Certificate in Alternative Farming

The Certificate in Alternative Farming allows you to learn different farming practices. Ideal to start your own niche farm.

Course Code: VSS103
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 600 hours
Qualification Certificate
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Alternative farming is the future of farming

Farming is continuously evolving… External influences such as technological advances, global economics, environmental concerns, consumer demand and preferences, and increased competition means that there is an ongoing need for adaptation and change in the farming industry. The result is a worldwide growth in alternative farming - which is not slowing down.  

Farming is poised for huge growth

Asian demand for agricultural products will continue to fuel
opportunities in agriculture throughout much of the 21st century.

- Traditional approaches to farming are changing though.
- The nature and type of products in demand is changing.
- The modern farmer needs to "think outside the box".

Why choose our course?

This course develops a foundation for building a successful agricultural business; and educates you to think with a higher level of creativity and innovation when considering your options for a future in farming. It will provide you with a foundation knowledge in alternative farming methods, equipping you to meet changes in industry demands through innovative thinking. The core modules cover Soils, Water, Land Care, Financial Sustainability, Broad Management Strategies, Plant and Animal Enterprises). The elective modules incorporate a variety of subjects relevant to alternative farming which can be chosen according to where your specific interest lies.
The successful farmers whether in a developed or developing country often share one thing in common: that being their adaptability. It is important to be able to change to remain sustainable, as the world changes. This may involve finding new things to farm; or it may involve farming in new ways. This course aims to develop your capacity to deal with change; find new markets, solve problems (whether management or technical); and overall, keep farms sustainable.


Core ModulesThese modules provide foundation knowledge for the Certificate in Alternative Farming.
 Sustainable Agriculture BAG215
 Organic Farming BAG305
Elective ModulesIn addition to the core modules, students study any 4 of the following 19 modules.
 Alternative Energy VSS102
 Herb Culture BHT114
 Animal Diseases BAG219
 Aquaculture BAG211
 Commercial Organic Vegetable Growing VHT241
 Cut Flower Production BHT221
 Forage Management BAG226
 Hydroponic Management (Hydroponics II) BHT213
 Hydroponics I BHT224
 Mariculture - Marine Aquaculture BAG220
 Nut Production BHT219
 Permaculture Systems BHT201
 Pigs BAG209
 Plant Breeding BHT236
 Poultry BAG208
 Trees For Rehabilitation BHT205
 Viticulture BHT220
 Agricultural Marketing BAG304
 Animal Breeding BAG301

Note that each module in the Certificate in Alternative Farming is a short course in its own right, and may be studied separately.



Over recent years, farmers from many other countries, have looked increasingly towards growing new types of crops or animals. 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 & 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.
  • Starting later
    • 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  farmers.

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.

Markets - may already be established, or you may need to develop market opportunities.

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 to 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 trialed in Australia, or which are being grown overseas successfully, but not yet trialed 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 to (mains water, power, telephone, etc.)?
  • What equipment do you have, or can readily get access to (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 you 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.

Other Options
1. If this course isn't quite what you are looking for; talk to us. We can often modify a study program to switch one or more of the modules for something different.  See how our self designed courses work. Click here
2. Why are you studying? If your main goal is to get a job, study might, or might not be what you need. It pays to find out before you commit to a long program of study. We can help you find out.
  • The book "Getting a job" by our staff has been designed to help you understand the workplace, what employers look for, and how to put yourself in the best position to get a job.  Click to see details about this book.
  • Our Free Career & Course Counselling service provides a unique opportunity to communicate with a professional person from the industry you are looking to work in. Click here to make a connection.
3. If you are uncertain about committing to a big course at this stage; you might consider starting with a less demanding course.
Short courses offered include:  Animal Anatomy and Physiology, Animal Health, Animal Feed and Nutrition, Animal Health Care, Natural Health Care for Animals, Diagnosing Animal Diseases, Animal Behaviour, Animal Breeding, Animal Behaviour, Horse Care I, Horse Care II, Horse Care III, Equine Behaviour, Horse Breeding, Dog Psychology and Training, Cat Psychology and Training, Pet Care, Beef Cattle, Dairy Cattle, Calf Rearing, Sheep, Pigs, Goat Husbandry, Poultry. Irrigation, Pasture Management, Agronomy, Vegetable Production, Herb Culture, Outdoor Crop Production, Aquaculture. Marine Aquaculture, Aquaponics, Cut Flower Production, Farm Management, Agricultural Marketing, Organic Farming, Sustainable Farming.

Where can this course lead?

Industries in alternative farming:
Organic/Sustainable Farms
Private Enterprises
Farm Processing Plants
Agriculture Research and Development
Agriculture Education and Training
Government Departments of Agriculture, Environment, Forestry, Conservation
Conservation and Wildlife Organisations
Not for Profit Agencies
Farm Supply Companies
Farm Advisory Services

Jobs in alternative farming:
Run your own alternative farming business
Farm Supervisor
Farm Hand
Farm Machinery Operator
Project Officer
Agribusiness Analyst
Quality Assurance Officer
Laboratory Assistant
Research Assistant
Tour Guide
Logistics Clerk
Administration Assistant

Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
ACS Distance Education holds an Educational Membership with the ATA.
Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
ACS is a Member of the Permaculture Association (membership number 14088).
ACS is a Preferred Member Training Provider with the Australian Institute of Horticulture. ACS students meeting AIH criteria can join AIH as a Category 2 student member.
ACS is an organisational member of the Future Farmers Network.
Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason has been a member of the International Scociety of Horticultural Science since 2003
UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

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You can enrol at anytime and start the course when you are ready. Enrolments are accepted all year - students can commence study at any time. All study is self paced and ACS does not set assignment deadlines.

