Research at Lethbridge College covers the entire food-supply chain from farm to processing

Research at Lethbridge College covers the entire food-supply chain from farm to processing

By Jennifer Allford

One of the biggest challenges facing scientists today is finding ways to feed a global population that’s projected to grow to more than 9 billion people by 2050. This means that within the next 30 years, global food production needs to increase by at least 50 per cent.

Dr. Kenny Corscadden, Lethbridge College

Dr. Kenny Corscadden

And with a broad range of agricultural research — including sustainable and zero-waste food production, precision agriculture and irrigation, aquaculture and minimizing crop waste after harvest — Lethbridge College is finding efficiencies and new technologies that benefit the growing plant-protein industry and that will help feed the world.

The college’s Center for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CARIE), which opened in September 2019, is the hub for a number of projects that aim to promote economic growth, sustainability and social development in southern Alberta. Lethbridge College has five research themes in its Applied Research Strategic Plan. The largest area of research is Agriculture, Food and Environment, and most of the work is plant-related.

“This year, for example, we did just under $4-million worth of applied research and that’s all in agriculture,” explains Dr. Kenny Corscadden, associate vice-president research, at Lethbridge College.

“Most of the research is in plant science. We see value addition and all the support we can provide at the front end is very important for the protein alliance.”

Applied research aims to close the gap between academic research and application in industry; that is, using new or existing knowledge to solve real-world challenges with immediate and practical applications. That’s why the work underway at Lethbridge College is crucial and it could very well have world-wide applications.

Sustainable systems

Lethbridge College researchTo meet the food needs of the future we have to develop sustainable food production systems and reduce organic waste. Researchers at the Centre for Sustainable Food Production look at converting manure and other waste into fertilizer, optimizing the injection of fertilizers into irrigation systems, improving pest control and maximizing production in greenhouses.

 

Aquaculture excellence

Aquaculture research began at Lethbridge College in 1989 and expanded in 2003 to include aquaponics — self-contained or “closed-loop” food-production systems. Together, these fields of study will result in better greenhouse technologies and practices along with water quality, conservation and management.

For example, researchers are testing a substance called biochar for micro-filtration systems in greenhouses. Biochar is a type of charcoal created by burning bamboo in the absence of oxygen. It’s a low-cost, low-energy material that could prove to be much more effective than current methods. It has promising applications for waste management, aquaponics, irrigation water treatment and food production.

More crop per drop

Lethbridge College researchThe goal of precision irrigation research is to create “more crop per drop.” This work in the Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science involves data collection and a high-tech combination of tools including soil moisture sensors, weather stations, probes, thermal infrared cameras, remote sensing imagery and drones.

Minimize loss, improve profit & quality

Dr. Chandra Singh, Lethbridge College’s first applied research chair in Agricultural Engineering and Technology, is setting up the Advanced Postharvest Innovation Centre to address the gap in postharvest handling and storage of produce and grains in southern Alberta. The goal is to minimize postharvest losses while improving profitability, product quality, safety and traceability.

Next generation of leaders

As well as many-faceted agricultural research at Lethbridge College, there’s the equally vital aspect of developing the talent pool, influencing the next generation of leaders who will bring about future innovations in the industry. That’s the role of Agricultural Entrepreneur in Residence (AGent), a student extra-curricular program that offers experiential learning opportunities above and beyond diploma work.

“Our goal is to teach foundational skills in innovation and entrepreneurship. Students get to work really closely with industry partners – we call them industry mentors,” says Megan Shapka, manager of innovation and entrepreneurship who leads the AGent program.

Megan Shapka, Lethbridge College

Megan Shapka

“There’s a real technology component: how might we use drones or autonomous vehicles to improve production on farms or increase sustainability?”

With CARIE tying it all together, applied research at Lethbridge College covers the entire food supply chain from farm to processing – a full spectrum of agricultural research that includes farm inputs, irrigation and production to handling of crops once they leave the farm.

“We have a team of PhD-level international researchers, a really strong team serving industry from field input. Whether it’s primary production or processing, we see this as being beneficial and serving southern Alberta,” says Corscadden.

And with such a strong team of dedicated research chairs and research scientists, Lethbridge College, ranked one of Canada’s top 50 research colleges, is leading the way to many scientific developments that will have a lasting impact on a thriving agricultural sector and plant-protein industry.

“We have to feed the world,” says Shapka. “Canada plays a big part in feeding our own population and in helping feed the growing global population. We certainly recognize that agriculture plays a significant role in our society.” 

This story is part of a series on post-secondary institutions in Alberta. Previously:

Jennifer Allford is a freelance writer based in Calgary, and is a columnist with the Calgary Herald and a contributor to other newspapers and magazines

Posted Dec 4, 2019

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