Colleges to offer programs on smart agriculture

Two colleges in Western Canada have teamed up to develop new programs in smart agriculture.

Officials from Saskatchewan Polytechnic and Olds College announced March 20 that the two schools will jointly explore the demand for “new programming and applied research into smart agriculture.”

The colleges will begin collaborating immediately to identify new training, applied research and commercialization opportunities.

“The agriculture industry is a very strong sector in the province of Saskatchewan. It’s a key sector,” said Larry Rosia, president of Sask Polytechnic.

“Our role as an educational organization is to provide the skill sets that are required to allow that sector to reach its full potential.”

“So this partnership is all about developing programs and working with industry to identify what those skill sets are and making sure industry has the (people) they need to be successful.”

Smart agriculture encompasses existing and emerging technologies that collect agricultural data and ensure that agricultural data is being applied in a way that enhances agricultural production.

Examples of smart agricultural technology include remote normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) cameras and variable rate application systems.

Tom Thompson, president of Olds College, said agricultural technology is changing rapidly.

That pace of change highlights the need for educational institutions to be nimble and to closely work with industry partners to identify areas where additional programming will be required.

“What should be of concern to everybody is the rate of change in this industry, right across the board,” Thomson said.

“New technology is having an impact on agriculture, the environment is having and impact and globalization is having an impact.

“What we’re trying to do is respond to that accelerated rate of change by designing programs that benefit students and the industry.

“One of the great criticisms raised by industry is that (educational institutions) are not moving fast enough. Well, this is one way that we’re trying to move faster.”

Rosia said they are hopeful that new smart agriculture programs will be rolled out in the 2017-18 school year.

Industry consultation will play a role, he said.

“We want to make sure that … we are changing as the industry needs us to change,” he said.

“This is not just about signing a document and putting it on the shelf. Within the year, we’ll sit down … we’ll set some targets, we’ll identify some objectives and we’ll deliver on those.”

Olds College in Olds, Alta., opened in 1913. Current programming includes animal science, horticulture, land and water, fashion, business, hospitality and tourism and trades.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic operates campuses in Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina, and Saskatoon. It has 27,000 students and offers a wide range of certificate, diploma and degrees programs as well as apprenticeship training.

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