Conestoga College will operate a new program from its Brantford airport location that will prepare students for careers in agriculture.
The federal and provincial governments are providing about $180,000 for the development of the pilot program aimed at those currently farming and those who want to get into the industry.
The program was announced online on Friday by Ernie Hardeman, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Students will learn skilled trades in areas, such as spraying and fertilizing operations, custom tillage and harvesting. The first intake of students will be in January. There are currently no similar training program offered in Ontario.
“Supporting those with a passion for a career in agriculture is key to our economy and ensures our food supply chain continues to produce healthy and nutritious food for Ontario families,” said Hardeman.
Will Bouma, MPP for Brantford-Brant, said agriculture is, by far, the biggest single industry in the area.
Bouma said the new Conestoga program will train students in the latest agricultural equipment and help strengthen “our goal of food self-sufficiency in Ontario.”
Filomena Tassi, the federal Minister of Labour, said the coronavirus pandemic has “underscored the need for skilled, adaptable workers to feed our nation.”
Conestoga came to Brantford in 2012, soon after Mohawk College left its Elgin Street campus. It had close to 1,000 students enrolled last school year in about 15 programs.
Early this year, Conestoga president John Tibbits told city councillors the college has plans to almost triple the number of students at it Brantford campus over the next few years.
Conestoga started by offering programs in Brantford in partnership with Laurier and “hovered around 100 students for a number of years,” said Tibbits, adding that the college has since created its own “footprint” in the city, offering business and IT programs, community service programs and trades programs.
He said college administrators feel the expansion of trades is the biggest need in the city.
“Jobs are becoming more technology-infused,” Tibbits said of the agriculture industry. “It’s more than just driving the machines.”
He said he hopes the new agriculture program will “grow dramatically” in the future.
“Food processing and agriculture is one of the largest industries in Canada but it’s often overlooked by young people coming out of high school.”
Through the Place to Grow: Agri-Food Innovation Initiative, the federal and Ontario governments have recently committed up to $594,000 for projects that boost labour supply and training in the agri-food sector, including a support system for communities affected by work shortages in the agri-food sector due to COVID-19, and a marketing campaign for Ontario’s food and beverage processing sector during the pandemic.