Mason Spencer grew up in Beaver Dam with no thought of going into farming. But a recent experience as a milker for a small-scale dairy sparked a passion for agriculture.
Spencer wanted to learn more about the 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.
“I needed a broad, general 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.”
UW-Madison has offered the Farm & Industry Short Course since 1885, and it has constantly evolved to meet the needs of Wisconsin farmers. In only 15 weeks, students learn 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. Alumni are in high demand, landing jobs as farmhands, herdsmen, managers, milkers, feeders, farm technicians, and crop assistants, to name a few.
Spencer decided to focus on repairing machinery and implements.
“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.”
Food for the nation
The Farm & Industry Short course is timed to the Midwest’s non-growing season, November through March. Spencer calls it ideal for a farm worker’s life.
“We come here, learn as much as possible in 15 weeks, and then have the rest of the year to go back and help on the family farm,” he says.
Spencer enjoyed being part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the same access to campus facilities as a four-year student. He also appreciated the sense of fellowship he found in the Farm & Industry Short Course.
“You automatically have something in common with everybody,” he says. “You can learn as much talking to other students as you do in the classroom. We all have the same goal: to help provide food for the nation.”
Along with teaching him the tricks of the trade, the Farm & Industry Short Course schooled Spencer in finding a job.
“The communications classes and first-year seminar helped me learn how to write a proper resume and project myself in a professional manner,” he says. “That’s a big thing in any career field.”
Armed with his new skills, Spencer took advantage of the Short Course’s career fair and landed a job with Helena Chemical Company. He’ll work with liquid fertilizer and pesticides.
“I had eight or nine interviews with different companies at the career fair,” Spencer says. “I got to decide which company I wanted to work for and which could offer me the best deal. I was unaware of all the job opportunities out there in agriculture.”
A scholarship helped Spencer afford the Short Course, and he plans to return for a second year. Next time, he’ll focus on crops and soil.
“I want to broaden my knowledge,” he says, “so I’m not restricted to one career path.”
For more information about the Farm & Industry Short Course, watch the video above or see here.