internships allow for the beginning of meaningful, long-term relationships between new and experienced farmers. This is critical to ensure the success of these new farmers.”
To receive a mentor application packet, or to learn more about the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers, contact the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at (608) 262-5200, or Dick Cates at (608) 588-2836.