Tech school reaches deal with research farm

Saskatchewan Polytechnic and Glacier FarmMedia’s Discovery Farm agree to share the research services of one position

Blake Weiseth wears a few different hats at Glacier FarmMedia’s Discovery Farm west of Langham, Sask., home to Ag in Motion and the Field of Excellence.

He manages the dual-title position of applied research lead at Discovery Farm and agriculture research chair at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

It’s a unique public and private agreement that Glacier FarmMedia and Sask Polytech established to co-ordinate applied research projects at GFM’s 640-acre Discovery Farm.

“This dual appointment provides the unique opportunity to leverage the benefits of being so closely tied to industry through affiliation with Discovery Farm and Ag in Motion, while benefiting from the rich history of knowledge transfer and applied research at Saskatchewan Polytechnic,” said Weiseth.

Now in its second year, the Discovery Farm was designed to connect western Canadian farmers with industry and research partners to find solutions to current and future agriculture challenges.

“We wanted to provide farmers with practical and unbiased information so that they could make really informed farming decisions,” said Lynda Tityk, GFM executive vice-president.

Weiseth said it was also a way to fully use the Langham property beyond the three-day AIM event and create meaningful content the rest of the year.

“We’re running an applied research program. We’re very much interested in knowledge transfer and extension events so we’re using the site to conduct farmer-led research projects, applied research projects,” he said.

Raised on a farm near Shaunavon, Sask., Weiseth has a master’s degree in soil science from the University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture college.

The collaboration provides Sask Polytech with access to land at the Discovery Farm for field-scale trials. In return, Sask Polytech provides the Discovery Farm access to its facilities, equipment and expertise.

Another key component is the ability to leverage project funding opportunities available to public research institutions.

“It’s just a great partnership. Any research projects that we do is to work on a project for industry. So this is 100 percent industry focused,” said Susan Blum, associate vice-president of applied research and innovation at Sask Polytech.

One project was developing an interactive app with a mapping function.

“The intent is that visitors download this app to their smartphones when they attend the farm show and then they have easy access to event details, information on crop varieties and the inner workings of farm machinery,” said Blum.

She said the agreement with GFM is a good fit with the school’s interest to expand its role in the agriculture industry while working to find practical and innovative solutions.

It’s also creating opportunities for students to gain first-hand experience with the latest technologies, best practices and real-world results that come from applied research.

“The exciting thing is that students were involved in that whole app development,” she said.

“We involve students for most of our research projects. If industry wants to just pay for a fee for service we tend not to involve students, but if they want a research project then all the work is pretty much at cost because it’s key to involve students. (Many of) the students that are involved in applied research projects get hired right away. Sometimes they get hired by the company they’re doing the applied research project (for) even before they’re finished their programming. So it’s a great opportunity for students here.”

While it’s a relatively new venture, Weiseth said the Discovery Farm has steadily gained momentum, attracting industry partners in spite of the pandemic.

“Even in the midst of the uncertainty of COVID this spring, all of our industry partners were still very willing to carry on and partner with us in this project,” said Weiseth.

The Saskatchewan Water Security Agency recently provided the Discovery Farm with $95,000 to start an irrigation project on the site with water technologist experts from Sask Polytech.

‘We’ve further leveraged that and we’ve partnered with the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association and the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association for additional research dollars to carry on the project,” he said.

As part of the Discovery Farm, several organizations are already partnering with the Field of Excellence project: Nutrien Ag Solutions, Proven Seed, Loveland Products Inc., CropPro Consulting, Metos Canada, Vaderstad Industries, Equipment Technologies (Apache Sprayer), Claas of America and Canada West Harvest Centre and Ag Growth International (AGI).

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