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.”

Agriculture research teams at Lethbridge College operate under the Integrated Agriculture Technology Centre (IATC). The IATC connects small- and medium-sized enterprises in the agriculture industry with the technologies and research expertise at Lethbridge College to enhance their productivity, competitiveness and innovation results.

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.