A new concept helps farmers discover agricultural innovations in a hands-on manner.
The Glacier Farmmedia Discovery Farm was announced by company president Bob Willcox during the 2019 Ag In Motion innovation ceremonies in Saskatoon.
The GFM Discovery Farm is a 640-acre property dedicated to agricultural events and demonstration plots near Langham, Sask., which Willcox said will help GFM connect to farmers in a new way.
Some of the Discovery Farm’s components are already established, including the Ag In Motion outdoor farm show that just completed its fifth year. Other components are new or are still being developed, such a 380-acre space dedicated to demonstration plots dubbed the Field of Excellence.
“There are field-scale trials involving air drills and planters, along with crop inputs and nutrients. We’re exploring practical ways farmers can save time and money on their farms,” Willcox said.
“Part of the site is 60 acres of additional research plots that can accommodate a variety of trials and demonstrations, such as hosting university researchers and industry partners.”
Last year, GFM bought a half section of farmland beside the half section it already owned where AIM is held, which is now home to Discovery Farm’s Field of Excellence.
Discovery Farm agrologist Blake Weiseth works with Saskatchewan polytechnic and GFM to manage research plots on the Field of Excellence and this summer he’s overseeing a team of summer students who tend the demonstration areas.
Willcox said partnering with Saskatchewan Polytechnic has been a logical fit because the school is working toward an accreditation course for agriculture technicians.
“In the industry, they want kids who know how to fix combines, drive combines, those types of practical positions and I think they (Saskatchewan Polytechnic) feel there’s a hole in the market to fill and they are asking us to work with them on that,” Willcox said.
“The kids will come out and work on the crop plots under someone’s direction of course. But they can work on them, they can drive the machinery, and they can be involved in this as part of their work experience.”
He said GFM is in a unique position to provide manufacturing and life science companies a space to demonstrate their technologies, and at the same time give students the chance to work with the new products.
For instance, already installed in the Field of Excellence is a METOS real-time field monitoring system that includes crop-view cameras that take images of the field throughout the growing season, a temperature and humidity sensor, and a rain gauge.
There are also insect traps and soil probes to help staff contextualize their observations.
Beyond industry partners, Willcox said there is an opportunity for universities and researchers to be involved.
“We’ve been approached by Olds College (in Olds, Alta.,) to do something similar as well. They’re very interested with us working at their Smart Farm, and we think there is an opportunity they can do something here as well.
“With the University of Guelph, we have a plan to develop a national soil health centre. I say national because we can also have one here (in Langham). So we can also talk about sustainability because we think that is a huge issue.”
GFM also owns Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, and recently bought 90 acres of land directly north of the show site near Woodstock, Ont.
Both the Ontario and Saskatchewan properties will be available for farmer clinics and trade field tours from spring to fall.
Willcox said information from the trials conducted at the Discovery Farm will be shared through the GFM media organizations and also during GFM’s most recent farm show acquisition, the Farm Forum Event, which is set to move to Saskatoon from Calgary and is scheduled for Dec. 3-5.
He said GFM’s business strategy continues to be to connect to and build trust with farmers, which it has done with its traditional news media products including The Western Producer.
“The world is changing. We have print that has been very dominant for years and years, and digital. We have this great content that we produce with 50 ag journalist and they do an exceptional job,” Willcox said.
“But our customers are wanting it in different formats so we have to be receptive to that. We have print, we have digital, we have our Markets Farm team with Bruce Brunett and Mike Jubinville for specialized markets and weather information, we have a new e-learning channel we are developing, and we also have agricultural events and the Discovery Farm designed to help farmers make decisions.”