Online agriculture courses offer options for youth and adults

Online agriculture courses offer options for youth and adults

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The Nelson Academy of Agriculture Sciences Online is growing – growing in number of students and in the number of agriculture courses it offers.LeRoy Nelson saw a need for agriculture classes online while he was teaching agriculture in a Montana high school. There were students across the state who wanted to take ag classes but their schools did not offer them.Taking a courageous swallow, Nelson decided to leave the physical classroom and start teaching in the virtual classroom. That was a good move for Nelson and students of all ages from across the nation, and even the world.Though the classes were started for teenagers, Nelson said adults have been taking his courses as well.“We have quite a few adults enrolled,” said Nelson. “They are still a small percentage of our total number, but adult enrollment is growing all the time.”Enrollment of secondary students is also growing. Any student can enroll in one of 17 agriculture courses and it is open enrollment, which means they can enroll at any time and start the class when it fits their schedule.“It’s open enrollment 12 months a year,” said Nelson. “The courses are 20 weeks long and you can be anywhere to take the course.”The Nelson Academy of Agriculture Sciences Online now offers a list of all their classes on their Web site. There are classes in crops, farm business management, agriscience, equine sciences, beef, swine and sheep. There is also a class on greenhouse technologies.“I’m always writing new classes,” said Nelson, who is hoping to expand the greenhouse technologies into a two or three class series. “I’m also working on a marketing series. It will be a two- or three-class series beginning with the basics of agriculture marketing and we’ll work our way through hedging, options and futures.”Nelson is hoping to have those courses online by fall.“That way farmers and ranchers will have time to take the courses like that in winter,” said Nelson, who is also working to include the Commodity Challenge with his financial classes. “That is run by the University of Minnesota. People use the Commodity Challenge to help them learn. It’s a simulator on trading where you get x number of bushels of wheat and barley and maybe some cattle and you hedge all those products on the market. It calculates your position every day so you can learn from that and see if you made the right choice. It’s my plan to have it ready to go this fall, too.”The greenhouse technologies course is appealing to people who are living in town or producers who want to put up a hoop house or greenhouse and try growing garden crops year round.“It’s the near perfect condition for growing crops, but it is also the perfect condition for bugs and diseases, so we spend time talking about controlling those issues in a greenhouse environment and keeping track of pH levels, etc.” said Nelson.In the second Greenhouse Technologies class, he is planning on adding hydroponics.“That’s growing crops without soil and there is substantial interest in that, so we’re talking about that, too,” said Nelson.Eventually Nelson said he will probably write an aqua-culture course.“That’s how to raise fish and integrate it into a greenhouse setting,” said Nelson. “It’s really neat what they can do with it. They can run the water from the tanks to fertilize the plants and then they run the water back through rocks to clean it and cycle it back to the tanks for the fish.”In addition to offering the classes, Nelson said they offer a certificate program for their adult students.“This is not a degree, but it is a certificate program which includes a plan of study,” said Nelson. “A lot of people like it because they can take all the agriculture classes they want to. If they go to a community college they have to take English and math classes, but with our program they just take the courses they want.”For the certificate they have to complete 10 courses in the plan of study that is set up by Nelson and the student.Additionally, Nelson helps high school students connect with local FFA chapters.“By enrolling in my courses it meets the requirement for FFA,” said Nelson, who works with the closest FFA chapter on trying to get the students active in the FFA chapter there. “That is on a school by school basis. Some school districts will allow outside students to join their chapters, others won’t, but so far we’ve been able to get most of the students with other chapters, which is good. That way they can be involved in FFA and have the experience of going to conventions and competitions.”Just recently, the Nelson Academy of Agriculture Sciences Online is in alliance with the North Dakota Center for Distance Education which will provide him with a lot of additional services to increase his online reach.“The Academy teaches students from just about every state,” said Nelson. “We even had a group of kids in Texas who came across an earlier article in ‘The Prairie Star’ about us and they enrolled. No matter where they are, we can enroll them.”The Nelson Academy of Agriculture Sciences Online will have a booth at the MATE in Billings, Feb. 20 to 22.“They can find us at the MATE, ask questions or sit right down and enroll there at the show,” said Nelson.For more information, go to their Web site at http://allagonline.com/ or visit them at the MATE.

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