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Smart farming a focus at USask

Smart farming a focus at USask

The university’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence will have the first livestock-focused smart farm in Canada

Staff Writer

What if your farm could talk to you? Researchers at University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE) are exploring this question with a living laboratory.

Recently, USask announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SaskTel that focuses on smart farming research and innovation at the LFCE.

“This partnership developed out of work that we were already doing together. We realized this was something that had some future to it and that we could really serve the people of Saskatchewan,” said Terry Fonstad. He is the associate dean of research and partnerships with USask’s college of engineering.

Researchers at the LFCE started on their journey of smart farming over the last few years. However, the scientists struggled with data management for all the information collected through sensors and other smart farming technology, said Fonstad.

So, USask “got together with SaskTel and they helped us with some of (the data management). They could see this as a real opportunity for them to serve Saskatchewan,” he told SaskTel has “all the hardware, they have all the expertise, so we said ‘Why don't we partner together to help solve some of these issues and also help a lot of the entrepreneurs who are coming along with ideas of how to do things?’”

The studies underway at the LFCE are part of Canada’s first research smart farm focused on livestock. Olds College also has a smart farm, but researchers there focus on grain, said Fonstad.

The teams at the two post-secondary institutions are “trying to learn from each other,” he added.

Many producers already use sensors and equipment to help them with their work. LFCE researchers want to help farmers make decisions and be more productive, said Fonstad.

“I don't want to ever take anything away from the fantastic farmers and ranchers that we have in this province. But, right now, you must do a lot of driving or horseback riding to find out where the cows are and how they're doing,” said Fonstad.

“If I had a cow, for instance, that needed my help and if I knew where she was, I could go directly to her. … If I knew she hadn't got up for a little while to drink, I could go check on her. I don't have to ride all day. …  (This work is) important in the fact that it gives farmers time to do what they do better.”

Researchers at the LFCE look forward to the opportunities this MOU and the smart farm offer, and the team wants to work with both farmers and entrepreneurs in the technology sector, said Fonstad.

“The LFCE and the University of Saskatchewan are here to serve the people of Saskatchewan and Western Canada. If there's anything (farmers) need to know, don't be afraid to get hold of us and always participate in those field days that come along,” he said.

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