British Columbia’s newest centre of excellence will serve as ground zero in the province’s strategy to increase annual agricultural production to $14-billion by 2017 (from about $11.6-billion in 2011) while it equips students for rewarding careers in the growing sector.
Aided by a $1-million provincial government investment, the Agriculture Centre of Excellence at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) includes a technologically advanced demonstration barn and greenhouses. “Graduates will be well positioned to take advantage of the growing demand for B.C. agrifood products locally, nationally and around the world, and to contribute to our province’s growing agrifood sector as employees or entrepreneurs,” said former agriculture minister Pat Pimm in a media release.
Situated in a region that contains some of the richest land in the world, UFV has offered agriculture education programs for 40 years. Building on that history, the new centre “creates a concentrated space that brings together experts and knowledgeable practitioners,” says John English, dean of applied and technical studies. “It’s a place where industry can bring its challenges and we can help by providing expertise and conducting research.”
Increasing B.C.’s agricultural output requires advanced research, the introduction of automation and robotics, and innovations that add value to base products, notes Dean English. “The centre is designed to help address those challenges. The embedded technology is spectacular – air, humidity and nutrient flow are managed through computerization, automation and robotics.
“Through proof of concept and other investigations, our aim is to demonstrate to industry that it is worthwhile for them to invest in new lighting, for example, or new kinds of greenhouses.”
For agriculture students, studying at the centre also means having access to other UFV faculties that provide the entrepreneurial, marketing and business management education required to thrive in today’s global agrifoods sector.
With a range of activities that intersect with agriculture, “the university can bring all the ancillary and related areas to the table to tackle broader issues – our school of business may work with the Agriculture Centre of Excellence on trade and emerging markets, entrepreneurship and business planning; our faculty of health studies may collaborate on nutraceuticals research,” says Dean English.
The university is also home to Dr. Lenore Newman, Canada Research Chair in Food Security and the Environment. She and her students study land use and allocation, as well as public policy that addresses the impact of urbanization and industrialization on agricultural land.
“The university is a place to think, advise and formulate solutions to all of the issues related to agriculture,” says Dean English. “There are many universities that excel in longer-term, more abstract research – we’re focused on a very applied research realm, working alongside businesses. Our focus is undergraduate education, and these industry activities enrich that primary role.”