The province will soon have a new post-secondary hub for sustainable ag, if Brandon’s Assiniboine Community College (ACC) gets its way.
The college will be significantly expanding its agricultural offerings, ACC has said, a promise centred around the incoming Prairie Innovation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, to take root on the college’s North Hill Campus.
Why it matters: The Prairie Innovation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture will be the latest in a string of ag-related expansions at ACC.
ACC’s existing agribusiness program will find a new home at the facility, college president Mark Frison said, as well as new programming on environment, ag technology, food processing and manufacturing technology.
“The Prairie Innovation Centre will offer a wide variety of programs that include some of our traditional agribusiness, land and water management programs, as well as communication, engineering technology, civil technology, things that relate to environment and some smart ag programs,” he said. “We’ll be looking at programs related to food processing — so chemical technology and other related technologies there, things that will help with industrial automation for the food-processing sector.”
The college’s meat-cutting program, however, will remain largely separate, he said. ACC opened the doors to its first meat-cutting class last year on its main campus.
Instead, Frison said, new food-processing programming may include areas like alternate protein sources, something that has garnered attention in recent years.
Manitoba’s processing sector has seen several additions around plant protein, such as Roquette in Portage la Prairie and Merit Functional Foods in Winnipeg. The topic has also featured in the province’s protein strategy, an effort by the provincial government to grow protein industries across the board.
The centre will hopefully help fill labour needs the college has seen from the ag sector. The college expects to increase its ag-related capacity to an estimated 800 students, up from about 300 currently.
“There’s lots of demand for graduates,” Frison said. “On the student side, the programs are very popular.”
ACC has cited labour forecasts from industry groups and the federal government, which estimate there will be 114,000 unfilled agriculture jobs in Canada, and almost one in every five ag jobs unfilled in Manitoba, by 2025.
“The ones where I think there’s the greatest need for expansion that we don’t have is some on the technology side,” Frison said. “Chemical tech, food processing and industrial automation, those are the ones where I think we have the greatest needs for the future of the sector.”
The college has launched a $50-million campaign to repurpose an existing building on the North Hill Campus, an area that is already home to ACC’s sustainable greenhouse, grow plots, orchard and weed identification garden.
The centre’s plan calls for both indoor and outdoor learning spaces, including science labs, computing spaces, applied research space (including equipment for analyzing water quality, soil and plant material), a “student learning hub,” and presentation theatre.
First major donation
The Prairie Innovation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture has got its first major private contribution.
On Oct. 19, Sunrise Credit Union announced $1 million to support ag training at ACC, of which the incoming centre will have a starring role. The donation is the largest philanthropic donation in ACC’s history.
The contribution matches with the credit union’s largely rural membership base, Tim Klassen, Sunrise Credit Union president and CEO, said. The credit union operates 20 branches in western Manitoba and the Parkland.
“It just fit with our mission and values in terms of partnership with community, in terms of the agricultural piece and all of that,” he said.
Klassen also noted the advantages of homegrown employees for the ag sector, something he hopes will come out of the credit union’s donation.
“Just the fact that we can grow our own people here, our young people and help give them the tools that they need to build agriculture for the future, I think that’s going to make our communities stronger. It’s going to make this part of our province that much stronger for the future,” he said.
The credit union has hired students out of ACC in the past, he noted.
As of 2018, ACC estimated that 91 per cent of its graduates remained in province.
The college hopes to draw at least $10 million from private and community contributions for the new centre.
No provincial funds have been announced for the project, although the recent donation earned a favourable review from Economic Development and Training Minister Ralph Eichler.
“Partnerships like this, between industry and post-secondary, are paramount to supporting our economy and labour needs,” Eichler said in an Oct. 19 release. “Agriculture is an important industry and an economic driver in our province. With this strong showing of industry support, the agriculture sector is in good hands.”
ACC hopes to have its first students in the new centre by 2024.