Dean, Werklund School of Agriculture Technology, Olds College of Agriculture and Technology
Olds College’s Indoor Agriculture Certificate program designed to break new ground in the area of indoor agriculture and vertical farming.
Canadian agriculture is changing. Issues of climate change, food security, loss of agricultural land, and sustainability are transforming the way we grow crops. One such innovation is the shift to indoor farming in smaller, confined spaces using technology and cutting-edge processes.
It’s called indoor agriculture, or controlled environment agriculture (CEA), and includes greenhouse operations, hydroponics, urban farming, and vertical farming. In fact, vertical farming is being used to support Canada’s domestic target of $140 billion in sales of agriculture and food processing products by 2025. The emerging vertical farming market is expected to show a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28 per cent between 2022 and 2030. Such rapid sector growth means high demand for skilled workers.
Breaking away from traditional concepts of agriculture
Olds College of Agriculture and Technology has been training Canadians for the agriculture sector since 1913. The College offers programming in agriculture, horticulture, land and environment management, and food production, along with a 3,600-acre Smart Farm to test and validate new farming technologies.
It’s for essentially anyone interested in innovative, sustainable agricultural practices and the future of indoor farming.
Olds College is also recognized as one of Canada’s top research colleges by Infosource and as a leader in CEA. “Having been around a long time, we pride ourselves on being experts in traditional methods of agriculture while also on the cutting edge of what’s new to solve real issues like food insecurity and environmental sustainability,” says Jay Steeves, Dean, Werklund School of Agriculture Technology, Olds College of Agriculture and Technology.
Solving real world issues is part of the College’s social mission to transform agriculture for a better world. “Innovation in agriculture is an absolute must,” says Steeves. “With a growing global population, the need to feed people isn’t going away any time soon. We need to look for new efficiencies. At the same time, we recognize food production has to be done sustainably and in a way that meets the needs and expectations of a much more aware and socially conscious customer base. We also need to create a more inclusive environment for agriculture by letting our urban partners play a bigger role.”
New program in indoor agriculture
To meet the strong demand for skilled professionals in the CEA field, Olds College recently created the new Indoor Agriculture Certificate program which will see its first intake in the fall of 2024.
Four months in duration, the program aims to provide students with the knowledge and skills to manage and sustain optimal growth conditions in diverse controlled agricultural settings like greenhouses, urban farming facilities, and vertical farms. “This program is the first of its kind in Canada, offering students an early credential that sets them apart in this rapidly growing industry,” says Steeves.
Topics covered include crop selection, CEA systems, growth crop supervision, problem identification, and troubleshooting. Program delivery will be through a blended approach of on-campus, online courses, and experiential learning through real-world field placements in the second term to gain viable industry exposure.
“I think the work integrated learning option is one of the program’s biggest strengths,” says Steeves. “It allows students to take the skills that they’ve learned and apply them in actual indoor agriculture facilities with our industry partners, gaining not only practical experience but also opportunities for networking and potential job offers,” he says.
Tying it into the broader social purpose, Steeves says, “This program has the potential to provide real, practical solutions to the challenges many communities face. For instance, people in the north often struggle to get fresh fruits and vegetables. These new technologies could provide a more local, sustainable way to meet these needs compared to current methods,” he says.
Program open to anyone
As for who qualifies for the program, the short answer is everyone. You don’t need to have any prior education or experience. “It’s for essentially anyone interested in innovative, sustainable agricultural practices and the future of indoor farming,” says Steeves. This includes students graduating from high school, hobbyists, environmental enthusiasts, mature students with no prior agricultural experience or simply people with a passion for growing food locally. “During the pandemic, a lot of people became very passionate about growing their own food. Our program is a great option for them,” says Steeves. “It’s also a great option for those considering a career change, current CEA professionals looking to enhance or diversify their skills, and post-secondary students looking to stack credentials and increase their employability in the sector,” he adds.
Learn more about the program and how you can apply by visiting oldscollege.ca/programs.