The Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Foundation has established a Tuition Assistance Fund with donations from its partners in the agriculture and lending industry. Donors to the fund include Prosperity Southwest, Community First Bank, Peoples State Bank, Mound City Bank, MidwestOne Bank, Benton State Bank, and Heartland Credit Union. “These funds will provide tuition assistance for farmers enrolling in the Farm Business and Production Management (FBPM) program to help alleviate the financial stress of continuing education,” said Kim Schmelz, Foundation Director.
This program allows opportunities for FBPM program instructors to work with farmers in helping them identify and pursue their farm financial stability, assist beginning farmers as they prepare their operation and serve as continuing education for experienced farmers. Previous tuition assistance funding through a Rural Development Partner agreement supported 169 producers over five years, for a total value of $60,406. This fund has been exhausted for two years and has caused some farmers to scale back on the number of courses they enroll in with the FBPM program. “We appreciate the strong support of our partners who want to help our local farm families be successful,” said Schmelz.
These adult farm management classes are led by instructors Kory Stalsberg and Jonna Schutte to help farm families reach their goals on the farm. The classes take place in a variety of settings including classroom time, farm and business tours, and individual on-farm instruction.
“Every year, the farmers that find value in working with an FBPM instructor re-enroll in our classes. Some of the farms we work with have been enrolled in our program for over three decades. These farmers recognize the support and unbiased resource our FBPM program brings to them,” said Schutte.
The FBPM program outcomes include utilizing agronomic resources for optimal farm production, evaluating livestock management plans, planning for operation and maintenance of farm facilities and equipment, creating farm business plans and applying marketing principles to agricultural enterprises.
In June 2020, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension verified SWTC’s five-county district supports 7,522 farms, 17,956 agriculture jobs, $4.3 billion in economic activity, and $4.7 million products sold. This data supports the substantial number of farmers able to benefit directly from the FBPM program. Indirectly, successful and sustainable farm families in Southwest Wisconsin will positively impact local community prosperity. Economic stress caused by volatility in commodity prices and a global pandemic is changing the farm landscape. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2019, Wisconsin has 64,900 farms. These farms had average acreage of 220 acres per farm. Maintaining farms is essential to the economy of Southwest Wisconsin.