History of an old research station in an evolving world

In 1993, word came from the federal government that Agriculture Canada’s research centre in Indian Head, Sask., was destined for closure.

In response, local scientists and researchers banded together with area farmers to develop a new game plan to keep the farm open. The result was the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation (IHARF), and by developing a collaborative relationship with Agriculture Canada, the farm was saved.

The IHARF board, comprising mainly area farmers, proposed looking after the fill acres on the farm to bring outside income to help lower farm costs.

“The crop revenue helped to subsidize this new-farmer directed research, which has evolved to the point where they no longer must rely on equipment donations but still receive very generous in-kind donations from the private sector,” said IHARF executive manager Danny Petty.

“The private sector’s generosity was paramount in getting IHARF established.

The foundation runs small-plot and field-scale lines of equipment, cropping about 1,200 acres of government owned land, IHARF-owned land and small parcels rented from area farmers.

The farm is seeded around small-plot research and demonstration trials with field-scale trials included wherever possible.

Many synergies exist between the two groups.

For example, Agriculture Canada scientist Bill May is conducting an aphid population project on canaryseed on the IHARF land. The department doesn’t own a plot drill and IHARF has two, including a SeedMaster and a ConservaPak.

IHARF has only one tractor for the plot drills so uses an Agriculture Canada tractor for its plot seeding. The two units are then shared between IHARF and Agriculture Canada for plot seeding operations.

The research farm shared by IHARF and Agriculture Canada is busy with close to 90 agronomy projects and 3,900 plots, which they either lead or collaborate on.

Funding for the projects is applied for from various federal and provincial programs as well as commodity groups such as Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, Sask Canola and Sask Flax.

As well, the private sector is sometimes contracted to conduct the work.

These projects and plots don’t include other Agriculture Canada programs at the Indian Head centre, such as the wheat breeding program, seed increase unit and the agroforestry unit.

“There might seem to be a lot of land here on the farm, but when you factor in a four-year crop rotation and a four-year plot rotation in order to let the treatments we test recede, it eats up the land base quickly,” said Petty.

With only 10 full- and part-time and seasonal employees, IHARF’s paperwork is endless but necessary to enable the group to collect data and develop results for the applied research needed to assist farmers in improving their agronomy.

IHARF sees extension as a critical component of its work. It hosts many tours during the growing season for groups from North America, Europe, Kazakhstan, New Zealand and Australia. It also hosts a winter seminar that rotates around the province and a day-long session at Crop Production Week in Saskatoon.

Petty said there are seven other organizations similar to IHARF in Saskatchewan, although it is the most established.

The organizations belong to an umbrella group known as Agri-ARM, which is a network of producer-directed applied research and demonstration groups. All operate individually but collaborate on a broad range of projects.

Agri-ARM receives core funding from Saskatchewan Agriculture, but receives most of its funds through project-based funding.

In 2015, IHARF received an award from the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists for agrology excellence for outstanding service for the profession of agrology.

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