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Each year, crop diseases diminish yields in Western Canada and around the globe. To address such perennial threats, Australian company BioScout created its signature product, an agricultural disease detection, spore identification and quantification system. Its purpose is to help farmers manage crop disease by identifying spores prior to the appearance of symptoms on the plants. BioScout has launched active pilot projects around the world to test the unit’s ability to detect diseases in crops such as fruits, vegetables, oilseeds, legumes and cereals.

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Farmers need to know if new agricultural systems and practices are worth the investment. Canada’s smart farms have stepped up to provide answers. These crop, livestock and horticulture facilities study the use of technologies, data and digital tools as well as advanced practices and philosophies to increase overall productivity, profitability and sustainability. “Smart farms within the Smart Farm Network follow this definition but also have the added mandate or goal of sharing information with all stakeholders,” said Joy Agnew, vice-president of research at Olds College.

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It is a time of transformation for the Field Crop Development Centre (FCDC) in Lacombe. Owned and operated by the provincial government since its establishment in 1973, the facility is now managed by Olds College, where staff have been tasked with a reimagination of the Centre’s feed and forage barley, malting barley and triticale breeding programs.

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When Olds College assumed management of the Field Crop Development Centre (FCDC) from Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development this past January, management and staff jumped into action. The College took on the support of FCDC breeding programs and amalgamated those employees into its own team. Over the course of just nine months, the College also developed a new strategic direction for the venerated crop breeding institution. In September, its board of governors approved the draft plan for the new strategy. Over the coming months, the College will develop a rolling three-year business plan that will put the new guidelines into action.

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At first glance, the farmer’s role in helping Canada reach its ambitious goal of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 appears simple: lower emissions and adopt technology and alternative management practices that boost soil carbon sequestration. Many believe addressing the carbon equation offers economic advantages, too. Farmers who cut back on inputs subject to the carbon tax save money, and those who adopt so-called regenerative practices may participate in the growing carbon economy by collecting and selling carbon credits. While this sounds straightforward, it is anything but.

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As part of the implementation of Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) Field Crop Development Centre (FCDC) in Lacombe will come under the management of Olds College.

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Until recently, the concept of a digitally connected farm seemed far off. In fact, it is the emerging reality for modern farming. From sensors that offer constant soil analysis, to software programs that provide real-time crop data for tractor cabs, the technology is at a farmers doorstep, bringing with it a host of opportunities and challenges.

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On June 5, Bill 2, The Growth and Diversification Act, passed its third and final reading in the Alberta legislature. The Act supports the creation of 3,000 tech spaces in post-secondary institutions and the provision of scholarships. Those in the agricultural sector hope some seats will go to smart farming and food production programs, but this isn’t guaranteed.

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