Educating the future of agriculture : a focus group analysis of the programming needs and preferences of Montana young and beginning farmers and ranchers
Bailey, Nikki Eileen
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The average age of farmers and ranchers is steadily rising and each year there are fewer young and beginning farmers and ranchers (YBFR) to take the place of those on the cusp of retirement. Therefore, it is critical that YBFR have the skills and competencies needed to be successful. To develop these skills and competencies, educators and program planners must provide information and programs that address the needs of YBFR. This study sought to explain the interaction between the educational drivers, needs, and preferences YBFR in Montana, in order to develop educational programing recommendations. A purposeful sample was taken from the attendees of the Montana Young Ag Leadership Conference. Focus groups discussions were utilized to gather data on the educational needs, programing preferences, and preferred delivery formats of these YBFR. Constant comparison analysis was used to analyze the data; open, axial, and selective codes were generated and a grounded theory was formed. YBFR identified four major educational needs; agriculture business management skills, legal knowledge, communication skills, and skills associated with production technologies. The participants attended educational programs to improve themselves and their agricultural businesses, be different than past generations, and have the opportunity to network. Barriers such as distance and lack of awareness prevented them from attending educational events. The YBFR considered educational programs successful if they provided networking opportunities, a variety of relevant content, and a positive, interactive learning environment. YBFR utilized several different delivery formats ranging from email to conferences. Social media was viewed as important for the promotion of educational programs. Longer duration educational events featuring a large amount and variety of information were preferred by YBFR. Agriculture educators and programmers need to take into account the educational needs and preferences of YBFR when planning educational events. An effort needs to be made to decrease the barriers and increase the positive elements associated with educational programs. The educational needs described by the YBFR must to be addressed in environments that foster interaction and networking. Agriculture organizations and agencies need to collaborate to create comprehensive, impactful educational programs that focus on developing the skills and knowledge of YBFR.