Innovation project expands

A pilot project on ranch research paved the way for a three-year larger scale project among ranchers in Alberta, which is now set to begin.

Twenty ranching operations, two from each of 10 applied research organizations in the province, will explore the use and effectiveness of various innovations, ranging from drone technology to monitor and locate livestock to DNA testing for hybrid vigour evaluation.

Participating ranchers will have access to researchers and experts in the particular innovation field they’re exploring.

“With the initial pilot project, our first discussions were just ‘how can we connect the scientists with the ranchers or the researchers with the guys potentially using that technology’ and if there are gaps there, why are the gaps happening,” said Dianne Westerlund, manager and forage agrologist with the Chinook Applied Research Association.

“It’s also to help scientists to know if they’re on the right track. Are they targeting what producers are really asking for? The expansion is just to help facilitate that whole process.”

The 20 participants have been selected, although not all of them had yet chosen the innovation they want to explore, Westerlund said Aug. 31. Once that’s done, they will use the selected innovation over the next three years and any failures, challenges and successes will be monitored and recorded for use by others.

In the pilot project completed last year, eight ranchers in central and southern Alberta explored drones and DNA testing as well as sustainable pasture rejuvenation, paperless cow-calf and feedlot management software, nose-flap weaning of calves and sustainable watering sites, among other projects.

For the current study, each rancher will have access to a maximum of $2,000 to put toward the innovation project. Each must provide matching dollars of 50 percent for expense items or 80 percent for capital items. Funding is provided by the federal and Alberta governments with additional support by Alberta Beef Producers.

“There has to be that investment and engagement from the rancher side of things,” said Westerlund.

She added that a change from the pilot was a more extensive discussion on what area of innovation or technology might benefit their particular operation the most.

Kristine Dahl of Arvense, a rangeland and wetlands consulting company, assisted with the pilot and has continued her involvement with the current rancher research project.

Ideally each participant will implement their chosen strategy this year and then monitor it over the following two years to see how it works or perhaps doesn’t meet expectations, Dahl said.

“If you went in on something and it didn’t turn out, that’s something we want to know about. There’s no wrong answer. Different strategies are going to work on different operations across the province. There’s no one size fits all.

“In a way, it’s actually good to hear about the things that didn’t work. That’s equally as useful.”

Dahl said producers in the pilot were keen to share their results and she expects the same will be true for those in the current program.

“Some awareness on some of these different innovations, that’s really positive in our industry. It doesn’t really do anybody any good if it just sits in one guy’s yard. The whole point is that we’re trying to do our best to make sure this information is getting out there.”

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