By Tim Kalinowski
Olds College took another brave step forward into the future of agriculture recently by opening its new Smart Ag Innovation Centre (SAIC) to compliment its Smart Farm.
“One of the things we recognized is the Smart Farm needs to be understood and demonstrated in a variety of ways,” says Olds College president Stuart Cullum. “It is cool to go out to the land and see what is happening, but you don’t really see what is being pulled in terms of data. And you can’t really visualize what is going on in terms of all the devices and equipment that is incorporated into the Smart Farm.
“The Smart Ag Innovation Centre is really there to be a central point for visualizing that data, and seeing how it can be used for decision making.”
The college’s Smart Farm is already industry leading within a mere year of opening, says Cullum. The farm’s advanced sensors and technologies acted as super highways of information, explains Cullum but what the Smart Farm lacked was a central processing capability to bring all that data in a way which showed the complete picture of what was happening; thus allowing both greater opportunities for comparison and evaluation, and also the ability to hone in on what management practices need to be applied at any given time.
“There are a number of software programs which can be used to pull different kinds of data,” he confirms. “Without the analytics that go along with that software, you really can’t visualize it with a human eye. This data is pulled in different ways, visualized and layered— that way you get a sense how each of the elements work and how they interact with each other.”
It is a great learning tool to help Olds College ag students prepare for the coming future of the Internet-of-Things, Cullum confirms, but it is also more than that too.
“It allows our students to come into that space to see what is going on within the fields, and utilize these commercially available software packages so they can see how they can apply it to their own farms when they get out into their own operations,” Cullum explains. “It is also a space where industry can come in, farmers, producers, and they can see what is happening on our farm and think about how that can applied to their own operations.”
The Smart Ag Innovation Centre is built into a bungalow on campus that once served as the President’s quarters, and is made up of different data labs: The Ag Expert Data Lab and the UFA Innovation Lab. Olds College is hoping students and industry representatives entering the space get a strong taste of what agriculture may become.
“We have taken this non-descript bungalow on our campus and turned it into a space that provides access to these kinds of software technology tools, and also provides other highly technology-enabled spaces for groups, companies and others to come together and have discussions on how to move our industry forward,” states Cullum. “In some ways it represents the farmhouse of the future; so it has become a very compelling space in that regard and a highly useful space for our students and industry partners to learn.”
The key word associated with the SAIC is collaboration— collaboration between producers, ag companies and technology companies to solve the compelling modern problems of the agriculture industry as a whole.
“There are some really cool technologies coming at us here at Olds College,” states Cullum, “and at the agriculture industry. To be blunt, a lot of them are going to be applied and a lot of them aren’t.
“We’re interested in creating an environment where technology can be tried and tested quickly, and an environment where technology can fail quickly also. One of the things we don’t want to do is lock ourselves into any one sort of approach or technology solution— we want to be an environment where technologies can be tried, tested and demonstrated, or discarded as the case may be.”
The SAIC and Smart Farm are sure to be focal points of attraction at the upcoming Olds College AgSmart technology show Aug. 13-14. See the Olds College website for more details.