Nova Scotia

'You're going to get manure on you': Farm workers can soon qualify as tradespeople

Farming in Nova Scotia has become increasingly sophisticated, requiring workers to have more technical skills.

Farming in Nova Scotia has become increasingly sophisticated, requiring workers to have more technical skills

Matt Brosens and some of his Jersey cows in deep winter in Skye Glen, Inverness County. (Matt Brosens)

Farm workers in Nova Scotia will soon be able to qualify as certified tradespeople just like plumbers, welders and electricians.

Matt Brosens operates a dairy farm and a creamery in the Inverness County community of Skye Glen. He and his wife Meghan have struggled to find and keep qualified, dependable employees and welcome the new trade designation. He said it will help farmers like him identify experienced people who want to work in farming.

"They'd have a good understanding before they even hit the farm," said Brosens. "And you talk to any farmer, that's what they dream of because you just can't find those people."

Brosens said farming is not for everyone.

"If you love it, it's fun. For Meg and I, it's fun. But if you don't love it, it's not something you want to do because there's no real gravy jobs. Every job has a downside to it. Like, if you're in the barn milking cows, you're going to get manure on you."

Jack Thomson, a dairy farmer in Harbour Centre, Antigonish County, was part of a committee that helped develop the farm technician trade curriculum. (Submitted by Jack Thomson)

The specific trade name is farm technician and there's a long list of skills associated with the trade, including operating equipment, caring for livestock, record keeping, and managing people.

Jack Thomson, a dairy farmer in Harbour Centre, Antigonish County, was part of a committee that helped develop the trade curriculum.

"I've trained numerous employees over the years that are certainly skilled as any tradesmen that have a seal," said Thomson. "This is a great way to identify those individuals and what they're capable of, officially."

He said he plans to eventually qualify as a journeyperson who can help train apprentices and he has two employees who have enough hours of on-farm experience to challenge the exam.

"Farms are more and more sophisticated nowadays," said Thomson.

"In the morning, you may be helping a cow give birth to a calf. In the afternoon, you may be running a computer program that manages the herd. In the evening, you may be actually milking the cows. So, it's a really diverse job with a lot of different skill sets."

The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture identified the need for the trade a few years ago. The Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency developed the trade curriculum with input from farmers. Dalhousie University's Faculty of Agriculture in Bible Hill, N.S., will deliver the curriculum.

Journeypeople needed

Right now, the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency is looking for people to qualify as journeypeople, who will then be able to help train apprentices in the farm technician trade. To qualify as a journeyperson, someone needs at least 5,400 hours of farm work experience and will then have to challenge a certification exam.

Such people are being offered an optional online refresher course before they challenge the exam. The self-paced course will run from Feb. 21 to March 28 and will take about 90 hours to complete.

"As soon as we have journeypeople, they can start to register apprentices right away," said Marjorie Davison, CEO of the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, adding that the apprentices can then start their on-the-job training.

To qualify as a farm technician, apprentices will need to complete 3,600 hours of on-farm training and two levels of technical training offered by Dalhousie University, have their skills signed off by a journeyperson and pass the certification exam.

Steve and Karen Ells grow grapes for local wineries in their 50-acre vineyard in Sheffield Mills, Kings County. (Submitted by Steve Ells)

Steve Ells, a grape grower in Sheffield Mills, Kings County, was also involved in developing the trade's curriculum and course standards.

"I think it's really going to develop an important group of individuals that are middle management – the crew bosses, the production managers – that little step between the owners and the labourers," said Ells, who is also president of the Grape Growers Association of Nova Scotia.

"And we really need that with all the technology that's involved now and all the HR [human resources] that's involved now and all the record keeping."

Anyone interested in taking the farm technician refresher course or becoming a journeyperson can contact Michelle Turner, a training consultant with the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, at 902-679-4303 or


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