Certificate in Alternative Farming VSS003

Study, Learn, Explore Options for Better Farming

  • For farmers wanting to explore alternatives
  • For new Hobby Farmers
  • For a foundation in the Agricultural Services Industry

The rate of change in the modern world has significantly challenged old tried and proven ways of farming; certainly in developed countries, and increasingly in emerging nations.It is essential for the modern farmer to be a lateral and creative thinker, well informed, and prepared to make changes to meet the changing global conditions. Farming has come to be driven increasingly by global economics; and is now increasingly being affected by environmental change.This course approaches your education in a different, non traditional way: not only in the information it imparts, but also in it's experiential and problem based approach to learning.

Our aim is to improve your ability to adapt to change and keep your farm profitable.

600 hours



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

Compulsory Modules

Click on the links below for individual detailed course outlines.

Elective Modules:

Choose four from the following options:

  • Aquaculture
  • Mariculture (Marine Aquaculture)
  • Natural Health Care for Animals
  • Poultry
  • Pig Husbandry
  • Goat Production
  • Viticulture
  • Cut Flower Production
  • Herb Culture
  • Trees for Rehabilitation
  • Hydroponics I
  • Aquaponics
  • Vertical and Roof Gardening
  • Agricultural Marketing
Some additional options are available for study by traditional Distance Education (not on line)


Aims of Compulsory Modules 


  • Discuss the scope and nature of organic farming in today's world.
  • Select appropriate organic management systems for different organic farms.
  • Understand the environmental, economic and political issues concerning organic farming.
  • Explain the role of living organisms and decomposing organic matter in creating and maintaining an appropriate soil condition for successful organic farming.
  • Contrive and apply appropriate weed management practices for an organic farm.
  • Select and apply appropriate pest and disease management practices for both animal and plant production on an organic farm
  • Design an appropriate system for organic production of cattle, sheep and pigs.
  • Design an appropriate system for organic production of poultry and other miscellaneous animals.
  • Design an appropriate system for organic pasture management.
  • Explain the broad-acre organic production of a grain or legume crop.


  • Explain the broad possibilities for improving sustainability on farms.
  • Explain how to avoid serious degradation of soils on a farm through sustainable management.
  • Explain the broad possibilities for improving sustainability on farms.
  • Explain how to avoid too serious degradation of soils on a farm through water management.
  • Discuss Economic Rules that apply to a farm Enterprise.
  • Crop management techniques for sustainability.
  • Minimising degradation through planning and management.
  • Evaluate the financial viability and potential of animal enterprises.

Check our bookshop for books written by our principal, John Mason (available by mail order)

Click on titles below
"Profitable Farming"
"Sustainable Agriculture"
"Commercial Hydroponics"


How You Study

  • When you enroll, we send you an email that explains it all.
  • You are given a short orientation video to watch, where our principal introduces you to how the course works, and how you can access all sorts of support services
  • You are either given access to your course online, or sent a CD or course materials through the mail (or by courier).
  • You work through lessons one by one. Each lesson has at least four parts:
    • An aim -which tells you what you should be achieving in the lesson
    • Reading -notes written and regularly revised by our academic staff
    • Set Task(s) -These are practicals, research or other experiential learning tasks that strengthen and add to what you have been reading
    • Assignment -By answering questions, submitting them to a tutor, then getting feedback from the tutor, you confirm that you are on the right track, but more than that, you are guided to consider what you have been studying in different ways, broadening your perspective and reinforcing what you are learning about
    • Other - Your work in a course rarely stops at just the above four parts. Different courses and different students will need further learning experiences. Your set task or assignment may lead to other things, interacting with tutors or people in industry, reviewing additional reference materials or something else. We treat every student as an individual and supplement their learning needs as the occasion requires.
  • You are given access to and encouraged to use a range of supplementary services including an online student room, including online library; student bookshop, newsletters, social media etc.
  • You are provided with a "student manual" which you can refer to if and when needed. It provides a quick solution to most problems that might occur (some people never need to use this; but if you are studying late at night & have a problem, the manual provides a first port of call that can often get you moving again).


