Free national e-learning course boosts farm management skills

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Presented By Farm Credit Canada

The program has eight modules and will be offered four times a year starting in January 2022, with each cohort session running for three months. Participants can complete each module in their own time.

The demand for farm business and marketing training is behind the development of a new online course focused on providing Canadian farmers with additional tools to help them be successful. The Foundations in Agricultural Management course is a free set of e-learning modules developed in a partnership of the University of Guelph, Royal Bank of Canada and Farm Credit Canada.

“The goal of this platform is to provide farmers with the skills and understanding to become better agri-managers,” says Dr. John Cranfield, Associate Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) at the University of Guelph. “We developed the content of the course with a $1.25 million gift from RBC and marketing support from FCC so this could be delivered at no cost to all participants.”

“All of the modules in the program include risk management, whether that is financial risk, or succession planning or health and well-being. Managing your risk throughout your business will help to lower stress.”

Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton

The program was modelled after a similar and widely successful course RBC delivered on personal finance in co-operation with McGill University. Cranfield says that tapping into the University of Guelph’s knowledge across of broad range of agricultural and business management topics was a natural fit for a program tailored to Canadian farmers.

“We identified instructors within the University who have different areas of expertise and tasked them with developing a lesson based on a variety of learning outcomes associated with each module,” says Cranfield. “In addition, we also wanted to make sure farmers were hearing from their peers, so we interviewed farmers who grew their farm business and asked them to share their own experiences to help course participants gain perspective on how the modules can help.”

The program has eight separate modules based on a variety of core themes: business planning and strategy; two modules on financial literacy; managing your most valuable asset — people; risk management; two modules on transition planning, and managing mental health and building resilience.

Mental health awareness

Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton authored the module on managing mental health and building resilience. “This module is all about managing stressors and boosting well-being,” says Jones-Bitton, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Director of Well-Being Programming at Ontario Veterinary College. “We coach participants on how to mitigate the stressors that they can control, how to build resilience for things that are out of their control, and how to incorporate more well-being activities in the day-to-day.”

The mental health component is the last in the series of modules, and was chosen intentionally. “Everything that was learned in the seven other modules all ties into mental health,” she says. “By understanding all of the other components, participants are able to tie together different aspects of their day-to-day life that can contribute to their stress — like financial stress, farm transitions, emergency management — and in the end, learn ways to alleviate stressors, boost well-being and build resilience.”

Jones-Bitton says there are four parts to her module. First, they review mental health statistics on farmers in Canada, such as stress, depression and anxiety. Next, they review why chronic stress matters, and the impact it can have on quality of life, productivity, motivation and farm safety. The third part helps farmers discuss the issue, and recommends mental health literacy training to recognize the signs and symptoms and to know when to seek help or connect others to help. The final part helps participants with well-being strategies, including referencing the previous modules to identify established contacts throughout their business network.

“All of the modules in the program include risk management, whether that is financial risk, or succession planning or health and well-being. Managing your risk throughout your business will help to lower stress,” says Jones-Bitton. ” At the end of our modules, we also encourage all participants to take a mental health literacy program, to include mental health in their emergency management plan, and to develop on-farm well-being strategies, because well-being is an important part of a well-run business.”

Sign up online

The program will be offered four times a year, starting in January 2022, with each cohort session running for three months. Participants can complete each module in their own time. However, ideally they will finish the full program within three months. Each module runs 20-25 minutes, with a quiz at the end of each section. If a participant scores 75 per cent at the end of each module, they can move on to the next. At the end of all eight modules, the participant will receive a certificate of completion.

“The modules are meant to be taken in a particular sequence so you can build on the experience and understanding in a systematic way,” says Cranfield. “Each module is a call to action for participants to engage with their advisors and mentors in each area of the program to further their understanding.”

Cranfield says the program is open to people of all ages, but they are hoping the course will benefit youth and those who are starting their farming careers as well as farmers looking to refresh or update their skills for an ever-changing marketplace. “We have been very mindful of including the transfer of farm assets into our program as many Canadian farmers are on the cusp of that decision,” says Cranfield. “While the program is not there to give specific financial or legal advice, it is there to provide farmers with the insight and the tools to head them in the right direction.”

The program is fully online and can be accessed on a home computer or on a mobile device. The course opens January 17, with a countdown to sign up available online at www.guelphagriculturalmanagement.com. The University of Guelph will be hosting a launch event on January 17 to celebrate and raise awareness of the program.

The program runs between January 2022 and December 2023. Cranfield says their long-term goal would be to enrol 50,000 people. “While it is designed for Canadian producers and for a Canadian audience, it is open to anyone who has an interest in agriculture, including current students for whom this would add to their skills acquisitions,” he says. “It is one more piece of professional development to help make the business of agriculture better.”

Sponsored by University of Guelph, RBC and FCC

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