The family farm may not be dead, but it is surely on life support. Today’s farms are technological marvels from the equipment to the inputs to the techniques.
Today’s farm hands—once children rising before dawn to feed the chickens and milk the cows—have rapidly evolved from manual labourers to skilled technicians.
And, there are simply not enough of them.
Last week, the federal and provincial governments took a step toward addressing the need announcing $200,000 in 60/40 funding to help Parkland College develop an agricultural operator program.
“This, I think, is extremely important to the agricultural industry in Saskatchewan,” said Lyle Stewart, Saskatchewan agriculture minister, who traveled to Yorkton to make the announcement. “One of the main problems the industry has faced in recent years is attracting skilled labour, people that are able to perform the functions that are required on a modern farm and there hasn’t been, until now, a training program in place.”
The initial program, developed in partnership with Vermilion, Alberta’s Lakeland College, will comprise three modules, seeding, spraying and scouting and harvesting.
There are 15 spots available at a tuition rate of $1,500 per module.
Classes in the seeding program will begin March 3. The spraying module will follow in May and the harvesting unit in July.
Fay Myers, Parkland president and CEO, said the college anticipates good uptake for the program based on interest in a similar program called Inroads to Agriculture targeting First Nations students.
“It is exactly what is needed for Saskatchewan, for this type of farm operators program,” she said. “There’s been huge interest in the last two years we have delivered this program here in Yorkton and on Keeseekoose First Nation.”
Stewart said Parkland College was a natural choice to deliver the pilot.
“It’s hard to find a better fit,” he said. “It’s here in an agricultural setting; it’s a modern campus that had some capacity. So, Parkland was interested and we were certainly interested in working with Parkland.”
Darrell Hickman, Lakeland College chair of agricultural sciences promised it will be a practical introduction.
“The partnership with Parkland has been tremendous,” he said. “We have worked with them to take pieces of our program, our curriculum, and develop that into a level at which the introductory person can take that in a hands-on fashion and have some lab experiences along the way.”
Initially, it will be Lakeland that issues the accreditation for the program, but Stewart envisions it eventually becoming a Parkland diploma course and said it may expand to also include livestock sciences as early as 2015.