Altario (Rural Roots Canada) – An agricultural academy in Alberta is spearheading an initiative to determine if an indoor hydroponic system could provide consistent, year-round, affordable, and nutrient-rich feed for cattle amid the ongoing drought. 

Altario School, a K-12 school located in Altario, Alberta near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, has partnered with members of the local community, the agriculture industry, hydroponic system manufacturers, nutritionists, accountants, and college research teams to collaborate on the project.

Courtesy: RDAR

Agriculture research organization RDAR is helping fund the initiative under the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership. The school will receive almost $200,000.

Prolonged drought concerns, particularly in southern Alberta, have created significant challenges for farmers and producers. In July of 2023, the province’s Special Areas – an expanse of land located in southeastern Alberta – declared an agricultural disaster. As a result, many had to sell all or part of their herds to afford sufficient feed, raising fears about food security for cattle and consumers. The students at Altario wanted to help. 

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In an interview earlier this year, Altario School principal Kevin Van Lagen told Rural Roots Canada the students are proving what an agriculture-focused school program is capable of while creating an overwhelming amount of pride within the community.

“The community and the school are almost synonymous,” he says. “The community is so heavily involved in the school, and the school is so heavily involved in the community.”

“The expertise that we get from people throughout the community is enhancing the program at the school. When you have community buy-in, school buy-in, student buy-in, and the leadership to make it happen, it’s a recipe for success.” 

Altario School has a long history of academic success and community involvement. In 2016, it shifted its focus to agriculture, starting with a community garden and expanding from there. It has since added a barn and runs a student-led farm where students of all ages learn how to care for, interact with, and manage livestock on the farm, including steers, turkeys, and pigs. They also maintain bees, installed a hydroponic flu modular, and are moving ahead with the cattle-feed initiative, giving them an appreciation for the various careers available to them in the industry.  

“This is just another step in growing an agriculture program at Altario School that encourages career pathways in agriculture, embraces and works with the local agriculture industry, and promotes and grows rural education,” adds Van Lagen. 

Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, applauds the school’s efforts to take on this cattle feed challenge. 

It’s wonderful to see students from Altario School working to find innovative solutions to growing challenges, like the effects of drought, ” says MacAulay, in a statement. “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and projects like this show that the future of Canada’s agriculture sector is in good hands.” 

Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, RJ Sigurdson, also congratulated the students on their willingness to help out in what will likely be another challenging growing season. 

“Altario School’s student-led farm is already an impressive operation, so I am excited to see this project strengthen local food security and create more opportunities for students to get involved in agriculture.” 

The project’s outcome will be shared with local producers through field tours, demonstrations, and workshops. The community is already eager to hear what the students might discover. 


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