Alberta Innovates, the province’s largest research and innovation agency, has selected a Lethbridge College researcher as one of eight recipients of a financial award through its Smart Agriculture and Food Digitization and Automation Challenge.
“The (challenge) was launched by Alberta Innovates to really help find projects that develop smart technologies that have the potential to sustainably increase productivity on (a) farm, and reduce the cost of production for industry — or increase the overall value of agri-food products,” said Natisha Stashko, the executive director of Smart Agriculture and Food at Alberta Innovates.
“For this particular competition, we received 49 applications, which was great to see the capacity that we have in Alberta and looking at the agriculture technology space,” she said.
Chandra Singh, the applied research chair in agricultural engineering and technology at Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CARIE), will use the $236,083 awarded to his project to explore how to improve sugar beet storage through automation and wireless technology.
“This wireless sensing technology will help us to collect the actual real-time sugar beet temperature data,” Singh explained, adding that unpredictable southern Alberta weather can harm the product with the way it is currently stored.
“What it does — the heating cooling cycle of those outdoor piles, they’re not covered, not sealed,” he said.
“It goes through the thawing (and) freezing cycle, and that damages the crop.”
Singh added that the sensors will be able to notify a fanning system when to turn on in order to maintain a target temperature.
“This process will be completely automated, so you don’t have to have people going out and physically checking the piles,” he said.
The total cost of the project is $404,733, and will take place over three years in collaboration with the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers (ASBG) and Lantic Inc., the country’s only sugar beet processing facility located in Taber, Alta. Technical support will be provided by Calgary’s OPIsystems.
“Storage has always been a challenge for us, so our goal with this whole research is for us to better understand what’s happening in the piles so that if there is spots where we’re maybe seeing some deterioration of beet condition, we can actually remove those from the piles sooner,” said ASBG executive director Melody Garner-Skiba.
“We’re really hopeful that with this work we can see some interesting changes that will help us move the industry forward through better extraction.”
Singh said he plans to have a prototype ready for this year’s harvest, with the research concluding in three years.