Williams Lake campus to launch ranching program in 2016

Williams Lake ranch land will help students learn how to tend the land. (David Prytula/Submitted)

Williams Lake ranch land will help students learn how to tend the land. (David Prytula/Submitted)

As early as next January, TRU’s Williams Lake campus will be offering a new diploma program in sustainable ranching enterprise. Meant to address the needs of local farmers and ranchers, the program will focus on the sustainable management of natural resources and building strong agricultural enterprises in the region and elsewhere.

The program will allow students to gain experience in areas such as livestock and ecosystem manage­ment, all the while providing a platform to design and experiment with different ranching enterprises. In addition, it will provide real-life work experience as students will be required to participate in ranching operations throughout the region.

A first of its kind in B.C., the program is expected to bring students together from farming communities across the province and abroad. Brian Garland of TRU Grit, a group of local business owners who sponsor students, said that currently, if students want to learn sustainable ranching prac­tices, they have to study in Alberta, despite B.C.’s sizable agriculture industry. Likewise, a solid ranching diploma program could become something both Williams Lake and the TRU campus there are recog­nized for.

The idea for the program came from the Cariboo Producer Field School Series conducted between March 2012 and April 2013 by the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and the TRU Faculty of Science. Their final report stated that “producers in the Cariboo region would like to continue to develop their skills and expertise in produc­ing quality grass finished beef, by optimizing the use of their natural resources and reducing their input costs.”

Since then, the Ministry of Advanced Education has provid­ed TRU with one-time funding of $154,000 to help deliver the program. Though an additional $286,000 is still needed, program coordinator Gillian Watt is optimis­tic, as all funders have responded positively to the program’s develop­ment thus far.

“Built by industry, for industry,” the program ensures that students will learn to design enterprises that fit the local environment and re­sources, while still making a return on their investments. An industry advisory committee will oversee the development to make sure it meets the needs of local ranchers and farmers as well.

Although considerable attention will be devoted to local challenges such as beef, sheep and winter feed production, students will be able to apply their knowledge to the industry in any region.

The program will take approxi­mately two years to complete, most of which will consist of eight-hour days split into an online segment and a “hands-on” segment where students will gain work experience in the field. Courses will explore a wide range of subjects, from business strategies, marketing and product costing in “Sustainable Enterprise,” to grazing manage­ment, wildlife interactions and plant needs in “Environmental Sustainability.”

Field seminars will be held every Friday on farms around Williams Lake, where students will learn and work with specialists in specific subject areas. But not everyone has to be enrolled to participate in these field seminars, as they will be open to local producers as well.

Given Williams Lake’s large agricultural industry, the program is expected to attract a fair number of local students, who will have the benefit of increasing their expertise in ranching while still supporting their families and farms. Inter­national students and students from elsewhere in Canada will also be accepted. They will have the benefit of being paired up with host ranching families to gain addition­al experience.

Although the program is still waiting on approval from the TRU senate to move on to the commu­nications and curriculum devel­opment process, the program’s developers are hopeful that it will start next January, with the latest start date being next September.