Tips for Alternative Farming

There can be a distinct advantage in getting in first with potentially valuable products. At the same time there can often be a disadvantage in that the country does not have an infrastructure developed to deal with the product. For example, Australia has been farming an increasing number of emus and ostriches, but there are few abattoir facilities developed to kill and process the meat, leather, feathers, etc.

Advantages and Disadvantages Of New Industries

Getting In First.

This can allow you to:

  • Develop a market niche.
  • Develop a reputation, and a level of expertise that you can market to future
    industry members, for example by provide startup or breeding stock for the next wave
    of farmers.


If you enter a new market before any competitors, you can have an advantage; but it may be hard to break into the market in the face of established producers, but you may be able to bypass mistakes made by the earlier people (pioneers in the industry).

High prices are generally obtained for stock/produce at first, particularly if they are in high demand as breeding stock, but once numbers increase then price drops rapidly. You can
lose a lot of money buying expensive stock, only to see prices plummet in a short time.
Timing your entry into developing industries is crucial.


You can often get extensive help, advice, support from various government agencies
(e.g. agriculture departments) who are keen to develop new industries in conjunction with

Cost of Entry

It may cost more to be the first into a new market. Some new products require more sophisticated facilities for processing than others, while others can utilise existing facilities for other crops or animals. You need to be aware of what is needed and ensure you have reliable access to such facilities (or an ability to develop suitable processing facilities), before making a commitment to grow something new or different.

Market Establishment

Markets that are already be established may be easier to access in some ways, but you may not have as much influence on price. If you are the first, you may set prices, but  you may need to develop market opportunities.

Add on Tourism Income

New industries often have additional tourism potential, for example, uncommon animals will attract interest as an oddity to be looked at, not just for meat, fleece, or milk, production.



Careful selection of which new enterprise/s too undertake is extremely important. Choosing the wrong enterprise can result in expensive outlays for little return, a lot of work to produce a marketable crop or service, poor yields, poor quality product, or even total failure of the enterprise.


A simple process to get you started is to consider, on a BROAD SCALE, all the possibilities for potential enterprises. This could be done as a brainstorming session, perhaps with relatives, staff members, and/or fellow farmers. Don't limit yourself at this stage - no idea is too silly. You may want to do a little research to give you a few more ideas. What products or services are being trialled in Australia, or which are being grown overseas successfully, but not yet trialled in Australia, that you might be interested in?
A little research, even a visit overseas, could extend the range of possibilities to consider.
List all the ideas you come up with. A list of possible enterprises/activities to give you a good head start is included later in this chapter.

List all of the things that you already have, or could readily get hold of, that could be potentially utilised as part of a new enterprise. Once again don't limit yourself. Items to be listed could include, such things as:

  • Land - how much, where is it located (e.g. next to a major highway or near a big town),
    topography, soils, climate, etc.
  • Water - how much, from what sources, cost, quality, reliability, etc.
  • Established infrastructure - do you have sheds, buildings, dams, fences, roads, etc. on
    your property?
  • What services do you have access too (mains water, power, telephone, etc.)?
  • What equipment do you have, or can readily get access too (e.g. tractors, harvesting
    equipment, cultivating equipment, sprayers, irrigation equipment, vehicles, etc? What
    enterprises are these resources suited to, or could be readily adapted to.
  • What skills and knowledge do you have - don't just consider farm production skills, also
    consider computer skills, marketing skills, cooking skills, handyman skills, business skills,
    etc. Some crops and animals are very difficult to grow; others are easy. Some services
    are easy to provide, others may be more difficult. If you are inexperienced, it is often best
    to start with the easy ones, even though profit margins may not be as high as for other
    products or services.
  • What are your personal interests? You will put much more effort into something you are
    really interested in.
  • Can you get extra, suitably trained staff easily if required?

Limiting Factors
What things would limit you from doing certain enterprises. List these. Could these limitations be readily overcome. You might, for example, have a water shortage problem, or your property may be well off the beaten track, or your property is subject to heavy frost.

