Irrigating Alberta Fall 2013

Page 1

Alberta FLOOD IMPACT Alberta Spring 2013


PIONEER IRRIGATORS Canada’s First Irrigation Pivot Irrigation from 1962 - 2013

Acknowledging Alberta’s Grassland Production


Benefits of Both

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07 ................. PULSE FOOD DATA 08 ............... STAGE OF MATURITY 10 .................... WATER STORAGE 11 ....................... LNID HISTORY 12 ......


14 ..................... FROZEN BEETS 15 .......... SUGAR BEET ZONE WORK 18 ......................


20 ............. MORE PULSE TO CHINA 22 - 23 ......... PIONEER IRRIGATORS 24 - 25 ............. SOUTHERN DRIP 26 ................


27 ..........

view online at Cover Photo Credit - E.I.D. Archives & Library


28 - 29..................... 30 .................






here may be more green Stetsons on Parliament Hill, but if they come anywhere near agriculture, they will be poor copies. The real Green Stetson Agriculture Minister, Eugene Whelan, is dead, and with his passing, formally ends an era when farmers of all stripes from across this nation were counted as important cogs in the most important industry in the nation. Eugene - he tried to hire me once and I considered him a true friend of agriculture who would bend over backwards to give an interview about his industry - was not your typical polished politician. But he could rub elbows with kings and queens to hired hands, get his point of the day across, shake off opponents after listening to their point of view, and then roll up his sleeves and go nose to nose with other MPs to try to win the fight for all producers. His ally was Whelanese, Eugene’s version of English. It usually drew some comments, but he had no problem getting his point of view across. He listened in English. He was Canada’s 21st agriculture minister, serving the Liberal party 1972-1979 and 1980-1984, a combined run that ranked him third-longest serving agriculture minister in history. One of his big legislative victories was Bill C-176, enabling legislation for marketing boards and commissions, a system which allowed industries like dairy and poultry to create marketing systems matching production with expected national consumer consumption, removing expensive surpluses that for years had filled abandoned mines with excess butter and dairy products and lead to an attempted consumer give-away of powdered milk when modern homemakers preferred the liquid version. Stability at the producer level was the first benefit. Consumers also benefitted because they were assured optimum quality food with little fluctuation in prices because of formulas linked to cost of production. It also avoided the boom and bust industries in the United States that tended to result in lower consumer prices due to unlimited free market production tied directly to huge government producer subsidies. Eugene even tried to get the nation’s cattle industry involved in supply management, and even a special type of income security. It was a time when the cattle industry was the heart of free enterprise. Following several meetings in southern Alberta, the producer consensus was struck at a Pincher Creek meeting. Stay out of our industry was that message. Whelan followed that advice. A release from present federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz claiming he followed Whelan’s footsteps of putting farmers first is a joke. Ritz can’t begin to carry Whelan’s jockstrap. Always a heavy man, Eugene seemingly had an endless supply of energy. During a major farmer meeting in the Lethbridge Lodge


Hotel one day, this reporter learned that Whelan was in the city for a short stay. Notified, the meeting organizers contacted Whelan’s entourage, and sure enough, he made a short appearance at the meeting, causing some back-patting by organizers and creating a rousing time answering questions from a surprised meeting crowd. Insiders knew it wasn’t grandstanding by Whelan. It was pure pleasure for him to talk to more farmers directly and answer questions, some which had been debated at the Lethbridge meeting. I had two final meetings with Eugene. One was during a sugar beet lobby trip to Ottawa. Eugene was by then out of politics, but was working from a small office as an agricultural consultant. He welcomed this visitor in for a coffee and chat. The final visit was during a book-selling and author-signing trip across the land. We chatted between fans seeking to have a Eugene signature in their new book. There have been many good agriculture ministers in Canada, but few great ones who put farmers ahead of any political chest thumping. Eugene Whelan will be remembered by those who count as one of the very best.

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lberta is the leader in value of forage and grassland production.

In 2012, the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association, together with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, commissioned a study to determine the value of our forage and grassland industry by Douglas Yungblut of Yungblut Associates. The Canadian forage industry suffers from a lack of recognition for its contribution to the economy because it is diverse and difficult to measure. Everyone is familiar with scenes of livestock grazing or fields dotted with bales of hay, but these are not viewed from an economic viewpoint the way a field of corn, wheat or canola would be. This leads to a lack of support for this industry in both the public and private sectors. Over the past five years each of the major forage producing provinces have examined the nature and scope of their forage industries. This led to the determination of industry values ranging from $650 million in Ontario to $1.5 billion in Alberta in direct economic contribution. Their studies were, however, done at different times using different study methodologies. There has never been a comprehensive review of the economic value of the Canadian forage industry. The current study used acreage data from the 2011 census and economic values from 2011 whenever possible. A variety of sources were consulted to estimate dollar values of various aspects of the industry.


