Planting the seeds of success
(This story originally appeared in College of Agriculture and Bioresources Agknowledge magazine – Fall 2016)
When seeding begins next spring in the University of Saskatchewan fields, machinery operators will be seeing red, but it’s just the colour of Morris Industries’ newest and most technologically advanced agricultural equipment at work.
The Saskatchewan company, headquartered in Saskatoon, recently provided seeding equipment with a market value of more than $450,000 in the form of a zero-cost lease to the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, a gift that builds on a long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship between the two organizations. For Morris President Ben Voss, the arrangement is as much about a shared commitment to food security as it is about getting seed into the ground.
“One of the company values is that we’re here to help feed the world,” said Voss, a U of S engineering graduate who remains involved in his family farm near Spiritwood, Saskatchewan. “We’ve made this commitment with no strings attached. The university has identified the innovations we’re doing and can now use that as a platform to do important research because a crop’s potential is determined the day it’s seeded.”
Outfitted with Input Control Technology for precision seeding and fertilizer application to maximize yield potential, the new Morris equipment replaces versions donated in 2006.
“It was time to upgrade,” Voss said, “and this was an opportunity to renew our previous arrangement. And, if the university is using our products, that’s a strong signal to the world that locally produced equipment is the best available.”
Providing the U of S with the latest in seeding equipment will help ensure researchers can see the advancements being made within the industry, he added, and that they have that technology to test with new crop varieties and seeding protocols. It also gives Voss and his colleagues the chance to show potential customers the machinery in action.
Voss also believes it is important that students, whether they are in soil science, crop science or engineering programs, get first-hand exposure to the latest the industry has to offer.
The idea that companies like Morris can bring those technologies to the university typifies the way the relationship between industry and academia has evolved over time.
“Universities have unique resources like labs and testing facilities that are still very important,” said Voss, “but pure discovery, which used to be very prominent, is less so now that innovation is happening on a global scale. Today, companies are sometimes ahead of universities so they need us to come to the table with guidance on trends and innovation, and to provide true validation of commercial potential.”
How companies like Morris Industries collaborate with the U of S may have changed “but the door of the university is always wide open,” Voss said. And it opens both ways.
On the other side of the equation is how that equipment is made, the innovation in the factory.” That is where connecting with researchers in areas like materials science and automation in manufacturing has enormous benefits.
Looking back over the history of his company, Voss said maintain a strong relationship with the U of S had contributed significantly to the company’s success in the field but it has been just as important in the factory.
George Morris set up Morris Rod-Weeder Co. Ltd. In 1929 in Bangor, Sask., to produce and sell his revolutionary rod weeder. What made it revolutionary was Morris’ design of the world’s first automatic trip that springs up over stones, and then lowers back into the ground to continue working.
As the company grew and required more production capacity, Morris needed engineers, accountants, lawyers and others, and he found them at the U of S graduates, bringing expertise to all parts of its operation – marketing, administration, legal, human resources, engineering and commerce. The company has a corporate agronomist doing multi-year projects with the U of S on seed and fertilizer placement as well as soil science studies, and it provides summer employment for university students.
“We have an ongoing interest in alumni and recruit heavily at the U of S”, he added, “because graduates are future employees and customers of ours.”
Morris Industries operates production facilities in Yorkton, Sask. And Minnedosa, Man. And its products line includes air seeders, drills and carts, packers, harrows and bale-handling equipment. Depending on production demands, its workforce numbers between 200 and 300 people including head office staff.
Looking to the future, Voss is enthusiastic about more partnerships with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, and with the Global Institute for Food Security at the U of S, in a joint effort to address the challenges of improving crop yields and reducing inputs for farmers.
“Let’s find projects,” he said. “Let’s work together.”