Learning Preferences of Next Generation Farmers

Penn State Extension has been assessing how best to tailor our outreach and extension programming for those of you who will be the next generation of farmers.
Learning Preferences of Next Generation Farmers - Articles


Young Latino growers learn how to scout an orchard during a hands-on field training.

As a result of our studies, we are providing more opportunities for active learning of research-based information that is applicable to your farm operation.

How Young Farmers Like to Learn

At a recent Start Farming Advisory Committee meeting, a focus group of young farmers said they preferred hands-on, problem-solving extension approaches that involved opportunities to network with other growers. Suggested strategies included on-farm trials where both production and economic performance were compared, apprenticeships/working visits with established farmers, and hands-on demonstrations such as pruning and IPM scouting. The growers placed a high value on learning environments that allowed for relevant networking with other growers. The consensus was that learning opportunities should be a mix of in-depth workshops and local study circles along with self-paced on-line courses. On-line courses should be highly visual and include short "how to" videos.

In addition to answering the question of how they like to learn, the focus group growers shared experiences that inspired them to adapt new practices on their farms. Common answers were "hearing and seeing what other farmers were doing during tours," "hands-on courses," "on-farm trials with economic data," "winter meetings and conferences," "webinars," "having a farmer mentor," and "visits by extension educators." During discussions surrounding both questions, growers commented on the equal importance of science-based recommendations in production guides, newsletters, and production alerts.

Learning Preferences of Next Generation Latino Growers

A Penn State Extension team of ag entrepreneurship, pest management, and horticulture educators has been looking at delivery of extension programming for next generation Latino growers. The project is supported by a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block grant. During the past year, team members conducted and evaluated bilingual programs in various formats, including in-depth workshops, model demonstration plots, on-line videos, and on-farm trainings. Classroom exercises have been interactive where possible, and some of the more successful methods were problem-solving case studies, round table and study circle discussions, and role plays. Videos were developed that cover sustainable practices for vegetable and apple production. They are in Spanish and English and are designed for inclusion with either face-to-face or on-line courses.

Post-program surveys are helping us further determine ways to adapt extension outreach and education for next generation growers. The top-rated ways Latino growers said they liked to learn were on-farm demonstrations and learning circles, special presentations during meetings they already attend, in-depth workshops, on-line courses (once available), and tours of other growers' farms. Factors Latino grower survey respondents felt limited them from participating in educational activities or utilizing extension resources were 1) timing of program (for example, offered during planting or harvest), 2) cost, and 3) location. Suggested ways Extension and other agricultural professionals might improve education and engagement with Latino growers were to increase use of social media, hold educational events at the farms of Latino growers, hold some networking programs specifically for Latino farmers, and provide interactive formats such as hands-on/problem solving activities and field walks.

A Unique Group of Learners

As next generation farmers participating in agricultural education programs, you are a unique group of learners who will determine the future of agriculture. Our curriculum for various stages in your ag career path includes exploring, planning, start-up (years 0-2), establishing (years 3-7) and refining (years 7-10). For more information on study circles for beginning farmers visit Find a Beginning Farmer Network Near You. 

Grant Support

Project supported by a PDA Specialty Crop Block Grant titled Sustainable Production and Market Innovations for Next Generation Young and Hispanic Specialty Crop Growers (ME44144963)