When she overheard a local FSA official tell an aspiring young farmer that there was no way to get into farming if you weren't born to it, Maru Whitmore decided to do something about it.

Her nephew, Jared Whitmore, is the guinea pig.

“Plumbers and electricians have apprenticeships; it can work for farmers, too,” Whitmore says. Her farm partnership and degree in human resources got her thinking: Aspiring farmers have no formal training program. “Or perhaps they stay away from farming because they don't see it as a career,” she says.

Conversely, “just because someone is born into farming doesn't mean they have the right to farm without developing the appropriate skills,” she adds.

“Even if you train someone on your farm and they leave, each small town has to raise its own replacements, whether in farming or other trades.”

Whitmore and her husband Greg farm 2,500 acres of corn, beans and alfalfa in Shelby, NE. Greg is president of Polk and Butler County Corn Growers Association, and is also chairman of research for Nebraska Corn Growers Association.

How does a grower build the skills that enable Greg to be where he is today?

To that end, Maru Whitmore created a two-year hybrid program — called the Farmer General Apprenticeship — and a four-year Farmer General Program with help from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Apprenticeship and her local community college. Her farm is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor as a sponsor company that offers an on-the-job training program and also requires classroom hours to complete the program.

AFTER THEIR NEPHEW finishes the program, Maru and Greg anticipate sponsoring two apprentices.

Maru is visiting with local farmer groups, FFA, the Butler County Entrepreneurial Program and banks to develop the program further.

Under the program, her nephew Jared earns credit for his farm work hours and takes related courses at the local community college. Those classes include accounting, farm records, welding, soil science and corn production. “Even if he chooses not to stay with us, “ Whitmore says, “I hope the program will be a wonderful infusion of young laborers and their families in Nebraska's small towns.

“Our local school got rid of its FFA program more than 30 years ago,” she says. “I wanted to move this to the positive side; there are so many ways to encourage kids who want to farm. Let's be first in the news to tell our story of how positive farming is.

“Jared is learning to be more than just a tractor driver. At the same time, he can walk away any time he chooses and still contribute to the local community in some way with his training. We hope that he and young people like him come to see farming as more of a career through an apprenticeship program,” she says.