Donation moves Olds College toward smart agriculture hub

David P. Werklund, Susan Norman donation largest ever

A major donation to Olds College will move its smart agriculture initiatives further ahead and is being described as “transformational.”

Canadian businessman and philanthropist, David P. Werklund and his partner, Susan Norman, have donated a total of $16 million to the college. It’s the largest ever personal donation to an Alberta college or technical institution, announced at the college’s recent annual gala.

The total cumulative impact will be $32 million. Werklund’s donation begins with $2 million in cash, supplemented by a matching component where Werklund will provide one dollar for every three raised, up to $4 million. The final element is a $10-million estate gift to ensure the sustainability of the institute over time.

“Our vision is that students will experience a world class education centered around best practices in smart and sustainable agriculture — practices that are environmentally responsible, fully leverage current technologies and ignite their passion for agriculture,” said Werklund, who grew up on a rural Alberta farm near Valleyview.

Among other things, the donation will establish the Werklund Agriculture Institute, which will have several components, including a new hub “for companies, entrepreneurs, investors and students to access Olds College land and facilities for development, scale up and demonstration of smart agriculture technologies, products and services.”

There are already resources in play in order to get going on the development of the institute, Cullum said. Planning for one component, the Worklund Growth Centre, a building that will be used for the institute, is well underway, and construction could commence later this year of in 2018, thecollege’s Chief Innovation Officer, Stuart Cullum, said Wednesday.

“We’re essentially launched. … Now it’s a matter of developing the programming, engaging with industry, and the community. It’ll be an exciting time at Olds College as we grow.”

“The impact to the college, and for our students and for our sector, is transformational. … Olds College wants to position itself as a hub for smart agriculture.”

Smart agriculture utilizes technology and science to increase production, while enhancing greater environment sustainability, such as less use of water, Cullum said.

Using precision agriculture through GPS technology and genomics to enhance livestock efficiency are all part of smart agriculture. For example, the college is working with the livestock sector to ensure that animals are feeding and growing efficiently. That leads to less feed as well as less methane production, and is more efficient and profitable for the producer, Cullum said.

Both small and large producers benefit from the smart agriculture research that goes on at Olds College, he said.

The Werklund/Norman donation is part of the college’s multi-year $40 million Beyond campaign for infrastructure projects there.

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