How Olds College is preparing agriculture students for the future

Agriculture schools are helping to shape the next generation of farmers. This first installment in our agriculture education series takes a look at Olds College, located an hour north of Calgary.

Olds College Smart Farm

When Stuart Cullum joined Olds College as president in 2017, he did so with a vision. He wanted to create an environment in which students could learn about agriculture technologies and the practices of the future.

The outcome of that vision is the Smart Farm. Here, the college’s agriculture students learn about, and experience first-hand, technologies that are making farming more efficient, productive and sustainable.

“The idea is to create a cutting-edge learning environment for students,” said Jason Bradley, Smart Ag director at Olds College. Many early adopters are already using these commercially available technologies – such as artificial intelligence platforms that are used to monitor crop health and diagnose diseases. “But at some point we will also start to look at using our facility to test and validate pre-commercial technology,” said Jason.

“Much of the learning of the applicable industry practices and technologies came about through our work with the Smart Agri-Foods Supercluster,” said Jason. Although the supercluster was not awarded funding under the federal Innovation Superclusters Initiative, it remains active in the Smart Farm and uses the facility as a place to develop new Smart Ag practices.

“The Smart Farm allows our instructors to teach the theory, and values of these technologies in the classroom, and then be able to demonstrate them in a hands-on teaching environment,” said Jason. “Students learn how to install them, integrate software and hardware, analyze data and use it for optimum decision-making.”

Tech-savvy graduates will have the knowledge and skills to help companies adopt technologies they would otherwise not have been ready for. The Smart Farm also provides a place for  producers to see those technologies in action, and talk to each other, the companies providing the technologies, and instructors and students.

“We want it to be like a giant coffee shop,” said Jason.

Smart livestock production

Phase one of the Smart Farm is focused on crop production, and the second phase – to be designed this coming winter – will focus on livestock production.

“An important part of that will be developing relationships with the companies that have developed applicable technologies, and with producers who are using technologies that fit into the Smart Farm framework,” said Jason.

How the Smart Farm supports economic development and ag innovation

Jason explained that the Smart Farm could have significant impact across Canada in several different ways. “We see this as a way to clearly demonstrate what technology can achieve in agriculture. We can show other schools how to design and implement this type of education and this type of collaboration with industry. We can also quantify the GDP growth and jobs created from high tech, improved practices. We can then help other regions replicate that, and scale it.”

Stay tuned for future posts in which we will look at other educational institutions helping educate the next generation of farmers.