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Regional applied colleges get smart with agreement on research

Smart Farm near Craik to be a commercial scale farming operation.
olds college
Stuart Cullum, Olds College President (left) and Larry Rosia, Sask Polytech president and CEO sign a MOU at Saskatchewan Polytechnic Saskatoon campus May 30. The two schools have agreed to collaborate in joint activities on the Olds College Saskatchewan Smart Farm.

OLDS, Alta. — Olds College and Saskatchewan Polytechnic have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in applied research activities at the Olds College Saskatchewan Smart Farm near Craik.

“With the technical strength that Saskatchewan Polytechnic brings across a wide scope of areas and the intense focus at Olds College in agriculture and agriculture technology, it’s a really strong partnership,” said Stuart Cullum, Olds College president after signing the agreement at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Saskatoon May 30.

“It’s an opportunity for the two institutions to advance agricultural training, to apply advanced applied research

Several details remain, however, about how the partnership will work to benefit students, industry and the provinces.

“Our Smart Farm is intended to be a next generation commercial scale farming operation, where companies, organizations, and producer groups come together and really look at developing technology, developing best practice, scaling it up and demonstrating it,” said Cullum.

“In doing that, we’re also able to acquire a tremendous amount of data that’s used for effective decision making.

Some of the fields that we now have within our Smart Farm are actually the most data rich fields on the globe,” he added.

Rosia is also looking forward to the opportunities for advancing the Digital Integration Centre of Excellence at Saskatchewan Polytechnic (DICE), which works with various industry partners to help with issues such as data integrity, transmission, analysis and storage.

In March, the Olds College Saskatchewan Smart Farm was created after the school was given 800 acres of land near Craik.

Margery Steckler and her late husband, George Steckler also donated to Olds their 320-acre home farm west of Didsbury, Alta., two years ago.

“Next steps for us, we’ll be getting our teams to sit down with industry and really listen to them and see what some of their needs are, both in the way of skills that our graduates may have, but also what direction the industry is headed so that we can start to get our heads around how we need to collaborate to bring solutions to our industry partners,” Rosia said.

The Smart Farm’s first crop is in the ground, working with a local producer and industry partners, which include Raven Industries, Carlson Agriculture and Wildfong Enterprises.

“What we’re doing this year is actually working with Raven on some autonomous equipment applications. They’re going to have some of their technology in the field, working around autonomous and sensors, and how those can be maximized to continue to advance that part of agriculture,” said Cullum.

The Smart Farm at Craik will also benefit from the ongoing research in Alberta that involves autonomy, machine learning, sensor and weather technology, as well as sensor technology and data acquisition.

“We’re starting off with a handful of initiatives, but expect it’s going to continue to grow in the years ahead,” he said.

Cullum said the partnership allows both colleges to bring different disciplines to the table and combine them for the benefit of all.

In the future, the opportunity also exists for other educational and research organizations to collaborate through the Pan Canadian Smart Farm Network as well as the Canadian Agriculture Automation Intelligence Network.