Agriculture: Agricultural Industry Training and Continuing Education

Agriculture: Agricultural Industry Training and Continuing Education

While some scientific disciplines related to the agriculture industry require four-year degrees, other advanced credentials are available through professional organizations and continuing education programs. The sections below explore specific procedures toward obtaining such certifications, including those described above, accessible to virtually any eligible farm professional or owner.

How to Pursue Specific Certifications

Accredited Farm Manager (AFM)

The American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA) serves as the primary certifying body for several specialties. Chief among these is the Accredited Farm Manager designation, which requires an-in depth course of instruction, as well as a number of prerequisites. These include:

  • Four years of farm/ranch management experience or equivalent. One calendar year equals 1,600 hours; with at least 600 spent managing rural property for pay, and the balance related to a farm/ranch management field.
  • A four-year college degree or equivalent. Current membership in ASFMRA prior to submitting an accreditation application.
  • Completion and submission of the AFM Exam application and fee.
  • Submission of one farm management plan demonstrating the applicant's ability to generate plans according to ASFMRA standards.
  • Successful completion, with passing grades, of ASFMRA courses in management, consulting and ethics.
  • Passing the final AFM Accrediting exam.

Detailed information, checklists, and downloadable forms can be found on the ASFMRA website. Additionally, information can also be found on the website for other ASFMRA certifications, such as Accredited Rural Appraiser (ARA), Real Property Review Appraiser (RPRA), and Accredited Agricultural Consultant (AAC).

Certified Agricultural Consultant (CAC)

The American Society of Agricultural Consultants (ASAC) is a non-profit organization striving to raise the public image, as well as the ethical standards, of all professional agricultural consultants. The group deems certification as the most effective means of achieving this goal. To that end, the following section summarizes guidelines and protocols for earning a CAC designation, which is renewable every five years, according to ASAC guidelines:

  • Five years agricultural consulting experience. One calendar year's experience consists of a minimum 600 hours of paid consulting services in an agricultural or agribusiness operation, with the balance (1,000 hours) spent in a consulting-related discipline.
  • A four-year college degree or equivalent.
  • Submission of an agricultural consulting plan illustrating the applicant's ability to meet ASAC standards for such documents. Completion, with passing grades, of the following ASAC courses:
    • Standards & Ethics for Agricultural Consultants
    • Communications for Ag Consultants
    • Consulting Services Delivery & Consulting Practice
  • Completion of an additional 40 hours of specialized study.
  • Current membership in ASAC prior to applying for certification.
  • Completed CAC application for the final accrediting exam, with applicable fee.
  • Pass final CAC Certification exam.

For more information regarding the Certified Agricultural Consultant designation and ASAC membership, visit the ASAC website.

Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg)

Of all the advancement opportunities the field of agriculture offers, the CPAg designation, renewable annually, demands the most stringent educational qualifications. The American Society of Agronomy, which sponsors this voluntary program, maintains that this hard-won credential sets the gold standard for professional skills and deportment. CPAg candidates must possess, at minimum, the following qualifications:

  • A Bachelor's of Science degree in Agronomy or a closely related field.
  • Five years of professional, paid work experience in agronomy. Applicants with master or doctoral degrees may substitute two years of professional experience per degree.
  • At least 70 percent of professional work experience in agronomy must be from activities such as farm management, extension, consulting, research and teaching.
  • Pass the International Certified Crop Adviser (ICCA) Exam.
  • Provide five work/professional references.
  • Submit application and applicable fee.

Additional information, including a publication with the certification application and reference forms, the ASA Code of Ethics, and contact information can be found on the ASA website.

Certified Crop Advisor (CCA)

Enrolling more than 12,000 Certified Crop Advisors in its membership, the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) maintains that certification is a demonstration of the highest standards of education, dedication and experience. Unlike the CPAg designation, CCA guidelines are a bit more relaxed. Applicants must meet the following qualifications:

  • Two years of crop-advising experience with a B.S. degree in agriculture OR four years of crop-advising experience without a degree.
  • Passing grades on two comprehensive exams.
  • Transcripts, references and other documentation supporting eligibility.
  • Signed copy of the CCA Code of Ethics agreeing to uphold its tenets.

Upon certification, CCAs must earn 40 hours continuing education units every two years and pay a yearly maintenance fee. A booklet with all the instructions and application forms, as well as contact information, can be found on the ASA website.

