Just-Released Study Shows Need for Greater Commitment, New Approaches to Farmer Education

Aug 22, 2012, 08:00 ET from Center for Rural Policy and Development

ST. PETER, Minn., Aug. 22, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- A new study highlights some critical gaps in the education programs available to farmers. The Center for Rural Policy and Development – one of the state's leading rural advocacy organizations – is calling on Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) and the University of Minnesota Extension Service to make an even stronger commitment to agriculture's future through education. 

The newly completed study was conducted by MnSCU to identify the education needs of Minnesota farmers. MnSCU is a major provider of farm education through its Farm Business Management programs, which are offered through eight college campuses at 85 different sites across the state. Presidents of the colleges that offer the farm business management education program and members of the 2010 Farm Business Management Task Force requested this study to better understand the learning needs, interest, and delivery preferences of Minnesota farmers. Results of this study will be used to plan for on-going traditional and online-delivered crop, livestock and business management education.

"Farming is an evolving and increasingly complex industry," said Brad Finstad, president and CEO of the Center for Rural Policy and Development and a member of the team that helped design the research. "Education and training are essential for producers to maintain their competitive edge. Minnesota farmers indicated that they're very interested in continuing education to stay on the cutting edge of their industry. Therefore, it's important to farmers and to all Minnesotans that farm owners and operators are receiving the latest, most useful tools and information from education providers."

Among the study's key findings:

  • About eight of 10 Minnesota farmers are not participating in education programs offered through colleges or universities because of time constraints or schedule conflicts. Nearly a third of farmers – 30.5 percent – simply are unaware of the availability of college or university programs.
  • The most popular providers of education are suppliers (for example, credit, seed or equipment vendors) and the University of Minnesota Extension Services. MnSCU was identified by only 12 percent of the respondents as the expected source of education.
  • Owners and operators of farms generating less than $100,000 in annual sales often are most interested in learning more about tax and estate planning strategies to preserve their assets. As sales increase, farmers are more interested in learning new marketing strategies and better understanding of commodity markets.  
  • Only 10 percent of farmers were interested in learning more about food safety, even as the issue grows in importance for consumers and regulators. 
  • The cost of current programs is not a huge barrier. Only 16 percent said the cost of programs was keeping them from participating.
  • Farmers are active learners. They prefer hands-on training, demonstrations and one-on-one training over other techniques. And, while 72 percent use the Internet (and 62 percent have access to high-speed connections), printed materials are preferred over information provided online.

Finstad said the study's findings underscore the need for action by the state's higher education systems. "Three recommendations rise to the top of the list," said Finstad.

"First, we recommend the study's findings be used by MnSCU and the Extension Service to assess their programs and assure they are meeting farmers' needs.

"Second, it's clear that farmers have great confidence in their suppliers, and Minnesota is fortunate to have so many ag-related businesses that are outstanding in their fields. We recommend that our state's education community work with these suppliers to create new programs and to make sure that farmers are receiving education that is objective and state of the art.

"Third, everyone in Minnesota has a stake in the ongoing training of farm owners and operators. We need aggressive outreach to farmers to make certain they are aware of the programs being offered, that the right programs are available and that they are available in the right places at the right times."

Finstad said the Center for Rural Policy and Development will continue to work with Minnesota's colleges and ag businesses to promote new approaches to farm education. "One model to look at is the innovative work being done by MnSCU in cooperation with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Together, these organizations will work with employers to identify the skills that businesses will need to fill future jobs.

"We need the same foresight for our farm sector. One-third of Greater Minnesota's economy is tied to agriculture, and more than 340,000 jobs are tied directly and indirectly to farming," said Finstad. "Technology, global market competition, and government laws and regulations are affecting agriculture in ways that are every bit as profound as what is occurring in other industries. It's critical to the success of Minnesota farmers and to the state's economy that farmers continue to learn and have access to the latest best practices," he said.

In addition to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, partners involved with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities' study include Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council, AgStar Financial, Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Center for Farm Financial Management.

Note: The complete study is available at http://bit.ly/LYxRi3


Amanda Horner



SOURCE Center for Rural Policy and Development