Farm workers in a field surrounding a truck.The Wayne Tomorrow! Agriculture Task Force recognizes the long-term need to train agricultural laborers as well as the next generation of farm owner/operators and has been working with the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance and others to create local apprenticeship opportunities. 

Dan Dalton of the PA Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) said the organization is working to produce skilled workers in all aspects of farming, and currently offers two apprenticeships: Dairy Grazing and Diversified Vegetables. Apprenticeship programs are particularly important in agriculture because it is difficult to learn in school. “Farming is practical and experiential,” he explained. 

Master & Apprentice

For the master farmer, an apprentice provides motivated labor and an extended work commitment. Dalton said these relationships can play into succession planning, as so many farmers begin considering retirement or lease arrangements. 

For the apprentice farmer, participation in the program helps reduce risks. “From day one you have to do everything as a new farmer,” Dalton explained, noting these practical experiences, paired with related educational instruction can help with the learning curve. Apprenticeships can also lower barriers, enhance networking and transition as well as access to commercial credit. 

The farm finds and hires the apprentice to ensure a good fit, and PASA handles the reporting to the PA Department of Labor. Dalton noted new master farmers will need to navigate the challenges of recruiting, managing and mentoring the apprentice and making a commitment to ensure they acquire the necessary skills. 

PASA graduated its first three apprentices in 2020, and Dalton reports two of them are owner/operators and the third is a farm manager.  

Farm Machinery Mechanics

Along with a shortage of farmers, Tim Wentz of the Northeast Equipment Dealers Association (NEDA) says there is a need for 1,000 qualified farm machinery mechanics over the next ten years to replace those heading for retirement. To that end and with the help of the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance, the Association has created an apprenticeship at Marshall Machinery, near Beach Lake. 

Wentz said NEDA owns the apprenticeship and administers it on behalf of Marshall Machinery, which hires the individual and develops an employment agreement. The students are paid with federal funds and are limited to shops with at least five journeymen, but employers can be grouped together for the purposes of the classroom instruction. 

“Kids today -- veterans and adults, too – ask themselves why spend a lot of money on college when on the other side of the apprenticeship are family-sustaining wages,” he explained. For the dealership, “It is an opportunity to get future employees trained to work just the way you want them to work,” Wentz said. 

To learn more, contact the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance at (570) 390-7613.