By Ed Hand
When one door closes another one opens is the time weathered phrase, and it rings true for young people looking to grow their farming knowledge into a career. A void was left when Kemptville College closed in 2014, but enter Eastern Ontario’s agriculture community and a new door opened.
Algonquin College’s Perth campus graduated 30 students from the new Business-Agriculture program that includes a co-op option. It was the second graduation class and post-pandemic became the first class to see an in-person convocation.
Program co-ordinator Martin Savard says response has been great for the fledgling endeavour. “Discussions started shortly after the closure of the Kemptville College,” he said.
There are 25 courses in the two-year program which cover agronomy, herd management and business. “The program is borne out of the support of the agriculture community in Eastern Ontario,” Savard said, adding that local farmers, dealerships and industry experts and employers had a hand in the design of the courses as they have a solid grasp of what is needed in a new hire. “About two thirds of our students come from a farming background, but the other third come from Ottawa and surrounding communities. They’re looking at the agriculture industry and they’re interested.”
Shayna Dickson, from the Smiths Falls area, has just graduated and is putting those skills to use. “I just have a passion for (farming),” she said. “My family started working on a farm 12 years ago and I fell in love with it. I just love working with the animals.”
The course broadens a young farmer’s perspective. Agriculture is more than tilling the land and raising livestock and the program includes business planning, marketing and understanding technology and government regulations. Dickson is using much of what she has learned with her job in administration at Hartington Tractor dealership outside of Perth, as well as working on a dairy farm at Smiths Falls.
Savard, who also teaches, said: “All of the teachers are part time as they continue their farming occupations.”
Practical knowledge is the program’s strength as the students get current expertise and advice from those in the field. Some of those same people sit on the program advisory committee. “They give us strategies and guidance as to how the program should evolve,” Savard said.
Well-known dairy farmer Rick Schouten, of North Gower, is on the advisory committee. Now semi retired, Schouten finds the business courses fill a void: “Business knowledge is so important these days and that’s what makes the program shine,” he said.
Graduate Rayleen DeJong grew up on a sheep farm that expanded to hogs and said her high school guidance counsellor pointed out the Perth program and “it checked all the boxes of what I was looking for.”
The Wiarton-area woman hopes to take over the family farm. “Combining agriculture and business allows me to write a business plan for expanding the farm in the future,” she said. The farm store is located in the basement of the family home. DeJong’ s plans involve expanding acreage, adding beef and a new stand-alone store. “I learned so much and I brought it back to my parents to utilize on the farm.”
The Business-Agriculture program is also involved with Northern College, a four campus virtual college in Ontario with online learning. Their courses are integrated into the curriculum and will see Northern’s students drop into Algonquin’s specialized courses over online Zoom sessions. Savard says they can handle up to 44 students in each year of the program and over the past two years have averaged about 30 students with that anticipated for the coming Fall 2022 session.
The Perth program has garnered so much support that local truck dealer Keith Bean is selling raffle tickets for a brand new GMC pickup truck that is expected to raise more than $250,000 to cover student trips and meals for years to come. You can buy tickets online at winthistruck.ca.
Savard chuckles about the response from the agriculture community. “Farmers wished they learned in college what we’re teaching today,” he said.