BY ELLEN COTTEE • PHOTO BY TOMMY WILSON
A farm kid with a love of computer programming, Luke Silinski has chosen to help young people engage with the world of agricultural technology. The Grade 12 student attends the Golden Hills Learning Academy online program. He is the creator of Ag Tech STEAM, a not-for-profit project that develops free, online ag tech educational materials for rural and underserved youth.
While his father manages a grain farm near Trochu and Carnduff, SK, Silinski’s interests lie in the ways farm technology has evolved.
As a sixth grader, Silinski attended a week-long Lego robotics course at the University of Calgary. While it suited his budding interest in technology and mechanics, the commute from his family home near Carbon was not convenient. “That’s when I thought, well, why can’t the robotics come to me?” he said. The thought eventually led him to create online courses centred on ag tech.
Silinski took his plan to the 2019 Emerging Agriculture Hackathon, a University of Saskatchewan event that unites technological innovators and entrepreneurs. He pitched a set of free, online courses with the initial goals to educate youth interested in ag tech and to bridge the gap between urban and farm communities. The idea won the event’s MacGyver Award for the most creative solution to an agriculture problem.
Soon after, Farm Credit Canada offered to assist with funding and research resources. Silinski also partners with the Olds College Smart Farm, which gives him access to subject matter experts. He then launched his first selection of modules, dubbed “content packs.” Focused on key areas of agriculture such as agronomy, entomology, plant health and soil, the modules encourage users to explore the topic through the lenses of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math—learning categories acronymized as STEAM.
Module users work through a series of experiments and observations. They might build a moisture sensor, create a rudimentary precision agriculture setup or create bug counting tactics similar to those used by agronomists.
Silinski never imagined his program would capture the attention it has. He has spoken at events such as the Cultivate: Agriculture Summit presented by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce in April. He admitted he has sometimes been intimidated when addressing seasoned ag professionals. “I’ve been rolling with a lot of heavy hitters in the industry,” he joked. “I came up fast thanks to my partnerships.”
In addition to attending school and running Ag Tech STEAM, Silinski provides database management for Emergency Management Logistics Canada and programming and project management for Infinite Mind Pictures that involves the creation of agriculture courses for the video game Minecraft.
Despite a packed schedule, Silinski plans to expand Ag Tech STEAM with new content packs. He emphasized the program will never require a user fee. “The companies I’ve partnered with always respect my decision to keep it free,” he said. “I’ve known for so long that family budgets, especially in farming families, are caught up in the essentials. I want to make sure kids don’t miss out on ag tech education opportunities just because they can’t afford it.”
For more information, visit agtechsteam.ca.