Discussion on changes to Farm & Industry Short Course continues

John Oncken
Short Course students numbered in the hundreds at one time, traveling around the nation and world for the education. Here they gathered in the Livestock Pavilion for a livestock demonstration.

Several weeks ago UW–Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) issues a news release that explained beginning in 2023, the Farm and Industry Short Course (FISC) will move from a for-credit, on-campus residential experience lasting 16 weeks, to a more flexible, non-credit format better able to meet the constantly changing needs of Wisconsin’s agribusiness community.

The residential program is slated to end this spring when the current class of students receive their certificates.

Three Generations

I was curious what the reaction of a family with father, son and grandson – each a Short Course grad – might be concerning their attendance in the 136-year-old farm training program.

Jim Rickert of Rickert Bros., LLC dairy farm near Eldorado says his father, Don, completed the Farm & Industry Short Course in 1951 and he followed in his footsteps, graduating from the program in 1980. Jim's own son, Andrew, also is an alumni of the program, finishing in 2004.

“Thanks for the email, John” replied Jim Rickert, who with his family milk 1100 Holsteins at Rickert Bros. LLC dairy near Eldorado. “I wanted to let you know how important FISC was to our family along with so many others. It was a great experience for me and I believe for many students in its long history. This was a program that began in November and ended in March. It served our industry well for over 130 years. We understand that changes need to made in the program."

The program featured all agriculture classes and was taught by the same professors as the 4 year degree program. Most students stayed in the dorms during the week and went home on weekends.

Like father, like son

"My dad, Don, attended in 1951,” Jim says. “Following graduation, he was offered a job with the University but declined because he had his heart set on farming for a career."

Jim graduated from FISC in 1980 and met fellow students who became lifelong friends.

"Living in the dorms was a great life experience. It taught me responsibility and life skills. My son, Andrew, graduated form FISC in 2004. He became the third generation in our family to benefit from this program. He too gained life long friends through the program. It served our industry well for over 130 years.''

Thanks Jim, you have a family and farm to be very proud of.

Amy Penterman owns Dutch Dairy in Thorp, Wis. and is President of the Dairy Business Association. Penterman's oldest son attended FISC.

Disappointed in changes

Others, like Amy Penterman, who shared her thoughts in the weekly Dairy Business Association newsletter, expressed disappointment. 

"My name is Amy Penterman, I am a Dairy Farmer from Thorp, Wis.. My husband and I own and operate an 850-cow dairy farm in Clark County. I am also a crop insurance agent and work out of a home office. I currently serve as President of the Dairy Business Association. 

"I was recently disappointed to learn of the UW CALS decision to make big changes to the Short Course; changes that may alter the nature of, and purpose for, the Course itself. The Short Course has deep roots and generational ties to the agriculture and farming communities.

"Then, I learned that this decision was made with little or no input from, or discussion with, the very farming community the Course was designed to be a benefit to. If there are concerns about the Course as it currently exists why wouldn’t the University seek feedback from the ag community and consider farmers’ input?"

Our experience

"I’d like to share my personal experience with the Short Course," Penterman continued. "Our oldest son attended the Short Course in 2018-2019. As a senior in high school, he knew he would be working in production ag as soon as he graduated. After doing some research and talking with dairy professionals he decided Short Course would be a perfect fit. He knew he would gain a hands-on education in the business of farming.

"Short Course offers a university setting at a school that is highly regarded for providing a world class education. Not only did my son get a valuable education, but he received college credit and was able to network and meet other ag students, future farmers and dairy professionals from across the state." 

Short Course students visit a floral shop in 2017.

More than animal agriculture

Penterman says her son’s time in Madison not only taught him about animal agriculture, but it also gave him access to living in an urban setting and a chance to meet a diverse student body.

"This was very important for my son and is, I think, for all young adults as they figure out where their place is in this world. An open-minded person with diverse life experience is an asset to any organization. 

"Throughout my son’s experience, I was impressed with the number of scholarships available to the students through the Short Course. There are many giving individuals in our state that believe in the program and want to see the students succeed. My family was humbled to learn of the financial benefits provided at the start of school. We are also appreciative of those that continue to give so generously. 

"I see fewer and fewer farms across our landscape and that makes it even more critical for students, particularly rural students, to have access to an agriculture education; an education that is accredited. The Short Course currently provides a unique opportunity for ag-minded students that should be celebrated, not shuttered."

Getting to know each other is a positive for Short Course students.

Top notch program

Penterman says the Short Course currently delivers a top-notch educational curriculum, with accreditation.

"It also provides an one-of-a-kind setting for students who might not otherwise ever have a chance to attend a Big Ten campus school. And, while a two or four-year degree may not be the right choice – right now, the credits earned through the Short Course can be a powerful incentive down the road should the student later decide to seek either degree.

"As a mother of five, dairy farmer, taxpayer and committed citizen of Wisconsin, I urge the University to reconsider its decision to make wholesale changes to the Short Course, including to accreditation and on-campus living components of the program. If invited, DBA and our members would welcome an opportunity to talk with University officials and other stakeholders about how to improve the course going forward."

Thank you for your time and consideration, Amy Penterman              

FCS Listening Session April 12

The Farm and Industry Short Course program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (CALS) will host a virtual listening session to gather ideas for future educational programs on Tues., April 12, 2022 from 1–2 p.m. The session will be co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF), Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) and CALS. 

Doug Reinemann, associate dean for extension and outreach in CALS, and Jennifer Blazek, director of the Farm and Industry Short Course, will facilitate a conversation about educational needs within the agricultural industry. All are welcome to join via Zoom, and no additional registration is necessary.  The  weblink is Meeting ID is 968 9014 5809  and passcode is 650060. Or dial by your location  +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago).

For more information for contact Jennifer Blazek at

It's a chance to be heard and to listen even though the decisions have apparently already been made.

John Oncken can be reached at