Certified Professional Soil Scientist (CPSS), Certified Professional Soil Classifier (CPSC)

The Soil Science Society of America is the certifying body for professional soil scientists and/or classifiers. Candidates for the CPSS and CPSC advanced designations must:

  • Have a minimum of five years experience in soil science, with a B.S. degree in this area, OR
  • a minimum of three years’ experience in soil science, with an M.S. or Ph.D. in this area.
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Social Science Exam and the Professional Practice Exam.
  • Document education and experience with supporting transcripts and references Agree to uphold a professional Code of Ethics.
  • Complete 40 hours of continuing education (upon certification) every two-years, with payment of an annual maintenance fee.

A booklet with additional information on certification, including the application, reference forms, and the Code of Ethics, can be found on the Society's website.

Organic Farm Certification

The process for obtaining organic farm certification is not easy, but it is clear-cut. Certification is through the National Organic Program (NOP) of the US Department of Agriculture. The NOP specifies the steps that must be followed in obtaining certification:

Find a suitable accredited certifying agent. The NOP website provides an updated list nationwide.

Submit an application. The application must include the type of operation to be certified; what organic product is being farmed; a history of what substances have been used on the land for the last 3 years; and a description of the Organic Substance Plan in use, including monitoring practices and record keeping systems. Prepare for an on-farm inspection by a qualified inspector. The inspector will send a detailed report to the certifying agent. Complete the final review and upon receipt and review of all information the certifying agent will grant certification and issue a certificate. Applicants must also keep accurate post-certification records on all organic products for 5 years. A booklet is available on the NOP website with complete information on the certification process.

Continuing Education

Agricultural professionals who have earned advanced credentials in farm management, agronomy, soil science or other specialty areas, can't simply frame their certificates and forget about them. Rather, most disciplines require continuing education units to maintain specialist status - no simple matter for many busy pros. What's more, some farmers may wish to take a class or two just to brush up on certain skill areas, such as pest management, animal husbandry or soil amendment.

The following section highlights some of the best ways to access agricultural courses, whether online or in a classroom.

National Continuing Education Program in Sustainable Agriculture

Sponsored by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, this continuing education curriculum targets farm professionals, as well as extension agents and other agricultural specialists. Certified Crop Advisors may use these courses as continuing education credits toward maintaining certification.

Offered online, the curriculum covers the basic principles of sustainable agriculture, agroecology, and strategic farm/ranch planning and marketing, among other subjects. Classes, which combine activities, real-life examples and links to other Web resources, are self-guided and individually paced, so participants may access them at their convenience.

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center

Universities nationwide offer a range of continuing education opportunities towards recertification, as well as for individual enrichment. The United States Department of Agriculture provides links to dozens of programs sponsored by institutes of higher education, as well as by community, professional and government organizations. Through its National Agricultural Library's Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, information and publications on sustainable agricultural and other resources can be found.

  • Education and Research Overview
    Farmers, researchers, instructors, parents and students can gain knowledge to nurture the seeds of sustainable agriculture through educational materials, internships, curricula, degree programs, on-farm research and other training opportunities.
  • Sustainable Agriculture Education and Training Directory
    Farm business development, pest management, turning a profit, seed-saving - these subjects represent just a few of the many continuing education options available through non-university sources. In addition, some classes fulfill CEU requirements for various professional certifications. Entries, listed alphabetically by state, include contact information, course descriptions and links to pertinent websites.

Cooperative Extension System

The Cooperative Extension System (CES) is a national non-credit educational network which serves as a portal to continuing education opportunities for agricultural professionals, small business owners and the community at large. A program of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, it is administered through state/territory offices at land-grant universities, on-site experts provide research-based information and classes on a variety of subjects. The CES site provides links to the system's individual offices, as well as a virtual map of branch locations.

From a continuing education standpoint, the website, eXtension is an invaluable tool in locating local classes and courses applicable to recertification requirements, as well as for practical enrichment. What's more, leading educators from 74 land-grant universities nationwide provide an interactive learning environment - along with a cutting-edge data base - on the site itself.

By entering the term "continuing education" in the eXtension search box, users may access a continuously-updated list of classes and workshops, many approved for continuing education credit. Certified Crop Advisers, for instance, can earn CEUs through the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center, which offers self-directed online study via reports and Webcasts.

Agricultural Trade Association Programs

Many agricultural trade associations have affordable and accessible continuing education programs. The National Farmers Union sponsors several adult education programs, such as their Beginning Farmers Institute. The American Society of Agronomy, together with its sister organization, the Soil Science Society of America, offers Continuing Education through online seminars as well as self-study programs which satisfy continuing education requirements for its professional certifications.