New name reflects changing research mandate

Alberta Agriculture wants new Lethbridge facility to find solutions for farmers that also protect the environment

Alberta Agriculture’s former Ag Tech Centre on the Lethbridge College campus received a new name and a new life Nov. 9 with a provincial government announcement.

Provincial agriculture minister Oneil Carlier officially opened the Farm Stewardship Centre in front of a crowd of southern Alberta farmers.

“This re-named, re-invigorated and re-purposed facility will focus on research, development and implementation of best practices that will help producers manage the environmental footprint of their operations,” Carlier said in his address.

Activities have always focused on developments in agriculture, beginning in 1958 when projects mainly focused on farm machinery standards.

In the 1970s, focus shifted to machine testing and evaluation and then to applied research in the 1980s.

More recently, research focused on agricultural technology, including sprayer nozzle testing and technology, weather monitoring, greenhouse gas emissions from manure, efficient farm lighting and remote livestock watering systems.

Carlier said work in the re-named facility will bring farmers, industry, government and academics together to develop ways for agriculture to remain or become sustainable.

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“A sustainable food system is one that reconciles ecological, social and economic imperatives, helps our producers continue to act as good stewards of land and allows our industry to meet the social licence expectations of the marketplace,” said Carlier.

In a later interview, Carlier said producers already use sustainable practices, but “I think with a facility like this, we can give them the tools and the opportunities to take it a step further.”

He also said agricultural investment in the facility and the industry in general will help the province ease its economic dependence on the energy sector.

“We recognize how important the agriculture sector is to our rural communities and our provincial economy,” he said.

“There’s tremendous potential within the renewable resource sector to help further strengthen and diversify our economy beyond its current dependence on oil and gas.”

Grain Growers of Canada president Gary Stanford, who farms in nearby Magrath, said establishment of the Farm Stewardship Centre is a good sign.

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“I was very concerned,” he said.

“It seemed like the government was stepping back on supporting agriculture, and so for them to change this Ag Tech Centre into a Farm Stewardship Centre, it’s keeping people employed, its looking out for our future and with the new technologies that are coming out, this Farm Stewardship Centre just fits right in.”

Producers speculate at farm meetings about whether the push for sustainability recognizes past efforts and whether new initiatives will bring additional costs, and Stanford acknowledged those concerns.

“It might end up costing us a little money. Will it? I don’t know. But if it can save me from using a few pounds of fertilizer, it’s paid for all my concerns,” Stanford said.

“I think that all farmers are stewards of the land. We want to be able to pass the farmland down to our children, but on the other hand we need to understand that there are new technologies coming out. Could we use less fuel on our farm? Could we use less fertilizer on our farm, if we had the correct testing? With this new stewardship centre, it’s going to allow us to look at (those things.)”

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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