A pilot project aimed to help Alberta producers adopt new technology and innovation recently brought ranchers and farmers together with experts and scientists during a tour of east-central Alberta farms. Student involvement in industry projects was one of the topics discussed.

“Students want to learn,” explained Susan Markus, livestock research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “They especially want to learn about issues that they can relate to and will have lasting impacts on their education and career paths. When opportunities arise allowing agriculture college students to participate in applied research project and extension activities, through collaboration with the Alberta Beef Forage and Grazing Centre, we try to make it happen.”

Olds College Technology Access Centre for Livestock production manager Shannon Argent and business development coordinator Kaley Segboer mentored a student group. Lacey Donaldson, Catalina Oitzl and Jack VerGowen were the students, and this group was part of the requirements for their applied research course for the Agriculture Business Degree.

Argent and Segboer said that the findings from their student group’s report agreed with what is known about the high pressured ranching environment being psychologically more challenging now than it was 50 years ago. The report found that the challenge is implementing the right innovations at the ideal time when the ability to forecast the future is less than ideal.

The student group’s report also defined innovation as the process of developing new ideas and products to improve upon existing technologies, systems, designs and marketing to solve problems and reach new customers. It also looked at how ranchers are individuals and they operate uniquely, and that researchers have a unique skill set and approach problems using scientific methodology.

The report found that mutual respect and learning from each other are key. The relationship between farmer and expert needs to be equal as both add value to the conversation about the why and how of adopting new technologies.

It found whether an innovation is adopted was dependent on the size of the ranch and number of employees. It also found that in some cases, ranchers would like to use these innovations in their operations but found that application at their scale was too daunting to undertake. Those ranchers said that provincial and federal funding programs or support aimed to help were not enough.

The report also recognized the issue that most ranchers are risk-adverse, so employing major changes, as some innovations would require, was not an idea that would likely gain traction. A potential cooperative action involving these producers, relevant experts and the students would be to identify potential innovations that the producers feel comfortable implementing in smaller yet meaningful ways.

The class report was not the end of the project for student Jack VerGowen. He shared his group’s information through a poster presentation at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Ottawa, capturing first place in the category of college students.

The group conducting this project included researchers at the Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre (ABFGC) along with specialists at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, members of the Alberta Beef Producers and Agriculture and Agri Food Canada.


For more information about this series, contact Susan Markus:

Email: susan.markus@gov.ab.ca