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GREEN BAY – Working to meet the demand for employees by area farmers and other agri-businesses, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) continues to add new course offerings, according to Dr. Amy Kox, the school’s Associate Dean – Energy & Agriculture Trades & Engineering Technology. 

“Five years ago we launched a new Sustainable Food and Agriculture program, with Valerie Dantoin as the instructor” she recalled. “In that program we’re developing employees who might work for smaller value-added companies like Organic Valley as certifiers, but the programs also focuses on many aspects of sustainable agriculture."

The two-year degree program features classes in managed grazing, organic soil and crop management. “There also are courses related to managing large and small animals, along with classes in beekeeping and pollination and a one-credit class in cheese fermentation,” Kox said.

This past year NWTC began offering an associate degree program in Farm Production – Dairy Science. “We’ve launched the program in collaboration with employers in our area who are telling us they need more employees in this field,” she noted.

Wendy Vandenboom is the instructor. “She has really taken hold of our dairy science program,” said Kox. 

“We launched the dairy science program with a great first-year group of 10 full-time students, nine of whom were women. While this was not unexpected, it was a pleasant surprise. And we’re looking for a bigger group next year, with a goal of 16 students," she said.

The technical college is also in the process of establishing an agronomy program to help prepare certified crop advisers working with co-ops or on farms, providing the crop science agronomy services that today’s farmers need.

John Bahrke, currently a farm production course instructor, will head up the new program. “He has a strong agronomy background,” said Kox.

Starting in high school

“With help from our area high school ag instructors and local employers we developed a path, starting in high school, designed to spark student interest in an agriculture career, and then help them obtain an associate degree, and potentially earn a bachelor’s degree if that’s what they choose,” said Kox.

These programs allow high school juniors and seniors to earn a “Farm Hand” certificate that enables them to start working. “That certificate ladders into our one-year technical diploma, which provides more of the hands-on skills,” explained Kox.

That technical diploma enables the students to advance into the associate degree program, which also helps them develop communication and farm management skills.

According to Kox, early applications look good for the the dairy science and agronomy programs. “Once our high school credit programs become more well established, we hope to have a bigger pipeline of students who may want to continue their education,” she said.

Convenient class schedule

Classes are set up so that students from throughout northeast Wisconsin can readily participate, with both first-year students and second-years students needing to attend agriculture classes just two days per week at the Green Bay campus.

“General study classes can be taken at NWTC regional centers in Shawano, Niagara, Oconto Falls and Luxemburg. So, we’re not making people drive five days a week,” said Kox.

NWTC does not own a farm which is different from some other colleges with strong agriculture programs. “We have overcome this challenge by embedding internships into our program, as well as field trips that include daylong experiences on various farms,” explained Kox.

“During those two days when they’re on campus, they will have eight- to 10-hours of solid class time, Kox emphasized. “Their instructor can decide that today we’re going to this farm, and these are the things we’re going to look at. The next day they may likely go to a different farm that has totally different technologies and management system.

“We really believe that by exposing students to many different farms through on-farm visits, internships and employer partnerships, it will give them a better breath of experience than if we had our own farm and were doing things one way,” Kox stressed.

Good paying jobs

Graduating with a technical diploma or associate degree can open the door for a satisfying and financially rewarding career. 

“I think most everyone involved in farming understands there’s a desperate need for more employees, and farmers tell us they need a more highly skilled workforce as well because of the increasing use of technology on our farms,” Kox affirmed. 

“Employers also understand that hiring someone from an associate degree or technical diploma program means they’re going to pay them a sustainable wage, so we wanted to make sure that our students had the necessary competencies and skills in order for a farmer to be able to pay them that sustainable wage.”

Prospective students interested in learning more about the agriculture programs at NWTC are welcome to contact Kox at 920-498-6908, or by email at: amy.kox@nwtc.edu.

“I can arrange for them to meet with an instructor, shadow a class or tour our facility,” she said.

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