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Olds College recently launched its new Werklund Agriculture Institute (WAI) to continue its industry-leading applied research into the field of “smart agriculture.”

Stuart Cullum, Olds College’s chief innovation officer, said smart agriculture is “the complement of environmental sustainability and economic productivity within agriculture.”

Smart agriculture, also known as climate-smart agriculture, is seen by many as the way forward for the industry in order to continue producing viable food sources for an increasingly populated world. However, according to Cullum, the WAI is unlike any other program in the global agriculture industry, and demonstrates Alberta’s competiveness in the field of smart agriculture.

Olds College was able to launch the initiative thanks to a cumulative $16-million donation from oilfield industry leader and No. 81 on Canadian Business’s 2017 list of Canada’s richest people, David P. Werklund, and his partner, Susan Norman. The endowment is the largest personal donation ever given to an Alberta college or technical institute.

“It’s going to be spent on developing academic programming and applied research capacity within our organization,” Cullum said. “We’ve always had a strong integrated learning approach, but this will significantly enhance that.”

The WAI’s key components, including a producer mentor program and a position for a thought leader in smart agriculture and sustainability, champion the hands-on experience of Olds College by connecting students with professionals in the agriculture industry.

“It’s about taking our students out of the classroom and putting them into the field, so to speak,” Cullum said. “We’re not necessarily putting students on tractors or combines. We’re also putting students in the business offices and in the boardrooms of agriculture and allowing them to engage and work alongside producers and agriculture business leaders as part of their integrated learning.”

Olds College and the WAI focus on attracting the so-called “millennial farmer,” showing young people that the multifaceted agriculture industry can be engaging for people with diverse areas of interest.

“Who is going to engage in agriculture in the future? It’s not just the kid off the farm—that’s a shrinking demographic,” Cullum said. “There’s no doubt that those young people and those students are still critically important to our industry, but we also need to attract young people who haven’t grown up on a farm.

“Part of the [WAI’s goal] will be to attract students and young people from all across the spectrum to view agriculture as a career opportunity and a career choice that is going to align with their interests. Whether it be IT, whether it be business systems, whether it be analytics or geomatics—all of those and more areas of science and technology are very relevant to the field of agriculture.” Although the WAI is already operational, Cullum said it will take some time to see just how far they can run with it to reach its full potential.

“It’s a really significant undertaking to build the programming that we intend and envision within the [WAI], but Olds College already had the underpinnings of a lot of the programming that it describes,” he said. “This isn’t Olds College taking a right turn into a new space, this is Olds College building on a strong foundation of teaching, learning and applied research.

“We’re really recognizing the activity that has already been occurring, and now building upon it in order to do even more for our students and for the industry that we serve.”


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