Learn different ways to manage change in agriculture -alternative farming. This online course covers more, and gives more skills and ideas than shorter courses, increasing farm sustainability.

Course Code: VSS003
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 600 hours
Qualification Certificate
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Certificate in Alternative Farming 

  • Learn to manage a farm
  • Explore options for Sustainable and alternative agricultural enterprises.

To obtain the certificate you must successfully complete assignments and pass exams in six modules as follows:

Compulsory Modules

  • Sustainable Agriculture
  • Organic Farming

Elective Modules:

Choose any four relevant modules (see those listed as a guide)

    Duration: 600 hours


    Core ModulesThese modules provide foundation knowledge for the CERTIFICATE IN ALTERNATIVE FARMING VSS003.
    Elective ModulesIn addition to the core modules, students study any 4 of the following 21 modules.
     FIBRE CROPS - Agronomy VI BAG311
     LEGUMES - Agronomy IV BAG311
     OIL CROPPING -Agronomy V BAG312

    Note that each module in the CERTIFICATE IN ALTERNATIVE FARMING VSS003 is a short course in its own right, and may be studied separately.

    Make Farming more Sustainable

    Sustainability is a useful concept for farmers, but more importantly it is a necessity for the future our planet. The world relies on the activities of farmers to supply it with food. Whilst satisfying these needs, the processes of agriculture can adversely impact on the land, soil, water-ways and eco-systems and place an enormous strain on the world’s natural resources.
    Today the pressure is on for more and more farmers to work towards sustainable systems of farming which produce healthy, nutritious, affordable food and a dependable, secure food supply -without producing a negative impact on the environment. Sustainable farms should protect the environment, preserve open spaces, forests and wildlife and also encourage and conserve biodiversity, plus provide the farmer and farm workers with a good living.
    Sustainable farming is aimed at those who want to help the world move towards the preservation of our natural resources and to maintain the delicate balance of our ecosystems.
    Economic, commercial, marketing and production techniques are explored in a multi-faceted way to help move a farm towards improved sustainability.
    Sustainable agricultural practices must not impact negatively and should encourage:
    • The investigation of how farming practices impacts on and shapes the future of the environment
    • Farming practices that suit the local environment and reduce the impact on it
    • Examination of the best use of natural resources; the use of water in production; preservation of soil quality; responsible use of chemicals and fertilizers; reducing the potential for salinity and pollution of waterways.
    • The conservation of biodiversity
    • Long term improvements in productivity
    • Social improvement, through sustainable practices (both monetary and non- monetary)
    • Flexibility and risk management (in fluctuating markets and climate variations)
    There are many different concepts offering solutions for sustainable farming.  These range from "Landcare" and "conservation farming" to "permaculture", "biodynamics" and "financial restructuring". Most of these solutions are good ideas, but each one does tend to view sustainability from a different perspective; and set priorities in a different way. There are no right or wrong ways to become sustainable: only lots of good ideas, which can each contribute in different ways and are appropriate in different situations. Here are examples of some of these ideas:
    Natural farming works with nature, rather than against it. It recognises the fact that nature has many complex processes which interact to control pests, diseases and weeds, and to regulate the growth of plants.
    There are a variety of ways of growing plants that work with nature rather than against it. Some are techniques that have been used for centuries. 
    Organic farming has been given a variety of names over the years - biological farming, sustainable agriculture, alternative agriculture, to name a few. Definitions of what is and isn't 'organic' are also extremely varied. Some of the most important features of organic production, as recognised by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), include: 
    • Promoting existing biological cycles, from micro-organisms in the soil to the plants and animals living on the soil.
    • Maintaining the environmental resources locally, using them carefully and efficiently and re-using materials as much as possible.
    • Not relying heavily on external resources on a continuous basis.
    • Minimising any pollution both on-site and leaving the site.
    • Maintaining the genetic diversity of the area.
    This concept encourages a "holistic" and long term approach to farm planning. It requires giving due consideration to ALL of the farm assets (physical and non physical); over a LONG period of time (perhaps several generations); with respect to ALL of the aims which the farmer may aspire to (eg. profit, lifestyle, family wellbeing, sustainability of production, etc).
    In any whole farm planning strategy the farmer must first assess the site in terms of potential use/suitability. The farm is then subdivided, usually by fences, to emphasise useful or problem areas (eg. erosion, salinity). Water and access routes are highlighted. Cropping or livestock rates are planned to be increased if feasible. Shelter is planned and planted out, or built. Pest animals and plants are located, identified and controlled by chemical or natural alternatives.
    The role of the farmer in a systems or holistic farm approach to agriculture is to organise and monitor a whole system of interactions so that they keep one another in shape. The farmer is interested not only in producing the maximum amount of the species that he draws his income from, but also in minimising inputs such as chemicals, fertilisers and cultivations that cost money. Such systems are more sustainable in the long term. Whilst the overall production of many sustainable farms may be lower, the cost of inputs is also lower, meaning that overall profit is still comparable to conventional systems.
    Cultivation of soil is often used extensively in organic growing, particularly to control weed growth. Where chemical weedicides are not used, ploughing or hoeing can be extremely effective methods of controlling weeds. These techniques also help to open up soils which have become compacted, allowing water and air to penetrate more readily into the soil. Cultivation has been shown (by ADAS research, U.K.) to help reduce plant disease by destroying plants which might harbour those diseases.
    There are problems with cultivation however, as outlined below:
    • It can destroy the soil profile, the natural gradation from one type of soil at the surface (usually high organic and very fertile) through layers of other soil types as you go deeper in the soil. When the soil profile is interfered with, hard pans can be created. A pan is a layer beneath the surface of the soil where water and root penetration becomes difficult. Water can build up over a hard pan creating an area of waterlogged soil.
    • Drainage patterns can be changed.
    • Plant roots can be damaged.
    • Heavy machinery can cause compaction.
    • Shallow cultivation can encourage weed seed germination. Cultivation can also bury seed and protect it from foraging birds and rodents. It may also help keep it moist and warm enough to germinate.
    • Loosened soil can be more subject to erosion (eg. from wind, rain, irrigation).


    How this Course Can Help You.

    Some will take this course to become better land managers on their own properties, while for others this may be a first step toward working in agriculture, perhaps employed on a farm, or perhaps working in agricultural services or supplies. The farming sector employs people both on and off farms; growing and harvesting farm products; but also providing the equipment and materials needed to grow those products; and after they have been grown, processing and marketing farm produce.

    The type of knowledge and skills you develop in this course, will greatly improve your ability to perform in any capacity in today's agricultural industries.

    Course Contributors

    The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

    Bob James

    Horticulturalist, Agriculturalist, Environmental consultant, Businessman and Professional Writer. Over 40 years in industry, Bob has held a wide variety of senior positions in both government and private enterprise. Bob has a Dip. Animal Husb, B.App.Sc.,

    Alison Pearce

    University Lecturer, Quality Assurance Manager, Writer and Research Technician. Alison originally graduated with an honors degree in science from university and beyond that has completed post graduate qualifications in education and eco-tourism. She has m

    Maggi Brown

    Maggi is the classic UK "plantswoman". She can identify thousands of plants, and maintains her own homes and gardens in the Cotswolds (England), and near Beziers (in Southern France). Maggi is regarded as a leading organics expert across the UK, having w

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