Please note that if a student is being assisted by someone else (e.g. an employer or government subsidy), the body offering the assistance may set deadlines. Students in such situations are advised to check with their sponsor prior to enrolling. The nominal duration of a course is approximately how long a course takes to complete. A course with a nominal duration of 100 hours is expected to take roughly 100 hours of study time to complete. However, this will vary from student to student. Short courses (eg. 100 hrs duration) should be completed within 12 months of enrolment. Certificates, Advanced Certificates and Awards (eg. over 500 hours duration) would normally be completed within 3 -5 years of enrolment. Additional fees may apply if a student requires an extended period to complete.
If a student cannot submit their assignments for 6 months to ACS, they should advise the school to avoid cancellation of their student
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This is possible, it depends on the institution. We recommend that if you would like to use our courses that you contact the institution first. Our Course Handbook is a good resource for this.

Our courses are written in English and we only have English speaking academic staff. If you can read and complete your assignments in English, our courses are ideal for you.

Our courses are designed to build knowledge, hands on skills and industry connections to help prepare you to work in the area, running your own business, professional development or as a base for further study.

This course is aimed at providing you with a solid understanding in your selected discipline. It has been designed to take 600 hours, which includes your course reading, assignment work, research, practical tasks, watching videos and more. When you complete the course, will have a good understanding of the area/ industry you want to work in.

It’s up to you. The study hours listed in the course are a rough guide, however if you were to study a short course (100 hours) at 10 hours per week, you could finish the course in 10 weeks (just an example). Our courses are self-paced, so you can work through the courses in your own time. We recommend that you wait for your tutor to mark and return your assignment before your start your next one, so you get the benefits of their feedback.

The course consists of course notes, videos, set tasks for your practical work, online quizzes, an assignment for each lesson (that you receive feedback from your tutor from) and ends in an exam (which is optional, if would like to receive the formal award at the end), using our custom built Learning Management System - Login.Training.

Our courses are designed for adults to gain professional development and skills to further their careers and start businesses.

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We offer printed notes for an additional fee. Also, you can request your course notes on a USB stick for an additional fee.

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We are more learning focussed, rather than assessment focussed. You have online quizzes to test your learning, written assignments and can complete an exam at the end of the course (if you want to receive your certificate). You will not receive a pass/ fail on your course work. If you need to add more details on your assignment, we will ask you to resubmit and direct you where you need to focus. If you need help, you can ask your tutor for advice in the student room.

Each module (short course) is completed with one exam.

Exams are optional, however you must sit an exam if you would like to receive a formal award. You will need to find someone who can supervise that you are sitting the exams under exams conditions. There is an additional cost of $60 incl. GST for each exam.
More information is here

There are practical components built into the course that have been designed to be achieved by anyone, anywhere. If you are unable to complete a task for any reason, you can ask your tutor for an alternative.

When you complete the course work and the exams (6 exams) and you will be able receive your course certificate- a Certificate. Otherwise, you can receive a Letter of Completion.

You can bundle the short courses to create your own customised learning bundle, Certificates or Advanced Certificates. More information is on this page.

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Employers value candidates with industry skills, knowledge, practical skills and formal learning. Our courses arm you with all of these things to help prepare you for a job or start your own business. The longer you study the more you will learn.

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Course Contributors

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

Maggi Brown

Maggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades.
Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .

Martin Powdrill

25 years working in Telecommunications, IT, Organisational Development, and Energy Conservation & Efficiency, prior to setting up his own Permaculture consulting business. Martin has a Bsc (Hons) Applied Science (Resources Option), MSc Computer Studies, Permaculture Design Certificate.
Martin volunteers with many local environmental and community groups, and facilitates discussions on climate change, peak oil, and transition towns. Martin has an allotment, and is currently enrolled in the Scottish Mountain Bike Leader Award programme.
Martin’s goal as a catalyst for sustainable change brings together his strengths and experience in his environmental, project management, and business backgrounds.


Meet some of the tutors that guide the students through this course.

Maria Schmitz Fontes

Maria has extensive experience in Environmental Science working in the private and public sectors. She has 6 years of experience teaching graduate and post-graduate students subjects as Marine Pollution, Microbial Ecology, Geochemistry, Oceanography, Methods in Aquatic Science and Benthic Ecology. She has published over 20 scientific articles and book chapters. She has also coordinated an innovative project in bioenergy production using simple-cheap methods to isolate microbes in laboratory. She has collaborated with scientists of Climate Change Cluster Group from University of Technology Sydney and has current interests in areas such as: sustainability and clean energy.

Tamar Michaelian

Tamar has worked extensively across the environmental sector gaining valuable practical and theoretical knowledge in native animal husbandry, including capture, management and ongoing care; identification of both native and invasive flora and fauna species; and, venomous snake and reptile handling. She has found particular passion for Biosecurity and Human-wildlife Conflict based issues.

Having worked in Environmental Consulting, for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and for the University of Queensland, highlights of Tamar’s career include her work supporting peri-urban wild dog management and conducting research on zoonotic and cat-specific diseases, important to human and companion animal health, in unowned cats. Tamar has attained multiple academic awards for her work and continues to thrive across the Environmental and Wildlife Science sectors.

Parita Shah

Parita has a Masters Degree in Horticulture specializing in Plantation, Spices, Medicinal and Aromatic crops and Organic farming. She has worked as a freelance consultant, and in an Avocado nursery in NSW as grafting and preparing avocado clones.

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