Ridgetown dairy farming students have online learning options

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RIDGETOWN – The University of Guelph, Ridgetown campus is getting about $300,000 to provide a hybrid, distance education option when training students from across Ontario to fill jobs in the dairy industry.

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The funding was announced Aug. 9 by Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development in partnership with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus to expand its dairy herdsperson apprenticeship program.

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The funding will enable the DHA program to offer a hybrid distance education option by developing virtual learning modules and increase program accessibility for students who are not able to study in person full time or are already working on farms around the province.

Noting there are about 3,700 unfilled jobs on Ontario farms, McNaughton said, “I want people to know that there’s 144 skilled trades to choose from in Ontario and one of them is the dairy herdsperson.

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McKenna Morrison, from Forest, is entering her second year of the DHA program and she said she received a raise after applying skills she learned at school where she works at Van Engelen Dairy Farms in Thedford.

“After completing the breeding course, I took this new skill back to Van Engelen Dairy, a 360-head Holstein farm, where I now breed dairy cows four days a week,” the 19-year-old said.

“My new breeding skills were valuable to the farm and were reflected in a much-appreciated pay increase.”

McKenna likes the option of doing some of her schooling online because when working on a farm “things happen. You can’t always make it here.”

Calling it a “made in Ontario solution,” McNaughton said the Dairy Farmers of Ontario created their own training project in partnership with the University of Guelph and his ministry approved it.

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DFO board chair Murray Sherk said the program enhancement is needed.

“We continually hear from farmers that adequate labour, adequate skilled labour is a challenge to find and access, so if we can be part of helping find a solution, we’re happy to do that.”

Sherk said the DFO represents 3,270 dairy farmers “who produce high quality milk for Canadians to enjoy every day.”

Dairy farming supports about 70,000 jobs and the $8 billion in economic activity is about 20 per cent of Ontario’s primary agriculture economy, he said.

“Last year, alone, we shipped more than three billion litres to processors across the province,” Sherk said.

The hybrid DHA program includes 480 hours of classroom training. Students will also complete on-farm training as part of a paid work placement.

“At (Guelph) we are developing high-skilled talent that is needed for in-demand sectors across Ontario,” said Brett Shepherd, director of Ridgetown Campus.

“Industry collaborations are essential to the university and students. Our partnership with Murray and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario is a perfect example of how we are working together for a strong economy.”

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