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Taking cues from two of PEI’s agricultural education programs could help New Brunswick revitalize the agriculture sector

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Introduction

Agriculture is one of New Brunswick’s main industries, but despite this fact there is very little support and even fewer options for people who wish to pursue agriculture learning in the Province. As the average age of New Brunswick farmers increases (currently at 58 years old–one of the highest in Canada), we need to actively pursue ways to engage a new generation of farmers. In order to foster a innovative and viable industry, New Brunswick must develop programs to encourage youth to consider careers in agriculture.

Prince Edward Island has several interesting examples that could easily apply to our Province. Its Agriculture High School Certificate program and their post-secondary Farm Technician Apprenticeship, if implemented in New Brunswick, could really make an impact on the future of farming. More details about these programs are provided below.

PEI Farm Technician Apprenticeship Program

The Farm Technician Apprenticeship Program is a post-secondary apprentice-based program intended to offer extended learning to farm employees based in Prince Edward Island. The PEI Department of Advanced Learning and Innovation has partnered with the PEI Department of Agriculture and the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) to offer this three-year program.

The Farm Technician Apprenticeship program includes a significant on-farm mentorship component, where apprentices have to sign-off on activities and tasks completed in their mentor log books. In the winter months, apprentices participate in six to eight weeks of course-work offered through NSAC. Some of which are mandatory (such as first aid training), but most are electives such as different cropping techniques, cereals, grains, foliage, forklift operation, tractor safety, introductory welding, chainsaw operation, and computer data and farm records courses.

To qualify for the apprenticeship, applicants have to be laid off farm work with enough hours to be eligible for employment insurance while they participate in the winter courses. The farm they had previously worked for then takes them on as a paid apprentice so they can complete their log book training on-farm. This allows the apprentice to broaden their experience with other aspects of the farm while increasing the skill level of farm labour. If there are applicants who don’t fit the required criteria, the program is willing to work with the potential apprentice to help them qualify and they are encouraged to contact the office early in the Spring.

Tuition for the 6-8 week courses during the winter is covered by Skills PEI for all three years. When the apprentices are not in the classroom, they are expected to be logging hours and skills in their log books by working on the farm. As long as they meet the log book criteria, they can work full-time or seasonally as required.

After completion of the three years of winter course work and apprenticeship, getting all skills signed off in their log book, and passing a certification exam, the apprentices will be issued a Blue Seal certificate, which is the credit for a provincially recognized trade.

This program is possible in PEI in part because of inter-departmental support, but also because agriculture is a registered trade in the Province. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, there is no equivalent “agriculture trade” which would support this program. The closest trade is the “Agricultural Equipment Technician,” which does not allow farmers to pass on their knowledge base about their farm techniques. Examples of agriculture trades can be found in Ontario for example, where they have several distinguished agriculture trades such as Dairy Herdsperson, Fruit Grower, Swine Herdsperson, and Horticultural Technician.

If New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were to register “Agriculture” as a trade, the Farm Technician Apprenticeship Program could be a Maritime-wide program–growing agricultural skills across the region. Wendy Weatherbie, Agriculture Education Coordinator with the PEI Agriculture Sector Council, stated, “we would definitely be interested in expanding the program–it’s working well here and I can see it being successful in the other Provinces as well.”

The program began in 2008, which means that the first class is graduating from the program this month. CBC news recently covered the story, see: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/prince-edward-island/story/2011/02/05/pei-first-blue-seal-farm-technicians-to-graduate.html for more information.

PEI Agricultural High School Certificate Program

Also unique to Prince Edward Island is the Agricultural High School Certificate Program. This program allows students interested in pursuing agricultural education to deepen their on-farm knowledge while completing high school. When the students have completed the three-year program, they graduate with an Agricultural Certificate in addition to their high school diploma. The program works by combining on-farm experience with specific courses and incorporating “infusion activities” into the student’s regular coursework.

An example of “infusion activities” takes place when students focus their regular course projects on agriculture topics. For example, a student in a regular history class who is also involved in the Agricultural Certificate Program, may focus their project on an agricultural subject, like the History of plowing in Agriculture. This would count as an “infusion activity” and would contribute to their certificate requirements.

Students are also expected to train in certain ag-related courses during each year of the program. In grade ten, they will complete the first aid and farm safety course. In grade eleven they participate in a tractor safety course, and in their final year they complete an animal safe-handling course and WHMIS. Students are also expected to log a certain amount of on-farm work, either via a summer job working on a farm or another agriculture-related business (such as a veterinary assistant), or by volunteering on a farm or related activity.

At the moment there are three schools offering the program (Kinkora, Kensington and West Isle). In each school, there is a teacher who acts as an Agriculture Certificate Program coordinator and oversees the students’ requirements and work. Ideally, the coordinators work part-time as the Agriculture Certificate Program coordinator and part-time as regular teachers.

Throughout the three-year program duration, students develop an agricultural portfolio to complement their certificate. In addition to enriching their understanding of agriculture-related fields, the final certificate allows students credit for one fist-year course at the Nova Scotia Agriculture College (NSAC).

There have been a steady number of program participants since the program began as a pilot in 2001, with approximately 25-40 students from each school participating. Given that the schools are relatively small, this is a remarkable number of participants. Futhermore, there is a good track-record for students that participated in the program to continue in an agriculture-related field.

Overall, the program is overseen by an advisory committee comprised of several students (at least one from each participating school), school coordinators, members of the Department of Agriculture, the P.E.I. Agricultural Sector Council, and a representative of NSAC. The committee meets twice a year to conduct a program overview, identify areas of improvement and to develop recruitment strategies if required. With ten years of fine-tuning and experience, this program is another possible means to attract new entrants to the agriculture sector.

Conclusion

According to the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council, more than 50 000 full-time farm-based positions will be available by 2013. The above programs present new ideas with local experience that may help counter the rising average farmer age in our region. In offering strong support systems and incentives to people who are interested in agricultural work, we can grow the number of skilled farm technicians and producers, providing benefits across all commodities.

This article was written by Theresa Richards, New Brunswick Organic Coordinator.

For more information about both of these programs, feel free to contact:
Wendy Weatherbie
Agriculture Education Coordinator
PEI Agriculture Sector Council
420 University Avenue
Farm Centre, Suite 201
Charlottetown, PE C1A 7Z5
Tel: 902-892-1091
Fax: 902-892-1891
wlweatherbie@peiagsc.ca; website: http://www.peiagsc.ca

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Author: acornorganic

Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network. Vision ACORN aims to enhance the viability and growth of the Atlantic Canadian organic agricultural community through a unified regional network. Mission Statement ACORN is a non-profit organization that promotes organic agriculture by: Facilitating information exchange between and amongst organizations and individuals Coordinating non-formal education for producers through to consumers Networking with all interested parties both regionally and nationally Structure ACORN is a membership-based non-profit incorporated cooperative with an eleven member Board of Directors and an Executive Director.

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