A woman checks irrigation research equipment in a field.
Dr. Willemijn Appels, Senior Applied Research Chair, Mueller Irrigation Research Group at Lethbridge College, checking irrigation research equipment at the Lethbridge College research farm.

Lethbridge College will receive $1 million in infrastructure funding from the provincial government to expand the capacity of its applied research in irrigation science.

The Alberta government’s Ministry of Technology and Innovation announced today the college is one of four post-secondary institutions across the province receiving a portion of $3.6 million from Alberta’s Research Capacity Program College Fund.

In the provincial release, Nathan Neudorf, Minister of Affordability and Utilities and MLA for Lethbridge-East, says, “Water and agriculture are critical to the economy and way of life in southern Alberta. Lethbridge College’s leadership in providing training on smart irrigation is a brilliant step towards a better future.”

The provincial grant is in addition to $1 million in federal funding the college received last year from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The combined $2 million from the provincial and federal governments will support smart irrigation infrastructure needs for the Mueller Irrigation Research Group at the Lethbridge College research farm, located just east of Lethbridge.

“Receiving these grants from both the provincial and federal levels of government acknowledges the important research that we are doing in collaboration with industry in southern Alberta,” says Andrew Dunlop, Director of Applied Research Operations. “This funding also enables us to expand our capabilities to benefit the local economy and positions us for growth into the future.”

irrigation canal at Lethbridge College research farm
Irrigation canal at the Lethbridge College research farm. 

“Lethbridge College is taking the challenges of today and finding solutions,” says Kenny Corscadden, Vice President Research and Partnerships and Interim Vice President Academic. “Our Smart Irrigation Farm will undertake research to minimize water usage in our agricultural system in the face of future droughts and maximize crop productivity.”

The smart irrigation infrastructure at Lethbridge College’s research farm is the first of its kind among post-secondary institutions across Canada. These grants will enable the Mueller Irrigation Research Group to continue to expand its capabilities, providing unique opportunities for students, researchers and industry partners.

“These grants will help us to increase the capacity of our group to do plot and field scale experiments on the LC research farm,” says Senior Applied Research Chair Dr. Willemijn Appels. “We’ll be able to purchase the latest irrigation technology and plant/soil sensing equipment to investigate the effects of management decisions regarding irrigation management, nutrient and land management on soils and crops in great detail. Our goal is to distill practical management strategies for precision agriculture in irrigation from this detailed work.”

Irrigation infrastructure at the Lethbridge College research farm.
Irrigation infrastructure at the Lethbridge College research farm. 

The funding will be used to upgrade irrigation equipment on the research farm. The centre pivots and linear move systems will be outfitted with variable rate irrigation (VRI) technology, better mapping systems and other equipment required to enhance site-specific irrigation management. The funding will also help provide agricultural equipment for plot and field experiments, lab equipment for sample analysis, and sensors to capture instant observations of plant, soil and weather conditions anywhere on the farm.

“The equipment will boost our capacity for laboratory work as well, which means that we will need to have less analysis done by third parties and can do more in house,” Appels says. “That’s great for our own research and student projects, and it will also increase our flexibility to work with industry.”

The new equipment will enable the college to develop and investigate precision irrigation management strategies and find new ways to optimize water use efficiency in Alberta’s irrigated agriculture industry for years to come.

Lethbridge College is recognized as one of Canada’s fastest-growing research colleges, placing 11th in the 2023 annual ranking of Canada’s top 50 research colleges. Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CARIE) is a catalyst for applied research that results in real-world solutions, economic growth, sustainability and social and community development. CARIE encompasses five research themes, including Agriculture, Food and EnvironmentBusiness and TechnologyHealth and WellnessJustice and Public Safety; and Science, Social Sciences and Humanities. Learn more about CARIE’s applied research projects in the 2022-23 CARIE Report.