Leth­bridge Col­lege, po­tato grow­ers part­ner on ir­ri­ga­tion study

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - OPINION - Con­trib­uted

A new study will dig deep into the soil to de­ter­mine how wa­ter­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion meth­ods af­fect south­ern Al­berta’s po­tato crops.

The four-year re­search project is a part­ner­ship be­tween Leth­bridge Col­lege’s Cen­tre for Applied Re­search, In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship, and the Po­tato Grow­ers of Al­berta.

It is made pos­si­ble through a grant from the Cana­dian Agri­cul­tural Part­ner­ship.

The $397,595 grant al­lows for the study of five dif­fer­ent po­tato fields through­out south­ern Al­berta.

The wa­ter­ing prac­tices of two pro­duc­ers near Vaux­hall, as well as farms near Bow Is­land, Chin and Taber, are being mon­i­tored.

The di­ver­sity of fields al­lows re­searchers to study a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent soil types and to­pogra­phies, which will give a holis­tic look at how mois­ture re­acts with and affects po­tato crops. The re­search team will record how pro­duc­ers use their ex­ist­ing ir­ri­ga­tion and avail­able water sources and the out­come it has on crops in dif­fer­ent parts of their fields.

“It’s a re­ally good in­ven­tory, we’re not just say­ing ‘this is what hap­pens in this one par­tic­u­lar field,’’ says Dr. Willemijn Ap­pels, Leth­bridge Col­lege’s Mueller Applied Re­search Chair in Ir­ri­ga­tion Sci­ence. “We can ac­tu­ally say, ‘look­ing at this range of soil types and to­pogra­phies, th­ese are the main driv­ers or vari­a­tions.’ We can then try to fig­ure out what a pro­ducer can do with man­age­ment and tech­nol­ogy – where the sweet spot is they could use to in­crease their yield, in­crease their water use ef­fi­ciency and eventually start look­ing at more ex­pan­sion of ir­ri­gated ar­eas.”

Dr. Ap­pels and the Po­tato Grow­ers of Al­berta along with GrowTEC, had pre­vi­ously col­lab­o­rated in a sin­gle­field vari­able rate ir­ri­ga­tion study, and were look­ing to con­tinue that type of work, which led to this unique part­ner­ship.

“In high-value crops like pota­toes, there is a crit­i­cal im­por­tance to un­der­stand­ing the op­ti­mal amount and tim­ing of water use,” says Thomas McDade, Po­tato Grow­ers of Al­berta Agri­cul­tural Di­rec­tor. “If there is a drought, or when there are is­sues as­so­ci­ated with cli­mate change, we are very in­ter­ested in un­der­stand­ing how to best man­age the amount of water avail­able to us. It’s part of the po­tato grow­ing com­mu­nity’s com­mit­ment to be good stew­ards of their land and the en­vi­ron­ment.”

The part­ner­ship will also sup­port two masters-level projects in con­junc­tion with the Univer­sity of Saskatchew­an. One will look at the ir­ri­ga­tion de­ci­sion-mak­ing process of pro­duc­ers, while the other will fo­cus on study­ing the phys­i­cal at­tributes of the land. As well, three students from Leth­bridge Col­lege’s School of En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences have been hired to conduct the re­search this sum­mer.

“It’s def­i­nitely a broad in­tro­duc­tion to applied re­search for the students,” says Dr. Ap­pels. “They’ll have been ex­posed to meth­ods to de­ter­mine soil tex­ture. But now they’re asked to do that from a per­spec­tive of look­ing at how does that tex­ture influence how plants grow and use water? And they are also more in­volved in seeing how data is col­lected, and try­ing to shape that all into some­thing that you can in­ter­pret and hope­fully un­der­stand some new in­for­ma­tion from.”

The Cana­dian Agri­cul­tural Part­ner­ship is a five-year, $3 bil­lion in­vest­ment by fed­eral, pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments to strengthen the agri­cul­ture and agri-food sec­tor.

The Po­tato Grow­ers of Al­berta helps fa­cil­i­tate con­tin­ued suc­cess in Al­berta’s po­tato in­dus­try by sup­port­ing sustainabl­e pro­duc­tion, mar­ket­ing de­vel­op­ment and co­op­er­a­tion.

Leth­bridge Col­lege’s Cen­tre for Applied Re­search, In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship (CARIE) is a catalyst for eco­nomic growth, sus­tain­abil­ity and so­cial de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion that brings to­gether com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions, re­searchers and students to col­lab­o­rate on projects that use new or ex­ist­ing knowl­edge to solve real-world chal­lenges with im­me­di­ate prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions.

Pic­tured from left-to-right: Nathan Lin­der (lab/field tech­ni­cian), Blaire Har­ley (Leth­bridge Col­lege stu­dent), Ja­son Cot­ton (Leth­bridge Col­lege stu­dent), Carol­lynn Lemky (Leth­bridge Col­lege stu­dent), Dr. Willemijn Ap­pels (Leth­bridge Col­lege’s Mueller Applied Re­search Chair in Ir­ri­ga­tion Sci­ence), Danielle Crawford (Leth­bridge Col­lege alumna – MSc stu­dent Dal­housie Univer­sity), Dr Rez­van Karimi (re­search as­so­ciate).

Pho­tos con­trib­uted

Dr. Willemijn Ap­pels and her team in the field as part of a re­search part­ner­ship with the Po­tato Grow­ers of Al­berta.

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