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Lethbridge College has a new  research chair in irrigation science—the school’s first-ever fully funded applied research chair.

Willemijn Appels joined Lethbridge College earlier this year to fill the position, which is paid for by a $3.1-million gift from Lloyd and Dorothy Mueller, announced in 2014, and $1.9 million in additional funding from the college. Appels, who is originally from the Netherlands, came to Lethbridge from the University of Saskatchewan, where her work focused on hydrological processes at reclamation sites in the Alberta oilsands. So far, her work in Lethbridge has centred on soil dynamics in canola using different irrigation methods and finding ways to allow for more advanced water management practices on farms.

“It is great timing to become part of the college as it is ramping up its applied research program,” Appels said. “There is a lot of support available that will hopefully translate into relevant and innovative research projects.”

Irrigation is critical for Alberta agriculture, as the province contains 67 per cent of all the irrigated land in Canada. Even though less than six per cent of Alberta’s farmland is irrigated, that land contributes more than 19 per cent of the province’s gross primary agricultural production. Lethbridge County, in particular, has gained a reputation as the irrigation capital of Canada, with more than 297,000 acres of irrigated land.

Appels’ colleagues at Lethbridge College are excited to see how her research program will benefit the vibrant irrigated agriculture industry throughout southern Alberta.

“After working with Willemijn for a short amount of time, it’s easy to see that she has a scientific mind and a desire to understand and solve problems,” said Jeff Bronsch, irrigation industry liaison at Lethbridge College. “Her approach to develop a deep understanding of irrigated agriculture and her role as the Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science is a great opportunity to move the industry forward in many different areas.”

Over the course of her first few months at Lethbridge College, Appels has branched out to create positive relationships with the key industry partners and producers she will be working closely with throughout her irrigation research.

“Willemijn is eager to dig in, get her hands dirty and contribute to the agriculture community through her research,” said Ken Coles, general manager of Farming Smarter. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her and wish her much success.”

Now that she is established in her new role, Appels is ready to put her expertise and new producer and industry relationships to work in order to drive innovation in the field of irrigation science.

“I have been fortunate to meet some wonderful people in and around Lethbridge who work in irrigation,” Appels said. “Producers, businesses, irrigation district people, government researchers—there is a wealth of knowledge and experience in this region and an enthusiasm to explore new technologies as they emerge. Figuring out how we can really optimize water use in agriculture with all available and advanced technology is a complex issue that will keep me busy for the coming years.”


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