Applied Research Team Grows by 12

Providing meaningful work-integrated learning opportunities while benefiting from new skill sets and fresh perspectives — the makings of a successful partnership this year between Olds College and 12 enthusiastic agriculture students.

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Work-Integrated Learning on the Smart Farm

Providing meaningful work-integrated learning opportunities while benefiting from new skill sets and fresh perspectives — the makings of a successful partnership this year between Olds College and 12 enthusiastic agriculture students.

Olds College Centre for Innovation (OCCI) is attracting bright minds in agriculture technology who have been receiving game-changing learning opportunities working on research projects and leading-edge technology on the Smart Farm this year.

OCCI students from left to right: Becky Hutchings; Emilie Edgar; Felippe Hoffmann Silva Karp; Brody Nestorovich; Julie Cobb; Nicholas Zivcic; and Vildana Rekic.

OCCI students from left to right: Becky Hutchings; Emilie Edgar; Felippe Hoffmann Silva Karp; Brody Nestorovich; Julie Cobb; Nicholas Zivcic; and Vildana Rekic.

“Why is it important to have students engaged in research on the Olds College Smart Farm? Because this is what the core mandate of the Smart Farm is: provide a hands-on living laboratory for lifelong learning, build the skill sets required to accelerate the development and adoption of ag technologies and practices, and train the next generation of developers and users of these technologies and practices,” says Dr. Joy Agnew, Associate Vice-President, Applied Research who is thrilled to see student engagement grow in applied research.

Olds College benefits from perspectives of students coming from around the globe, students who grew up in farming communities, and students who don’t have an agriculture background but come to the Smart Farm to learn about the industry. The College is also proud to have its first PhD student completing his candidacy at Olds College this year, which perfectly illustrates the outcome of the bar being raised due to the quality of research being done. 

Let’s meet the new team!

This summer, OCCI welcomed three students who are completing their eight month internships for their Olds College diplomas as directed field study (DFS) research technicians, eight student research assistants who are working for the Smart Farm for four months, and one PhD candidate from McGill University.

Emilie Edgar testing equipment and gathering data for the feedlot runoff project.

Emilie Edgar, DFS Research Technician, came to Olds College as a mature student wanting to further her education and work in the agricultural community; the program and location was a perfect fit for Emilie and it’s helping her learn about agriculture so she can have her own farm one day. “I am working on the new Floating Island Technology Project which is using floating islands with native plants to filtrate pond water,” Emilie says. “The one-on-one mentoring and hands-on experience you receive as a summer student with Olds College is incredibly beneficial.”

Felippe Hoffmann Silva Karp, PhD candidate from McGill University, is the first student to be completing his PhD candidacy at Olds College. Felippe’s main project, HyperLayer Data Collection and Utilization, is about understanding what causes yield differences within varying regions of a field and learning how to best manage the field. The College is using data generated by multiple technologies with GPS coordinates (spatial data) collected for over 20 years and combining the information to understand and predict field characteristics, delineate regions within the field that are different, and evaluate management activities that could be used in the different zones. “Olds College is a great place where people interested in agricultural knowledge have contact with the state-of-the-art processes and hands-on activities with the newest technology in the market,” Felippe says.

Felippe Hoffmann Silva Karp evaluating data in the Smart Ag Innovation Centre.

Vildana Rekic, Research Assistant in the Technology Access Centre for Livestock Production  and outdoors enthusiast, appreciates the variety of research projects she’s working on. The Crop Cocktail Project tests different seed mixes in pastures to improve soil health and increase plant diversity. Another project is residual feed intake testing which monitors daily feed levels in herds to determine feed efficiency and catch potential sickness quicker than pen checks. Vildana is also on the Heifer Acclimation Project studying if increased amount of handling acclimation and positive reinforcement improves reproductive performance — read more about it in the latest issue of Horizons. “I’ve loved seeing how engaged actual farmers taking part in the research projects are to help improve their productions,” Vildana reflects.

Rabnawaz Matiana, Research Assistant, came from Pakistan to attend Olds College since the Smart Farm was a perfect opportunity to get hands-on experience with the latest agricultural technology available. Rabnawaz recently completed a project using sectional control technology to analyze cost savings after eliminating overlaps of application, such as fertilizer. He’s working alongside Felippe on the HyperLayer Data Collection and Utilization project to analyze the fertilizer needed to produce a unit of the crop over the various years. He is also helping assemble a demonstration stand which would help illustrate field equipment operation in the classroom; a learning experience for future students. “If you want to verify claims about the latest technology by producers, as well as get practical experience of handling various equipment, Olds College is where you should be. I’m working at the forefront of agriculture technology.”

Rabnawaz Matiana gathering soil compaction information in Field 15/16 on the Smart Farm.

Andrew Thun and Becky Hutchings are Research Assistants working together on the Pitstra Connectivity Project — read more about it in the latest issue of Horizons. Andrew Thun is the President of the Students Association of Olds College. Becky is also working alongside Brody Nestorovich, DFS Research Technician, with smart ag sensors as they install and monitor the sensors, and collect data throughout the Smart Farm fields. Becky is a Mother Nature enthusiast who came to Olds College as a mature student needing a career change, and found an exciting new direction in a small town country community. Becky says, “I am proud to be contributing to the future of technological connectivity in remote areas and to be part of a solution that will benefit producers as agriculture enters the technological era.”

Nicholas Zivcic, DFS Research Technician, and Julie Cobb, Research Assistant, are collecting data for the autonomous OMNiPOWER platform. Nicholas came to Olds College since it offered a diploma through a mix of classroom and hands-on work experience. He’s enjoying working with the Smart Farm’s up-and-coming smart ag equipment and learning a lot about the industry. Julie enrolled at Olds College after her job was phased out in the Calgary Airport after 25 years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her future ambitions — positive side-effects from working on the Olds College Smart Farm — are regenerative farming practices and helping farmers work more efficiently.

Julie Cobb inspecting OMNiPOWER before a mission.

Jenelle Buchanan, Lee Martineau and Darius Ramrattan are Research Assistants in Crops and are completing crop research trials. Jenelle was looking for a new career path and chose Olds College. She wanted to work at the College for hands-on experience related to her program while networking within the community. Jenelle says, “Working as a summer student is allowing me to put what I've learned in class into real world practice, while allowing space for continuous learning and growth.”

"Having students from the new agricultural tech programs at Olds College, Precision Agriculture - Techgronomy Diploma and Agriculture Technology Integration Post-Diploma Certificate, be involved in work-integrated learning on the Smart Farm is extremely valuable. They are getting hands-on experience with emerging technologies, data compilation and farm infrastructure so they get first-hand experience dealing with the challenges and opportunities facing agriculture today and are better prepared for work in the future,” says Christine Chalaturnyk, Chair, School of Agribusiness Land and Fashion.

This year’s agriculture students showcase the importance of work-integrated learning at Olds College and we look forward to seeing what they accomplish in the future.