While cleaning out our office this spring, we happened upon a piece of Farming Smarter history. Technically, this artefact comes from a time before Farming Smarter existed.
For those who aren't aware, Farming Smarter was created in 2012 when the Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) and Southern Alberta Conservation Association (SACA) joined forces.
The two farmer-led associations championed advancements and education in southern Alberta agriculture. SARA focused on general agriculture research working with farmers and industry scientists to solve the problems they faced in crop production, SACA focused on agriculture conservation efforts like zero-tillage and soil erosion.
An Evolving Landscape
Before the year 2000, agriculture (along with many other industries) looked completely different in southern Alberta than it does today. Some of that can be contributed to SACA.
"You went from a wheat-fallow system to a continuous cropping that included crops like canola and peas, and way more adoption of zero tillage," said Ken Coles, Farming Smarter Executive Director.
Throughout southern Alberta, farmers would let their soil sit with nothing seeded (fallow) in-between the years they grew wheat. SACA strove to change this and implement more sustainable and profitable practices across southern Alberta.
While SACA worked to assist farmers with bettering their existing practices, SARA worked to deliver new, innovative practices to producers. SARA worked with the AAFC research station in Lethbridge to take their small plot research and trial it at the field scale.
They worked with farmers to run medium and large scale plots for research, much like our Field Tested program today!
In 2006, SARA hired Coles, now Executive Director of Farming Smarter, providing him an opportunity to work with farmers.
Before working at SARA, Coles was familiar with the association, as well as SACA. He saw a big opportunity in having the two associations work together.
"We worked jointly with SACA; we were two small organizations scrounging for whatever grants were available. Eventually, I had hired a technician, Chris, that I could only afford to keep for maybe eight months of the year," said Coles.
"At the time, I was on the committee for planning SACA conferences when their manager had left for another opportunity. I pitched the idea of having Chris manage SACA while I managed SARA," added Coles.
"The two boards agreed, and it created a lot of synergies," commented Coles.
It's All in a Name
Chris and Coles began to continue research, working together where applicable, and built the reputation of SACA with farmers. Eventually, they realized there was a greater opportunity ≥ rather than work together, they could merge.
"Operationally, it just made sense," stated Coles.
However, they needed a name. Thankfully for them, they didn't have to search very far to find one.
"SARA had a magazine as part of their extension model. I remember thinking, even before we had the idea to amalgamate, how great of a name it was ≥ Farming Smarter. It's clean, it means something, and it's simple," said Coles.
Being the early 2010's, the internet had already put a stranglehold on society, and it was clear that it wasn't going anywhere. Coles, being a forward thinker, registered the domain name "farmingsmarter.com" ≥ long before amalgamation discussions began.
With a name and a plan, Coles got the boards to agree to the plan and began the rebuild.