Develop an internship program for your farm
April Hemmes doesn’t think of herself as a teacher. But since the mid-1990s, she’s taught a lot of kids endless lessons. Hemmes, who grows corn and soybeans in Hampton, Iowa, doesn’t employ full-time help. Instead, she hires high school and college students.
Through these unofficial internships, Hemmes fulfills her labor needs and prepares students with knowledge in agriculture. "They have the chance to learn responsibility," she says. "I try to teach them why, as well as how to do things." More than once, interns have told her that they learned more in one day on her farm than in ag class.
Internships are a vital avenue for students to develop business skills. At Iowa State University’s Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative, Carly Cummings helps students find internships with businesses and farms to gain practical experience.
"Most good students will have three to four internship offers, so farmers should make their internships worthwhile," Cummings says.
Overall, students are looking for an internship that connects them to the ag industry and challenges them. "Students are looking for a mentor," she says. "Take the student to the bank or walk them through your input purchasing decisions. Those learning experiences are invaluable to someone who wants to farm."
Before a student begins working, Cummings says the farmer and student should identify three to five goals for the internship. These goals can take the form of a major project the student will work on and can be related to marketing, machinery or agronomy.
"Students want to see what they will be doing in the real world and feel like they are making an impact on the farm," she says. "They can’t just be doing chores all the time."
Cummings encourages performance reviews halfway through the internship and at the end.
While high-school- or college-aged students can be a great asset on the farm, they might require more patience. "They won’t know everything, although they might think they do, so you need to be willing to teach," Hemmes says. "Be flexible. You may need to work around baseball practice or FFA events."
Carly Cummings, with Iowa State University’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative, says good college students have many opportunities for internships. Farmers need to be competitive by giving real-world experience and an outlet for what they are learning in their course work. Here are her tips for building a strong internship program:
For additional resources on establishing an internship program for your operation, visit www.TopProducer-Online.com/interns