Leading experts developing new ag technologies
September 27, 2023 | By Heather Cameron
Kandice Kew, Regional Communications Advisor for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says that the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre has increased its capacity and the utilization of new technologies in emerging disciplines including phenomics, agricultural glycomics, and nanotechnology.
“As leading experts in their disciplines, over 45 researchers at the Lethbridge Research Development Centre are currently leading more than 200 projects with diverse objectives and outcomes, using a wide range of methodologies,” Kew said.
Kew says that in phenomics, Dr. Keshav Singh is harnessing the power of remote sensing and cutting-edge `phenocart’ technology to improve crop characteristics. Dr. Wade Abbott is pioneering work in agricultural glycomics, which is the study of carbohydrates, and is providing greater insight to biological processes to enhance productivity and explore new value-added products.
Research into nanotechnology, Kew says, includes Dr. Justin Parhara’s research program. That program is working to develop revolutionary crop treatments to enable producers to combat pest species, while keeping beneficial species and reducing or eliminating the need to use pesticides with potentially detrimental impacts.
The Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, Kew says, is also expanding work in energy and irrigation with Dr. Sandra Yanni, as well as increasing capacity to further support the digital transformation of science activities such as bioinformatics and other computational analyses areas.
Kew says that recent examples of completed projects include Dr. Kevin Floate’s book Cow Patty Critters: the first guide to discover and understand that cow dung insects and organisms provide valuable pasture ecosystem services and insights into animal health. Kew says that Dr. Floate’s project has direct benefits to industry and producers.
Another example, Kew says, is the HOLOS wholefarm model and software program that estimates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions based on information entered for individual farms. The main purpose of HOLOS, Kew says, is to test possible ways of reducing GHG emissions from farms and is available at no cost to users.
Kew says that a third example is the Prairie Pest Monitoring Network, a collaborative surveillance network of agricultural pests that researchers across Prairie RDCs contribute to. Users can freely view or subscribe to it, Kew says.
“Innovation is at the heart of research and science, and a key focus of the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre,” Kew said. “As a government institution, the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre works very closely with other players in the innovation ecosystem. AAFC researchers compete for funding from industry and non-government organizations, and project collaborations often include academic and industry participants. AAFC enables growth in the innovation ecosystem while building on the strengths of diverse partners and contributors to delivery results to the sector and Canadians.”
Kew says that the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre’s research supports southern Alberta through research focusing on areas as diverse as neonatal disease, animal welfare, ruminant nutrition, and enteric microbiology. Kew states that there is also a significant emphasis on ongoing livestock research to mitigate whole-system ruminant greenhouse gas production, which aligns with current climate change priorities.
“Agricultural research both contributes to and benefits from advancements in technology and methodologies,” Kew said. “Precision agriculture offers opportunities for greater control in experimental analyses, and investigation of more refined parameters. In partnership with industry, AAFC is utilizing the tremendous data collection capacity of modern farm equipment, and continuously modernizing equipment to increase efficiency and maximize data collection potential.”
The Lethbridge RDC, Kew says, also strives to ensure AAFC science is applicable on-farm so agricultural producers can more quickly reap the benefits of the research.
A good example of this circular exchange of ideas and innovation to directly translate to on-farm benefits, Kew says, is RDC researchers’ scientific support to the two Alberta-based Living Labs: the Alberta Agri Systems Living Lab and the Regenerative Alberta Living Lab.
“Living Labs, funded through the Agricultural Climate Solutions Program, seek to break down barriers between research and application to ensure that Canadian farmers have the tools that they need to help reduce greenhouse gasses and sequester carbon,” Kew said.
Within this AAFC network of innovation, Kew says, is also the Vauxhall Research Farm, the University of Lethbridge, and Lethbridge College.
“The Vauxhall Research Farm consists of about 190 hectares of research plots, much of it under irrigation, and functional potato sorting equipment,” Kew said. “The Vauxhall Research Farm provides a satellite location for agricultural research activities for Lethbridge researchers, including Dr. Jonathan Nielsen who works extensively on potato research, and Dr. Parthiba Balasubramanian who focuses on dry bean breeding.”
The University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College, on the other hand, both benefit locally through collaborative research projects as well as opportunities to support science through inclusion of undergraduate and graduate student positions. Annually, Kew says, the Centre hires over 100 students, many of whom are affiliated with these local academic institutions, or who call Lethbridge home during summer months. Kew says that the Centre also benefits from an expansive network of national and international collaborations that allow researchers to leverage the strengths and specializations of various methodologies within AAFC and beyond.
“The research conducted at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre and the associated Vauxhall satellite farm are subject to the same environmental and climatic pressures as producers,” Kew said. “The persistent heat and dry conditions in 2023, leading to agricultural disaster declarations in southern Alberta, have impacted the condition and state of research material. However, the extreme conditions experienced on an increasingly frequent basis also helps inform the data and outcomes of ongoing projects. For example, efforts to develop resilience to the numerous biotic and abiotic pressures can be evaluated under real conditions.”
Kew emphasizes that the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre continues to look for opportunities for researchers to work together, across different commodities, disciplines, and expertise. This, Kew says, includes partnering with producers, industry associations, and other post-secondary institutions and more. Kew says it also includes research activities that are collaboratively developed and funded with partner organizations, such as producer groups, provincial and federal government funding groups, industry associations, regional agricultural associations, and post-secondary institutions.
“Collaboration is key to achieving solutions to complex challenges,” Kew said. “By working together, researchers are tackling regional and national challenges like extreme weather, including drought and wildfire, which continues to significantly impact Alberta producers.”
Heather Cameron, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, THE TABER TIMES