URBANA, Ill. — Aspiring Illinois farmers, new growers with less than five years of experience, commodity farmers interested in diversifying to include fruit or vegetable production and high school and community college agriculture teachers can apply now for the next session of a free training program offered through the University of Illinois Crop Sciences Department.

“Preparing a New Generation of Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Farmers” opened the application process for its second session on July 1. The application period will be open through Oct. 15 or until capacity is reached.

Participants can apply for the program at www.newillinoisfarmers.org/new_generation_app.php. There is no fee for participants who complete the program.

The yearlong program, which features classroom, hands-on and in-field instruction on essential skills and information, is offered at three locations in Illinois: the U of I campus in Urbana, the U of I’s Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in Simpson and the Kane County Extension Unit office in St. Charles.

Classes for the session, which will run December 2013 through November 2014, will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. one Saturday a month at each location.

U of I crop sciences professor Rick Weinzierl and co-workers received a grant last year from the Beginning Farmer-Rancher Development Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to implement the three-year project to provide education to aspiring Illinois farmers.

Mary Hosier, project manager for the program, said that next year, through a partnership with the Illinois Migrant Council, the goal is that classes will be offered in Spanish and in English at all locations. Hosier added that nearly 100 people participated in the first session across the three locations.

Topics to be covered include: land acquisition and transfer; business planning; legal issues; insurance; marketing; farm and food safety; Farm to School; equipment operation and safety; transplant production; high tunnel construction and operation; irrigation; soils and soil testing; cover crops and tillage; variety evaluations; pest and disease scouting; integrated pest management; pesticide application; pruning and thinning; harvest practices; post-harvest handling; and conventional and organic production methods.

The program will also include visits to established produce farms, discussions with experienced farmers and access to incubator plots.