Go through each of the potential enterprises on your first list and cross check them with your other two lists. Put a tick or an asterisk against those enterprises that you feel you could do given the list of resources you have or could readily get hold of. Put a cross next to those enterprises where you feel you wouldn't have the necessary resources to carry out that enterprise. Also put a cross against those enterprises where the items from your limitations list would make the undertaking of that enterprise difficult, for example, if you have water shortages, then trying to produce a crop or animal with high water demand (e.g. water chestnuts, aquaculture) is not likely to succeed.

Start to carry out some initial research into the items that you have asterisked or ticked. You may limit this step to those enterprises that particularly interest you, especially if your list of possible is still a long one. Don't throw away your original list though. As conditions change (e.g. finances improve, irrigation channels are supplied to your area) you might want to later on reconsider some of the enterprises you have at first rejected.

Some of the following points might help you further cut down your list of possible enterprises.

Are you producing for your own needs, for commercial production, or for both?



Your market is assured here. It is difficult to go wrong provided you do the following:

  • Ensure that you have or develop the skills required to produce the product or service you have selected.
  • Ensure that you have the right equipment, materials, etc. to produce the product or service.
  • Check and be sure that you can grow or produce or deliver each particular product or service cheaper than you might buy the product for ...
    BEWARE, even though it may seem ridiculous, it is often possible to buy something for less, or hire someone to provide a service, than it might cost you to grow it or provide a service yourself.


Your market is rarely assured, and when it is (e.g. contract growing), there are generally disadvantages involved. Choosing which product or service to grow or provide might include:
Studying the demand of alternative products or services under consideration and select high demand ones.
If you choose a crop or animal, then how suitable is that crop or animal to the soil and climate of your area. Would expensive site modifications need to be made to allow that crop or animal to be grown successfully (e.g. greenhouse installation, windbreaks, soil  works).
  • Could you borrow, lease, hire any other equipment you might need on a short term  basis, while you have a try out producing a new crop, animal, service, etc.
  • What is the cost, and availability, of planting material, breeding stock, specialist equipment? Can you get it, and/or can you afford it?
    Consider the keeping quality of any products. Those which only keep for short periods only are more of a risk than ones which keep well.
  • Can the products you might be considering growing be processed to give them a much longer life?
  • Could processing be used to increase the value of the products you are considering (this is known as value adding)?
    Consider when the product or service will be sold/supplied and the likely changes in demand throughout the year.
    Consider the relationship between cost outlay & return. Some enterprises require large capital outlay before any return can be obtained (eg: Walnut orchard ... property & labour, etc. can be tied up for up to 10 years before reasonable crops start to be obtained from the trees).
    Consider the scale on which that product or service is normally grown or delivered commercially. Crops grown on large scales (eg: Wheat) are subject to scale economies (ie: they need to be grown on large scales to achieve a reasonable cost efficiency).
    Consider how well established the particular sector of the industry your are considering is, and study what other people growing that crop or providing that service are doing. If everyone grows a particular crop or animal, or decides to provide a particular service because there has recently been a high demand ... next year may result in an over supply of that crop, animal, or service, and very cheap prices.
    Consider the likely transportation & marketing requirements of the products or services.
    Consider the time that particular crops or animals take to mature and the length of production of that particular crop or animal.
    Some crop bearing trees, for example, can take four or more years before you get a worthwhile crop, but will keep bearing, if well maintained, for decades.
    Consider market presentation & preferences before beginning a venture. Some products or services require a larger capital outlay to package & present at market than others.
  • For "new" or experimental crops or animals, determine what information is available on their culture, and what grower support (e.g. Dept. of Agriculture). Trying crops or animals that are new to your area, or are experimental can be costly if results are poor, but also have the potential to be very rewarding if results are good. Researching overseas efforts with such (or similar) crops can often provide important information.

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Prices in Australian Dollars

PlanAust. PriceOverseas Price
A 1 x $3,080.00  1 x $2,800.00
B 2 x $1,663.20  2 x $1,512.00
C 4 x $878.90  4 x $799.00

Note: Australian prices include GST. 
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