Brandon’s ACC (Assiniboine Community College) is expecting to almost triple its students in ag-related programs over the next few years.
The college is also set to start construction on its Prairie Innovation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture by next year, part of efforts to grow ag programs from 300 annual student spaces to 800.
The college expects that expanded programming and the incoming centre will help fill gaps in the ag education Manitoba has on offer while also boosting ACC’s profile.
ACC announced the centre last fall. The facility will build on the existing Valleyview Building on ACC’s North Hill Campus, the college said, a site already home to much of the college’s ag-related applied research and plots.
Tim Hore, dean of ACC’s school of agriculture and environment, pointed to estimates from the Canadian Ag Human Resource Council, which has suggested that one in five ag jobs in Canada will go unfilled by 2025.
“Agriculture, in my mind, really represents one of Manitoba’s surest bets for economic growth,” he said.
In particular, he noted companies like Merit Functional Foods or Roquette, both recent additions to the province’s food-processing sector.
“Those investments going well will inevitably lead other investors, domestic and foreign, being interested in Manitoba,” he said.
It’s a labour niche that ACC, which has typically pitched itself as a college geared towards industry collaboration on specific labour needs, hopes to help fill.
ACC’s food-processing centre, for example, another relatively new ag-related expansion, has been in high demand.
In 2019, ACC announced it was about to welcome its first class in a meat-cutting program, an offering heavily supported by major pork companies in the province, Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife Foods.
Both of those companies continue to partner with ACC in tweaking the program, according to Hore.
The 11-month program takes in 40 students at a time, and is currently on its third cohort since being announced. There is currently a waiting list to get in.
The college expects the Prairie Innovation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture to become home to many of its existing ag programming, including its agribusiness program, land and water management program, sustainable food systems program, geographic information system mapping (GIS), horticulture and communications engineering technology.
A number of new programs will join that lineup, including automation and robotics, food science and chemical technology diplomas, years two and three of civil technology (first year already being offered), a bachelor of commerce with an agribusiness focus, advanced agribusiness certification and Indigenous resource management.
“The vision is really about an integrated learning environment, bringing industry and academics together really to provide training, but practical education, to fill those labour gaps,” Hore said.
Within the programs themselves, Hore pointed to integration between ag-centric content, and technology programming — such as the capstone projects that already link agriculture and communications engineering technology to develop new innovations for agriculture.
In 2019, one such project helped develop hive-monitoring sensors to provide beekeepers with detailed data on conditions inside the hive.
It’s the type of work that Hore would like to see more of.
The college says the finished lineup will reflect what it’s heard from industry about the current and upcoming labour needs, including micro-credentials in demand with companies, and will also expand the college’s role in agricultural extension and applied research, as well as environmental programs.
The college had initially tagged a $50-million price tag for the centre ($10 million of which was to come from private and corporate contributions), a number that has since grown to $60 million to $65 million, with a $15-million private fundraising goal.
The college has locked in about $8.6 million in private fundraising so far, including $1 million to support ag training at ACC from Sunrise Credit Union last fall.
“Where we’re looking right now is partner contributions from the federal and provincial level,” said Derrick Turner, director of advancement and external relations at ACC. “The federal election has put a little bit of a pause in our discussions, but we’ve had some really positive discussions on the provincial side that definitely sees the need and opportunity for this.”
The province, however, would like the federal government to come alongside as well, Turner noted.
The college is “cautiously optimistic,” that the centre will see support from both levels of government, he said.
Out the gate
ACC, however, isn’t waiting until the centre is up and running.
The first cohort of the college’s new advanced agribusiness diploma will be in class this fall. The eight-month program is targeted to both domestic and international program graduates, “that have academic and educational background in agriculture in their home countries,” Hore said.
For those international students, he added, graduating the program will come with a solid practical footing, and solid employment opportunities, in western Canadian agriculture.
The program is designed for about 25 students per cohort.
About half of those slots have been filled, Hore said, noting that they are also tying in an extra intake of the regular agribusiness program.
Chemical technology, food technology and industrial automation and robotics (mechatronics) are next on the priority list, all things the college says will dovetail with the province’s expansion in food protein and processing.
Some of those, Turner admitted, will have to wait for the centre.
“When you look at the mechatronics, it’s really specialized labs, same with chem technology,” he said.
The centre is expected to open its doors in 2024.