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  • Caylie Gnyra

Students Manage Farm At Lakeland College

Crop Technology students at Lakeland College are just winding down their 2023 harvest, but the Student-Managed Farm (SMF) powered by New Holland will keep them engaged for the rest of the academic year in the relationships and skills necessary to run a profitable and sustainable agribusiness.

Lakeland is the only post-secondary institution in Canada where students manage commercial-sized crop, bison, beef, dairy, and equine enterprises. These are split into two groups: the animal science side and the crop technology side. Each group is then broken down further. The Animal Science side has six livestock units: commercial beef cattle, dairy cattle, purebred beef cattle, extensive grazing research cattle, equine, and bison.

The Crop Technology side of the Student-Managed Farm comprises seven teams: the executive oversees the rest of the teams and helps coordinate everything; the marketing team follows the markets and is in charge of selling everything that the farm produces; the finance team manages budgets and financial spreadsheets; the crop demonstration team plans field demonstrations and field trips as well as research trials; the analysis team moves and stores grain to prevent spoilage; the production team works through the crop rotation, fertilizer, and pesticide plans, obtaining seeds and scouting for weeds to help the team make the best plans moving forward; and the mixed farm team manages silage and feed and whether crops will be grazed by livestock. These teams collaborate through weekly cross-team meetings.

SMF Marketing Manager Levi Scherman comes from a grain farming and agribusiness family just outside of Battleford, SK, while Assistant General Manager for Crops Emily Creusot hails from a mixed farming family in Oxbow, SK. They explain that in their first year at Lakeland, students learn all the skills they would need to use on a farm. At the end of that year, interested students apply to management positions on the farm, and are interviewed in front of a group of their advisors and the previous year’s student managers. Once management has been selected, the other groups are filled according to interest. In their second year, the Student-Managed Farm allows them to apply all the skills they learned in their first year to real-life scenarios.

Scherman and Creusot agree that one of the benefits that arises from working on the Student-Managed Farm is the hands-on experience in making major farming decisions. Another is the abundance of industry connections that are made. The equipment used in the program is generously provided by New Holland via Webb’s, with the latter also providing repairs, and developing that kind of commercial relationship is essential when moving forward in the business.

The students also express appreciation for the amount of freedom they are permitted to explore creative ideas and outcomes. Last year they grew hemp, and after baling it, sent it to the Canadian Rockies Hemp Corporation (CRHC) to be turned into fiber, hurd, or biomass. Farmers who grow for the CRHC cite hemp’s low maintenance, its unique root system’s ability to break up compaction, and the increase in nutrient and mineral ability in the soil after growing hemp as reasons to try out the crop.

The students have also been experimenting with grazing, variable rate fertilizers, and reducing tillage, all with the aim of rejuvenating soil health and reducing moisture loss while maximizing efficiency. “You can’t improve your soil health without moisture,” says Scherman. They follow a three-crop minimum rotation that they select each year, which helps break up disease cycles and encourages different root systems and stubble heights.

“It gives you a sense of independence,” says Scherman of the Student-Managed Farm. “We can push the bar quite a bit before our advisors step in and say, ‘No, you shouldn’t do that.’”

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