UW Madison announces changes to Farm and Industry Short Course program

Amber Burke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Farm and Industry Short Course logo

UW-Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) announced they will alter their Farm and Industry Short Course (FISC), beginning in 2023.The program will switch from a for-credit, on-campus residential experience lasting 16 weeks, to a more flexible, non-credit format. The residential program will end this spring when the current class of Farm and Industry Short Course (FISC) students receive their certificates.

“The current two-term, residential student format no longer meets the needs of many farmers and other agribusiness owners who can’t spare workers for four months in a year and who no longer see winter as a ‘down-time’ for their businesses,” says CALS Dean Kate VandenBosch in a news release. “In the future, FISC participants will have the flexibility to take the courses they want, as they have time.”

Kathryn VandenBosch

Going forward, courses and training opportunities will be offered online, on-campus, or in a blended model. The timing of courses will also diversify, with some programs offered at night and on weekends. In addition, some new programs will take place during the growing season, when in-the-field instruction would be beneficial.

Some of these changes reflect the increased comfort of both learners and instructors with virtual formats and self-paced learning, due in large part to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on education delivery. While embracing these new approaches, the core goal of the FISC program remains the same.  

“We envision transforming courses currently offered by FISC into more flexible non-credit offerings, coordinating these with other existing CALS outreach offerings, and adding to the portfolio of educational experiences that bring the research conducted in CALS into practice and develop the agricultural work force,” says Doug Reinemann, CALS associate dean for extension and outreach, who will oversee the new program offerings. “We are soliciting input from stakeholders and CALS faculty and staff to identify training needs in agriculture, food systems, natural resource management, and other economic development topics.”

Despite the University's decision, not all Wisconsin agricultural representatives are supportive of the program changes. According to Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Krentz who says Farm Bureau has always been a strong supporter of agricultural education at all levels.

"We are disturbed about the dismantling of the current structure of the Farm & Industry Short Course. We are truly disappointed in the missed opportunities to engage stakeholders prior to these changes being made and expect more from a such a prestigious agricultural university," Krentz said in a statement.

Kevin Krentz

While Wisconsin Farm Bureau feels encouraged that learning opportunities will still be available, they understand that CALS Short Course alumni have created lifelong memories and skillsets from this program and now future generations won’t have the same chance. He said WFBF will continue to support agricultural education and encourage training for farmers and agriculturists wherever possible – the future of agriculture depends on it. 

"We highly encourage our members to reach out to CALS Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach Doug Reinemann, who will oversee the new program initiatives, to share their feedback as stakeholders to this program,” Krentz added. 

University of Wisconsin's Farm and Industry Short Course was the first strictly agricultural course to be given in the state, and was in session by January 1886.

Contact Amber Burke at aburke@gannett.com.