Farm & Industry Short Course evolves to serve Wisconsin farmers

UW-Madison student touches a cow in the lifestock lab

Mason Spencer grew up in Beaver Dam, Wis., with no thought of going into farming. But an experience as a milker for a small-scale dairy sparked his passion for agriculture.

Spencer wanted to learn more about the agriculture industry without immersing himself in a four-year undergraduate degree. That’s when he discovered the Farm & Industry Short Course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Students in the Farm & Industry Short Course weed lab.
Students in the Farm & Industry Short Course weed lab.

“I needed a broad education on everything related to farming, which is exactly what the Short Course does,” Spencer says. “It gives you everything you need to know to take back to your farm and apply it there.”

In only 16 weeks, the Farm & Industry Short Course teaches students to operate their own farms, run an agricultural business, or work in the agribusiness sector. They can tailor the curriculum to their needs, choosing from dozens of classes in soils, crops, dairy, meat animals, agricultural engineering, farm business planning, agribusiness, human relations, and communications.

“Short Course alumni are in high demand,” says director Jessie Potterton. “They use their skills as farmhands, herdsmen, managers, milkers, feeders, farm technicians, and crop assistants, among others.”

Saving money for the family farm

The Short Course is timed to the Midwest’s non-growing season, November through March. That was long enough for Spencer to master the art of repairing machinery and implements.

Insect lab.

“Just from the courses I took, I can look at a piece of machinery that I’ve never taken apart before and know how to fix it,” he says. “That ultimately saves the family farm money.”

Lindsey Rettenmund of Black Earth, Wis., studied dairy farm management in the Short Course so she could help out on her own family farm. She plans to return for a second year to learn more about soil and crop management.

“In the next five to 10 years I hope to purchase a farm and start my own dairy farming operation,” Rettenmund says. “I would like to be able to produce my own crops and feed my animals. So it’s great that the Farm & Industry Short Course offers a wide variety of knowledge to help me succeed.”

The program’s fame has spread beyond state borders. Preston Brown, who works on a 1,400-cow dairy farm in Texas, thought nothing of making the 16-hour drive to Madison.

“I came to visit the school and fell in love with it and everything that was going on,” Brown says. “I knew that if I came here I’d get what I wanted out of it.”

On top of his coursework, Mason Spencer enjoyed being part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Participants in the Farm & Industry Short Course have the same access to campus facilities as a four-year student.

Spencer also appreciated the sense of fellowship he found in the program. The people he met have become part of his professional network.

“You can learn as much talking to other students as you do in the classroom,” he says. “We all have the same goal: to help provide food for the nation.”

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