January 20th, 2021

College researcher looking to help farmers improve yields

By Submitted Article on July 29, 2020.

Arnie Bergen-Henengouwen, president of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, breaks off a piece of sugar beet to taste while Luree Williamson, CEO for Agriculture for Life, looks on. A researcher at Lethbridge College is hoping to give southern Alberta farmers a big advantage after a rough year in 2019. Herald file photo by J.W. Schnarr

Kevin Forsyth

For The Herald

A researcher at Lethbridge College is hoping to give southern Alberta farmers a big advantage after a rough year in 2019. Chandra Singh, the college’s first chair in agricultural engineering and technology, is working with industry partners to identify technologies and storage techniques that will help improve yields.

“My research focuses on some of those losses we can mitigate through advances in post-harvest,” said Singh. “My goal is how we can improve it – cost-effectively – use some new technology and be more proactive.”

Sugar beet growers were hit especially hard last year when numerous freeze-thaw events resulted in more than half of the crop being left in the field, according to Melody Garner-Skiba, executive director of Alberta Sugar Beet Growers.

“Last year’s frost events that we received multiple days, really damaged those beets to the point where we couldn’t put them in the pile for long-term storage, which meant we couldn’t process them,” said Garner-Skiba. “It really was Mother Nature, again, playing some havoc with the beet farmers.”

Sugar beets are stored outside in piles and, while some cold does not negatively affect them, they will deteriorate if they are subjected to big temperature swings or early frosts and snowfalls.

“We stack our piles quite large and so you will get hot spots from beets that may be not staying in the best condition, and those hot spots can quickly spread throughout the pile,” said Garner-Skiba. “By him figuring out a way for us to keep the piles at a consistent temperature, we’re going to be able to improve that long-term storability of those beets and the processing ability.”

Singh will use his background in remote sensing technology to help producers track the temperature and conditions in their stored harvests.

“It’s all smart sensing technology, so that you can monitor your grain storage. Not just monitor, but you can actually automate using cloud platforms. For example, you can use your cellphone to see what is going on in anywhere in the world,” said Singh.

He is also working on improving post-harvest storage for other crops, including potatoes, grains and pulses. He is hoping to use mathematical modelling techniques to track the status of stored grain crops.

“Modelling can tell you, based on the condition – you track it – what’s going to happen to that particular crop, based on its characteristics and condition,” said Singh.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down, but not stopped, any of his work.

This will be the first time ASBG has partnered with Singh, but Garner-Skiba said she is considering a future project with Singh to produce road de-icer from raw sugar beets, rather than importing it from the U.S.

“We’re really excited to have this partnership with the college,” she said.

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