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Combine rejuvenates farm research and education in north central Saskatchewan

When a new plot combine arrived at the Saskatchewan Conservation Learning Centre (CLC) three years ago, it was an exciting way to improve harvest efficiency. But today, it symbolizes the start of a new era for the farmer-led organization.

As part of the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) Accelerating Capacity Initiative, the CLC received nearly $267,000 to replace their 1985 Wintersteiger plot combine with a 2020 model.

"Getting the new combine has made a world of difference and it was really a rejuvenation for the research farm," says Ryan Scragg, CLC chair and farmer from Prince Albert. “The investment in improving local research benefits our area and Saskatchewan agriculture as a whole.”

The Wintersteiger Quantum plot combine automates many post-harvest tasks that previously took researchers a month to complete.

Robin Lokken, general manager of the CLC, explains that the older combine was more difficult to use and the required manual labour created more opportunities for error.

Since the new model improves efficiency and collects better quality data, the team has been able to take on new, more complex research projects. Their increased capacity has boosted engagement as more local farmers are providing input and a growing number of research organizations now want to use the site.

“When I started back in 2017, our research centre was struggling a bit and we were very limited as to what we could do. We had four demonstration projects and now we conduct over 30 projects that include higher level research,” says Lokken.

The initial WGRF investment expanded the CLC’s budget for additional upgrades. “Our capital planning has moved forward by years from where we would have been otherwise, as we’ve invested in a new plot seeder and spraying equipment and have done some site upgrades to be able to host larger events,” Scragg explains.

The new era has also led to job creation within the organization. Since the combine was purchased, staff positions have doubled to include three full-time and three seasonal roles.

Lokken feels that the entire community has been impacted by the combine investment because the rejuvenation of research at the CLC has enabled other programming to expand. The school tour initiative now brings over 1,000 students to the site annually for hands-on learning experiences related to agriculture and the environment. 

“The CLC turned 30 this year and with the combine as a key piece of equipment, we are confident in the future of our organization,” says Lokken.

The Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission and Fertilizer Canada also made contributions towards the combine purchase in 2020.

The CLC is a non-profit organization that serves as a field laboratory for evaluation and applicability of new research and technology. It is a unique research facility because it features rolling topography, wetlands and remnant native upland areas.

The WGRF is a farmer-funded and farmer-directed non-profit organization investing in agricultural research that benefits western Canadian producers. To date, more than $240 million has been invested to support diverse crop research projects.

The WGRF has committed $32 million to the Accelerating Capacity Initiative to expand crop research capacity.

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