Prairie Post (West Edition)

There’s support for Alberta on-farm change


The agricultur­e community gets huge monetary value from its regional innovation hubs according to multiple economic impact studies. But that’s just the tip of the return-on-investment iceberg.

“Published studies show how beneficial the work we do is economical­ly,” says Kellie Nichiporik, acting Executive Director and Environmen­tal Program Manager at Lakeland Agricultur­e Research Associatio­n (LARA) in Bonnyville, Alberta. “Typically, ag research offers a 32:1 return on investment: for every dollar that we spend, producers get a benefit of $32.”

That’s just the direct and quantifiab­le cash benefit, however. When one considers spin-off benefits, cost savings, secondary industries and more, the impact of each dollar spent resonates into a wider and wider circle.

Alberta has 12 regional agricultur­al innovation hubs. Separately - and where appropriat­e - together, the regional hubs conduct numerous and varying research trials: everything from variety testing to agronomy projects to novel crop trials. The goal is to conduct regionspec­ific research and trials to enable recommenda­tions targeted specifical­ly to the farmers in each area.

“The variation in growing conditions from region to region [in Alberta] is massive, as are the available heat units, irrigation needs, disease resistance, soil health etc.,” says Trevor Lewington, CEO Economic Developmen­t Lethbridge. “To me it is an absolute no-brainer that a crop that flourishes in one area will not do so in another area - think Taber corn for example. Likewise, a crop rotation and field management strategy to optimize yields in one region will look totally different in another area.”

Lewington notes that in Lethbridge, where agricultur­e directly accounts for about 17% of GDP and indirectly supports much more, region-specific research is necessary to the ongoing prosperity of the region.

“For our region in particular having a ‘local’ and focussed research body that knows the region, knows the players and can help find local solutions is key to future growth and success, in my humble opinion,” he says.

From an economic impact perspectiv­e, the regional agricultur­al innovation hubs’ value is at least as much about the money they save farmers as the money they help farmers earn.

“We take the risk out,” says Nichiporik. “Farmers can come for a tour or read about our work and it lets them tire-kick without having to invest first; it lets them find out labour expectatio­ns and input requiremen­ts; it lets them have a good understand­ing of potential or applicabil­ity for their own farm.”

The Peace Country’s regional ag innovation hub, SARDA Ag Research, has tried and notably failed to successful­ly produce soybeans, camelina, and quinoa, to name just a few.

“Sometimes failures are actually just as valuable as successes,” says Vance Yaremko, SARDA’s executive director. “A lot of our research is adaptable research: trying to adapt things that might be successful elsewhere to see if we can make them work in the Peace Country. But sometimes things don’t work. It’s much cheaper for us to find that out than for farmers to plant a whole lot of acres because they heard it worked somewhere else and suddenly, they’re losing tens of thousands of dollars.”

Yaremko says they’ll keep looking for alternativ­e options for Peace region farmers in order to build more resiliency into the industry. Industrial hemp is the latest crop that appears really promising. SARDA also has lupin trials.

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