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New Illinois farmers program accepting applications

Published: Saturday, July 26, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Aspiring Illinois farmers, new growers with fewer than five years’ experience, commodity farmers interested in diversifying to include fruit or vegetable production, and high school and community college agriculture teachers are invited to apply now for the next session of a free training program offered through the University of Illinois crop sciences department.

“Preparing a New Generation of Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Farmers” opened the application process for its third session on July 1. The application period will be open through Oct. 24, or until capacity is reached. Participants can apply for the program at http://www.newillinoisfarmers.org/new_generation_app.php. There is no fee for participants who complete the program. 

The program, which features classroom, hands-on, and in-field instruction on essential skills and information, is offered at three locations in Illinois: the UIUC campus in Urbana, U of I’s Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in Simpson, and at the Kane County U of I Extension office in St. Charles. Classes for this session will be held one Saturday a month at each location from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., running December through November 2015.

A Spanish language program also is offered through a partnership with the Illinois Migrant Council. Mary Hosier, project manager for the program, said the format of the Spanish program will be tailored to the needs of the participants at each location, which will likely include four months of instruction from start to finish with shorter meetings on weeknights and a few, extended “hands-on” field trips, she said. Sites will be determined based on enrollment. Sites last year for the Spanish language program included Harvard, Kanakee and Anna.

U of I crop sciences professor Rick Weinzierl and co-workers received a grant from the Beginning Farmer-Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, to implement the three-year project to provide education to aspiring Illinois farmers. The first session started in fall 2012.

Hosier said because the program has become more popular, enrollment has become more competitive. There are a limited number of spaces in the program, and Hosier said that applicants are encouraged to provide as much information about themselves and their interest in the program on the additional comments section of their online application.

While there is no fee for the program if the participant attends at least 10 of the 12 sessions, those who enroll but do not complete the program are asked to give their deposit to a local food bank, Hosier said.

Topics to be covered in the program include: Land acquisition and transfer, business planning, legal issues, insurance, marketing, farm safety, food safety, Farm to School, equipment operation and safety, transplant production, high tunnel construction and operation, irrigation, soils and soil testing, cover crops and tillage, variety evaluations, pest and disease scouting, integrated pest management, pesticide application, pruning and thinning, harvest practices, postharvest handling, and conventional and organic production methods.

The program also will include visits to established produce farms, discussions with experienced farmers and access to incubator plots.

For more information, drop by the Illinois New Farmer’s booth under the tent at this year’s U of I Agronomy Day on Aug. 14 or visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NewIllinoisFarmers.

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