Prairie Post (West Edition)

In­dus­try part­ner­ship taps Leth­bridge Col­lege re­searchers for agri­cul­ture data project

- CON­TRIB­UTED Science · Agriculture · Energy · Industries · Calgary · Alberta · Lethbridge Community College

Space is in­no­va­tive.

When Cal­gary com­pa­nies Jadler In­dus­tries and Ran­dom Acro­nym were look­ing to test out new tech­nol­ogy for mon­i­tor­ing soil mois­ture in agri­cul­ture, there was only one place to go: Leth­bridge Col­lege.

“Leth­bridge Col­lege has built a rep­u­ta­tion with the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try in south­ern Al­berta for get­ting re­search out into the real world,” says Jadler In­dus­tries Pres­i­dent Brad Smith. “When you tell clients that you’re work­ing with the col­lege, they know ex­actly what that means.”

The two com­pa­nies ini­tially came to­gether in 2018 to pack­age Jadler’s in­stru­men­ta­tion with Ran­dom Aconym’s Field­Tracker teleme­try sys­tem for re­mote field data mon­i­tor­ing. Field­Tracker was de­signed for in­dus­trial op­er­a­tions in sec­tors like oil and gas that re­quire real-time ob­ser­va­tion and re­port­ing of vari­ables such as flow rate, wa­ter level, tem­per­a­ture and wa­ter chem­istry.

To de­ter­mine if their prod­uct could work for the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, the part­ners turned to Leth­bridge Col­lege’s Cen­tre for Ap­plied Re­search, In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship (CARIE) and Dr. Willemijn Ap­pels, the Mueller Ap­plied Re­search Chair in Ir­ri­ga­tion Sci­ence. With fund­ing sup­port from a Nat­u­ral Sciences and Engi­neer­ing Re­search Coun­cil of Canada (NSERC) En­gage grant, Ap­pels car­ried out a three-month in­door ex­per­i­ment on a set of ex­per­i­men­tal soil bins on cam­pus to test the ac­cu­racy and reliabilit­y of Field­Tracker’s data gath­er­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in an agri­cul­tural con­text.

“Soil mois­ture ob­ser­va­tions can significan­tly in­crease agri­cul­tural wa­ter use ef­fi­ciency and pro­vide im­por­tant in­creases in yield and prod­uct quality,” ex­plains Ap­pels. “We in­ves­ti­gated if we could de­ter­mine plant wa­ter use thresh­olds from the soil mois­ture se­ries ob­tained with the Field­Tracker de­vice. This has been shown to be pos­si­ble in nat­u­ral ecosys­tems, and we wanted to test it in agri­cul­tural set­tings. We iden­ti­fied three changes to the de­sign and dis­play of the data por­tal that could help dis­play the data in a more mean­ing­ful way for ir­ri­ga­tion man­age­ment.”

For the in­dus­try part­ners, out­side val­i­da­tion is an im­por­tant step in the prod­uct de­vel­op­ment process.

“The re­sults we’ve seen have shown some of the strengths and some of the short­com­ings of the de­vices we’re us­ing,” says Mar­lon Flem­ing, di­rec­tor of Ran­dom Acro­nym. “The project as a whole was suc­cess­ful in that it al­lowed us to see what we could do dif­fer­ently, and that will help us with our fu­ture tests. It will also al­low us to get a lit­tle bit closer to a real-world de­ploy­ment of this prod­uct.”

As for work­ing with the team at CARIE, Jadler’s Smith says the part­ners were pleased with the process and re­main open to fu­ture col­lab­o­ra­tions.

“We re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated how ap­proach­able and ea­ger the team at the col­lege was, even though we weren’t nec­es­sar­ily a large-scale project,” he ex­plains. “It wasn’t quite as easy as walk­ing in the door and say­ing, ‘hey I have some­thing I want to try,’ but it was the next clos­est thing.”

Leth­bridge Col­lege’s Cen­tre for Ap­plied Re­search, In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship is a cat­a­lyst for eco­nomic growth, sus­tain­abil­ity and so­cial de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion. It brings to­gether re­searchers, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and stu­dents to col­lab­o­rate on projects that use new or ex­ist­ing knowl­edge to solve real-world chal­lenges with im­me­di­ate prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions. Leth­bridge Col­lege has been rec­og­nized as one of Canada’s fastest-grow­ing re­search col­leges while earn­ing its high­est ever place­ment in 2020’s an­nual rank­ing of Canada’s top 50 re­search col­leges. The col­lege placed 26th on the top 50 list re­leased by Re­search In­fos­ource and ranked third in re­search in­come growth.


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