Farming Smarter: Growing Along with its Knowledge (PCN Winter 2017) JAN 4 2017 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News
This article appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Pulse Crop News.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Farming Smarter was small and quiet. It did good work that supported agricultural advances, but simply didn’t have the capacity to be research leaders or industry shapers. What a difference a decade makes. Today, Farming Smarter is vibrant, innovative, ambitious and progressive; a trusted authority and highly respected trailblazer in agricultural research.
“What has made Farming Smarter into what it is today? It all comes down to the fact that we respect farmers,” said Ken Coles, Farming Smarter’s General Manager. “We emulate their work ethic – we bust our butts off the way they do – to do a huge amount of really practical, farm-applicable work that farmers see as valuable. That’s been our single-minded focus.”
Farming Smarter evolved to the point of actually developing its own research priorities and seeking out its own funding. Today, Farming Smarter runs in the range of 90 small plot and field-scale projects per year. Its staff has grown to 10 full-time people and a large contingent of summer help.
In addition to project work, Farming Smarter also manages enormous communication and extension efforts: a biannual magazine, a large conference, a summer field school, frequent field tours, and an expansive website that includes an online crop cam, multiple educational videos, and findings from a long list of its recent research studies.
“We’re proud to put on great events and bring in great speakers,” Coles said. “We’re now reaching a lot of farmers through our extension efforts. What’s been really interesting, though, was that we started noticing on field school and event evaluations that the highest ranked topics and speakers were starting to be us. People were actually coming to see us and hear us speak. That was humbling, but also a huge reinforcement that we’re hitting on things that farmers care about.”
A huge part of what’s helped Farming Smarter grow into what it is today is collaboration and partnerships with innovative farmers, highly skilled researchers and scientists, and other leading agricultural organizations.
Recently, Farming Smarter has taken its commitment to partnerships to a whole new level.
“We’ve got some big partnerships that are now coming to fruition,” Coles said. “Everyone’s excited. We’re just about to sign a 10-year collaborative agreement with Lethbridge College. That’s a big, big deal. And we’re talking about investing in an agronomy scientist through the University of Lethbridge, which is still in the works.”
In March of last year, Farming Smarter received its status as a registered Canadian charity, which could also have big implications for the future. “We have a grand vision of establishing our own endowment fund,” said Jamie Puchinger, Farming Smarter’s Assistant Manager. “Right now, it can be hard for us to get funding because funding bodies often want research to suit grower research priorities over the entire province or even country. A Farming Smarter endowment fund would allow us to do regionally important work.”
Farming Smarter has much passion and innovation driving it, with its own funding to focus on emerging southern Alberta issues, it could accomplish even bigger things. For more information, please visit www.farmingsmarter.com.