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Olds College opens new ag tech school

Olds College opens new ag tech school

The first intake of students is slated for September 2020

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

An Alberta post-secondary institution is celebrating the opening of its agricultural technology school.

Olds College unveiled the Werklund School of Agriculture Technology on Friday. The school is named after entrepreneur David Werklund who, along with partner Susan Norman, donated $16 million to the school in 2017.

“Olds College was a natural choice for us because of its longstanding commitment to agriculture education and our shared vision of engaging more of Alberta’s youth in the business of agriculture through leading technological advancement,” Werklund said in a statement.

Olds College will offer two new programs through the new tech school.

The first program is a diploma in precision agriculture.

The diploma will provide students with a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of agronomy, machinery and data, said James Benkie, dean of program development in agriculture technology at Olds College.

“It’s a two-year program where students will integrate with the Smart Farm here at the college,” he told The program “will be hands-on with respect to integrated technology like sensors, the machines and also the periphery technology around that.”

The second program is a post-diploma certificate in agriculture technology integration.

The one-year course load is for students who already hold a diploma or degree in a certain field like mechanics, engineering or environment, and are interested in understanding how technologies and components communicate with one another.

“We want to help enhance the technology skillsets of students,” Benkie said. “The program takes a one-year deep dive into everything from coding and programming to greenhouses and robotic controls.”

The coursework in both programs will help students graduate to be more productive, Benkie said.

And he understands the role technology plays at the farm level.

A third-generation cash crop grower from Camrose County, Alta., Benkie’s familiar with the benefits and challenges of integrating technology into the farm.

“I’ve been through the cycles of adopted technologies quite readily,” he said.

He’s also experienced the challenges associated with manufacturer-specific technologies not working together.

Benkie doesn’t envision a time when all technology will work with competitor systems.

“This is a business after all,” he said. “We’d love to have everyone playing from the same song sheet, but we need to try to minimize and mitigate the amount of systems on farms and languages on farms to ensure the producer understands what they’re seeking and translate that data into optimized decisions on the farm.”

Students can begin applying for both programs on Oct. 1. The first classes will run in the fall of 2020.

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