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Massive expansion of applied agriculture research at Lethbridge College

As investment in Canada’s Premier Food Corridor skyrockets, Lethbridge College’s Integrated Agriculture Technology Centre (IATC) has become a hive of applied agriculture research, aimed at helping farmers and agribusinesses increase profitability while minimizing their environmental footprints.

The IATC was established in 2020 with a Technology Access Centre grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to connect small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including farms and related agribusinesses, to the college’s research expertise and technical services to help their operations thrive. This includes helping save on energy costs by improving irrigation systems and grain drying equipment, not just by sharing results, but by including farmers in the process.

The IATC supports agriculture industry with expertise in Postharvest Technology, Irrigation Science, Aquaculture/Aquaponics, and Greenhouse Production. Their research teams work with clients on applied research, consulting, and training projects, utilizing facilities on and off campus, including:

• the 385-acre irrigated research farm located east of Lethbridge

• the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence on campus

• the 10,000 ft2 Centre for Sustainable Food Production, an on-campus greenhouse

• the 60,000 ft2 Brooks Research and Production Greenhouse

The excitement around the IATC has resulted in many partners jumping on board, ranging from small startups to large, established multinational corporations with over 500 employees. Many of these organizations and businesses are either located in and/or work with farmers in southern Alberta.

This includes the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC), other commodity associations, farmers, and companies like Southern Irrigation and Sunterra Greenhouses who have signed up to take part in applied research projects.

Building grain drying knowledge

Soaring energy prices, extra scrutiny around greenhouse gas emissions and challenging weather conditions have farmers looking for ways to improve the efficiency of their grain drying techniques and equipment.

But how is this done while maintaining the milling and baking quality of wheat?

This is where Senior Research Chair Dr. Chandra Singh and his postharvest research team come in.

They have been looking at a hybrid model of using both dryers and conventional methods and showing the benefits of fan automation on energy savings/quality as part of a province-wide grain drying study.

This province-wide initiative is one of the largest comprehensive on-farm studies in Western Canada.

Now in its second year, Singh and his research team are taking their research into the farming community, looking for farmers who have on-farm grain drying and storage capacity of between 20,000 and 50,000-bushel bins to take part.

The team is using wireless smart sensing technology to monitor in-bin grain storage conditions, including temperatures and moisture levels, as well as an automated fan and heater control system to dry the grain. The research will be going to the participating farms to take notes on the current approaches and then collect and analyze data during the fall season. The results will be made publicly available so that farmers can make informed decisions about technology application in their operations.

Anyone interested in participating can contact Dr. Singh for more information by phone (587-899-8405) or email at Chandra.singh@lethbridgecollege.ca. You do not need a high temperature dryer to participate.

The project is being funded by AWC, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SWDC), Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), Alberta Innovates (AI), and the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), with industry participation from OPI Systems. In addition to Singh’s postharvest research at Lethbridge College, the irrigated research farm is home to many other research projects, taking place as there is a variety of conventional and specialty crops with various types of irrigation systems and supporting infrastructure.

Check it out

Want to learn more about Lethbridge College’s expanding expertise in agriculture research? Plan to attend their Farm Field Day on Wednesday, July 13, 2022.

The college is looking forward to welcoming southern Alberta farmers and anyone from the agriculture community who wants to see these projects firsthand.

The research initiatives being showcased on July 13 include:

Irrigation and Soil Science Project:

- Soil Moisture Monitoring

- Subsurface Drip Irrigation

- Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Potatoes

- Irrigation Demo Canal

Postharvest Technology Projects:

- New Bin Yard with Grain Drying and Storage Infrastructure

- Reducing Storage Losses in Specialty Crops

 - Best Practices for Drying Grains and Oilseeds

The college is also excited about this year’s Open Farm Days, taking place on Saturday, August 13, 2022, where consumers will have the chance to come down and learn about the different types of crops that are grown in southern Alberta, different types of irrigation systems, as well as the basics of crop storage, drying, and what takes place inside a grain bin.