New ag school to focus on applied learning

The Saskatchewan Polytechnic program will eventually be run at the Ag in Motion farm site outside of Saskatoon

Saskatchewan Polytechnic is planning to build an educational facility at the Ag In Motion property near Langham, Sask.. | STARS Air Ambulance photo

Saskatchewan Polytechnic is developing a new program that will focus on agriculture and food production.

Dean Jamie Hilts said the school is waiting for the final stamp of approval from the provincial advanced education ministry, and he hopes to deliver the program to 24 students beginning in the fall of 2019.

The plan includes building a new facility at the Ag In Motion farm show site near Langham, Sask.

“We have done a MOA (memorandum of agreement) with Glacier FarmMedia (owner of Ag in Motion and also The Western Producer) and AIM to look at the development of a facility for the delivery of the agriculture and food production delivery program, and other related agriculture programming,” Hilts said.

“I think this is an opportunity for the Saskatchewan Polytechnic program to really establish itself as a step apart from most other operations of this nature in Canada.”

Click here for more coverage of Ag In Motion 2018.

The proposed building at the show site is to be built in partnership with AIM.

“This structure will allow us to have classroom space for theory classes, a lab for us to do work in soils, agronomy and other lab work of that nature,” Hilts said.

“It will also allow us the opportunity to bring in pieces of equipment and allow students to be able to work on the equipment and be able to understand the full operations of the technology.”

Glacier FarmMedia recently bought a half section of farmland connected to the half section it already owns. The new land is being used for crop production.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic recently created a new position for an Ag In Motion Research Chair, which will oversee activities and programming for Saskatchewan Polytechnic at the AIM site.

Rob O’Connor, AIM show director, said the new position is shared between Saskatchewan Polytechnic and AIM.

“For Ag In Motion, the (research chair position) will also be a manager, so basically for anything on the farm such as cropping,” he said.

“Or, if companies ask us to help manage their plots here at the show site, he’ll be in charge of that. And then also with Sask Poly it will be to help with the new agriculture diploma program that they’ll be launching.”

Hilts said the program will have a large component of applied learning with hands on experience, which will help students get a deeper understanding of agriculture and to become precision ag equipment operators. 

“All of our students are going to have time to actually be around a functioning farming operation, so students who might not have had the experience to be on a farm will actually have the opportunity to have boots on the ground,” Hilts said.

The two-year ag diploma program will have courses in arts and sciences, math, communications and agriculture history as well as courses related to farm business such as local marketing, financing and contracts.

Students will attend some classes at Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Saskatoon campus and study approximately two days per week at the proposed facility on the Ag In Motion show site.

“It’s a co-op studies opportunity so students will get both theory learning, the applied learning, they’ll get the practical experience of working in a variety of agriculture and food production settings, and then have the opportunity to transfer on to complete a degree with two or three other institutions within Canada,” Hilts said.

He said he doesn’t see the new program competing with other agriculture-based schools in Canada, such as Olds College, Lakeland College or the University of Saskatchewan. Instead, he sees the new program offering curriculum that is not now offered.

For instance, he sees teaching a strong technical understanding of data analytics from modern farm equipment as something at which the program could excel.

Hilts said Saskatchewan Polytechnic has a memorandum of understanding with Olds College so that students will have the ability to go to Olds for a four-month term in livestock.

Beyond the new agriculture and food production program, Hilts said there would be opportunities through the Saskatchewan Polytechnic campus on the AIM site for continuing education courses.

“Courses such as pesticide applications, but also overall programming to again deal with the understanding of data analytics and the interpretation of that data that is being created on virtually every farm in Saskatchewan,” Hilts said.

He said he sees an opportunity to have courses on irrigation and beekeeping as well as conducting applied research on farm safety, including how to safely manage on-farm grain handling facilities.

O’Connor said working with Saskatchewan Polytechnic to develop a new agricultural-based program on the AIM show site fits well with the company’s goals.

“Glacier FarmMedia is all about the transfer of knowledge and information, and I think that just fits into our mandate,” he said.

“We’re teaching people what is new and exciting, and part of our show, or any trade show, is showcasing innovation and what’s new and how it impacts agriculture and farming.”

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