Wider Horizons
Dr. Willemijn Appels (right) and student research assistant Aleks Calic (left) at the Lethbridge College Research Farm.

As you look out on the vast fields across southern Alberta bustling with the harvest at this time of year, you might not know how much work, water and research went into getting the crops to this stage. Southern Alberta has been a leader in irrigation for decades, and Lethbridge College recently received another boost for irrigation research.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) College Fund recently awarded the college $1 million in infrastructure funding to expand the capacity of its applied research in irrigation science. The grant, which was announced in June, is supporting infrastructure needs at the Mueller Irrigation Group’s Smart Irrigation Farm, located at the Lethbridge College Research Farm just east of Lethbridge.

“The CFI grant will help us to increase the capacity of our group to do plot and field scale experiments on the LC research farm,” says Dr. Willemijn Appels, Senior Applied Research Chair for the Mueller Irrigation Group. “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 from this detailed work.”

The CFI funding is being used to upgrade the irrigation equipment on the research farm. The centre pivots and linear move systems will be outfitted with variable rate irrigation technology, remote communication systems and other equipment required to make site-specific irrigation management possible. The research team will also purchase sensors that will increase the capability to get instant observations of plant, soil, and weather conditions anywhere on the farm. The funding will also help provide some pieces of agricultural equipment that will be used in plot and field experiments, as well as a couple of pieces of lab equipment that will allow researchers to perform some sample analysis on campus that was previously outsourced.

“The equipment will also 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 adds. “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 provide the latest developments in the field of precision irrigation and will significantly increase the college’s capacity to perform precise research investigations of soil and crop quality.

This is the college’s fifth CFI grant. The Aquaculture Centre of Excellence was originally funded by a CFI grant in 1997. In 2019, the college received CFI funding for its Centre for Sustainable Food Production, and in 2021, the college received two separate grants for the Advanced Post-harvest Technology Centre and the Spatial Technologies Applied Research Training (START) Centre.

The applied research being done by Dr. Appels and her Mueller Irrigation Group is featured in the latest annual report by Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Email WHMagazine@lethbridgecollege.ca if you’d like a hard copy of this publication, or read it online at learn.lc/CARIEreport2023.

Wider Horizons
Story by Cathy Gibson-Epp | Photos by Tanner Fletcher
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