It’s not unusual today to see a drone or two hovering over an open farm field or to pass by a farmer in his tractor cab pouring over weed information provided through a new application available on his or her iPad.
“In any business, if you are not learning new things, just sitting still, you are not moving forward, you are stagnating,” says farmer Josh Salentine.
For Josh, who manages his family’s farm in Luxemburg, Wisconsin, staying up-to-date is vital. He co-owns the business with his sister. The farm has been in his family for 95 years and includes 175 head of dairy cattle and about 550 acres of farmed and rented cropland.
Farmers today have to remain competitive not just nationally but internationally, he says. He’s competing with producers in Argentina, Brazil, even Australia, so the operation must be cost-effective.
“Forty years ago, if you wanted to improve your farm, the answer was to work harder, work longer, do more. But, today, the margin is that slim that just working more hours will not make your farm a sustainable business,” he says.
He says the key is to keep learning and applying what you learn. In fact, this is the second time he’s taken the Farm Business and Production Management program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. It’s given him the edge, he says, by providing access to the latest technology and information, not to mention a network of support and guidance from field-experienced instructors and fellow students.
To fit in with the farm cycle and accommodate the needs of farmers who live in a large geographic area, the program runs six years with classes from December through early March. Each class is repeated at several different locations throughout each week so that farmers can connect from anywhere in the region.
“I’m learning about new methods of cropping, nutrition, milking. About 12 hours of the class work happens on site at my farm, and I’ve come to rely on some of the expertise of my instructors who have direct experience in these areas.
As with most farm families, his wife Jenny and their three children are deeply involved with helping to run the operation. Jenny works both on and off the farm, and their oldest daughter recently completed a tractor safety course offered by Northeastern.