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How to keep up in the high-tech future of farming
As in every industry, technology is playing an increasing role in efficient farming operations. While technology can make your life easier, it can be hard to keep up with all the new best practices and tools that can help your business thrive. When you’re running a busy operation, reading your newest equipment manual probably isn’t high on your to-do list.
Having a strategy for continuing education will help you keep your business up to date without being bogged down in unnecessary detail or misled by flash-in-the-pan technologies. Just like with farming, education has been transformed by technology and is no longer limited to blackboards and classrooms. We’ve summarized some of the options available to you below, and given an overview of the opportunities and challenges with each. Remember, there’s no one way to work education into your business – you might use a combination of the following methods to learn what you need, when you need it.
Traditional classroom learning
While most people associate classroom learning with degree or certificate programs, this traditional kind of learning isn’t just applicable at the beginning of your farming career. Though classroom learning is time-consuming, and can be expensive, it can be a good way to get a deep understanding of a subject or more wide-ranging knowledge of a broader topic. Local technical colleges may offer stand-alone classes that aren’t part of a degree program, and local universities may allow you to audit agricultural courses for free without receiving formal credit.
Workshops are similar to classroom learning, but are usually shorter in duration and often include a hands-on or field-based portion. These programs are often offered by your local extension office or university. Fees are usually affordable, and sometimes these programs are free. Workshops can be a great way to fit continuing education into a busy schedule, or to do a deep dive into one topic, like a new machinery or a particular crop. While extension offices often partner with universities and are able to offer insights from on-going agricultural research, your local workshops may be limited to the topics that have local experts.
If formal education isn’t a good fit for you or your schedule, you can keep up with new technologies through independent learning. This can be a great option if you live in an area that is not well-serviced by traditional educational opportunities. This kind of learning is increasingly web-based. Options including watching videos online, taking a self-paced online class (e.g. EdX), subscribing to industry magazines, or listening to agricultural podcasts or radio shows. Independent learning is often free or cheap. The challenges of this kind of education include not being able to ask questions, staying motivated, and finding reputable sources of information.
If you are interested in a specific product or software, you can often take advantage of industry-driven training. If you purchase a product from a company, it’s in the company’s best interest to make sure you know how to use it, so they may offer educational resources online or be available by phone to help you figure out your new tool. While this can be useful if you’ve found a great product, there is always the danger of being over-sold about a product’s capabilities or finding out the product just isn’t a good fit for your business after spending time and energy training with it.
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