In terms of acreage, cultivated forages for pasture, feed and seed production accounted for 33.8 million acres or 39 per cent of the land in Canada devoted to crop production. In comparison the next largest crop, wheat, accounted for 20.4 million acres or 23 per cent of crop land. In addition, over 36 million acres of land were devoted to native or unimproved pastures. The economic value of the industry was $5.09 billion, making it the third largest crop after wheat and canola. The forage industry is the foundation of the dairy and beef industries, which together contribute $11 billion in direct value to Canadian farmers and generate over $50 billion in economic activity. These are the direct measurable benefits of the forage industry. Provincial studies in Alberta and Saskatchewan estimated the value of indirect benefits such as environmental enhancements and found that these could be worth as much again as the direct benefits. There are exciting emerging opportunities for the forage industry, say industry officials. Interest in their use as renewable fuels and feedstock for biomaterials is in its infancy. There is also growing demand in areas such as China and the Middle East for high quality forages to feed growing livestock industries or to replace domestic production. To obtain a copy of the National Forage and Grassland Assessment, contact the CFGA Office at 204-726-9393 or email


PER = GAIN IN BODY MASS (g) [Protein Efficiency Ratio] PROTEIN INTAGE (g)


ew data adopted by Health Canada means food manufacturers can now include statements like “Good Source of Protein” on canned and dried pulses (peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas). Canadian consumers are increasingly looking for healthy messaging on food labels, and these new rules will make it easier for shoppers to make healthy choices. Health Canada recently approved Pulse Canada’s submission to adopt new protein efficiency ratio (PER) data for pulses. PER values are used to determine the protein rating which is based on a 250mL serving, Health Canada’s reasonable daily intake (RDI) for pulses. Previously only cooked chickpeas (a 250mL serving) could make a claim for “Good source of protein,” based on existing PER values. Research completed in 2010-2011 shows that additional pulses (listed in the table below) may now be eligible for protein content claims. This new data will be made public as the values are updated on the CFIA website in the coming weeks. “The nutritional value of protein is based on both quantity and quality. These newly adopted PER values will enable the industry to highlight the protein in pulses, creating a new marketing opportunity” says Tanya Der, Manager of Food Innovation & Marketing with Pulse Canada. The Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER) is a measurement of protein quality recognized by Health Canada and is the value from which protein source claims for foods are calculated. The original PER values for some pulses were outdated, undervalued or missing. In November 2010, the Canadian pulse industry, with support from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Agricultural Flexibility Fund, funded a study conducted by Dr. James House of University of Manitoba to analyze protein quality of pulses using PER and PDCAAS methodologies (PDCAAS is the method used in the U.S. and internationally).




lant maturity is the most significant factor affecting hay quality, says a provincial official.

About 70 per cent of hay quality is determined by stage of maturity at harvest. Stage of maturity refers to a plant’s stage of development, for example, bud or bloom stage in alfalfa, and boot or heading in grasses, says Stephanie Kosinski, an official with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

producing leaves once they start to head-out and flower. Legumes will keep producing leaves while flowering, and legume leaves also have higher protein levels than grass leaves, on average. “Once buds start showing up on your alfalfa plants, the feeding

“The best stage to cut hay partly depends on the nutritional needs of the animals to be fed,” says Kosinski. “For example, cows in their second trimester require lower quality hay than cows after calving. Calves with access to a low cost protein supplement require lower quality forage than calves that are only fed hay. “Stage of maturity also needs to be considered if you want to maximize the amount of protein harvested per acre. The best stage of maturity to accomplish this goal is at the late bud to10 per cent bloom stage for alfalfa, at the 10 to 20 per cent bloom stage for clovers, and between the late boot and early heading stages for grasses. Alfalfagrass mixtures should be cut based on the stage of maturity of the alfalfa. Clover-grass mixtures should be cut based on the stage of the grass.”

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.

If hay is more mature at cutting, higher yields will be achieved. However, the material will be much lower quality. As legumes and grasses move from vegetative (producing leaves) to reproductive stages (producing flowers, heads and seeds), they lose quality. This happens because the plants are using their energy to produce flowers and seeds instead of leaves, resulting in more stems present compared to leaves. Stems are higher in fibre but lower in protein than leaves. “In both grasses and legumes, stems lose quality faster than leaves, and perennial grasses lose quality faster than legumes,” says Kosinski. “This is because grasses completely stop


value will decrease by about 0.2 per cent per day in protein, and 0.4 per cent per day in digestibility. Cool-season grasses such as brome and timothy, lose 0.3 to 0.5 per cent per day in digestibility after the first two to three weeks of growth.” Comparison charts showing quality based on maturity stage are available on Alberta Agriculture’s website at www.agriculture., scrolling down to Frequently Asked Questions and clicking on the How Stage of Maturity Affects Hay Quality link. Contact: Stephanie Kosinski at 310-FARM (3276)



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Kent Bullock, retired manager of the Taber Irrigation District, told ratepayers at the spring annual meeting more water storage (likely another dam), is “imperative” to meeting water demands in the future.

An emergency spillway will be built on the St. Mary River Irrigation District main canal north of Chin. It will be designed to move water from Milk River Ridge Reservoir and St. Mary Reservoir, both owned by the province, so it can’t breach during an overfill position in high water runoff times. The spillway will allow water to flow into the Oldman River. That will relieve pressure when excess water has to be spilled down the SMRID main canal now.

A reliable water supply for agriculture, processing, industry and communities and to enhance recreation and wildlife habitat are considered vital to the success of southern Alberta, he said.

“Because the (SMRID) main canal was built to deliver water and not to accommodate drainage, the canal gets progressively smaller as it moves downstream,” he said.

Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development have commissioned a study to look at water storage opportunities within the Oldman River Basin. It is to be done under direction of Irrigation Council. $250,000 has been set aside to fund the study.

The spillway project is expected to cost about $15 million. Bullock said water quality remains a major topic for the district. The district welcomes continuation of a five-year study, and continues to review the early data from the 2011 work.

The organizing committee, chaired by Jennifer Nitschelm of Alberta Agriculture in Lethbridge, includes representatives from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Development, the academic community, irrigation, cities and municipalities, First Nations and the South Saskatchewan River Basin Adaptation Project.

Those key findings include:

ater storage remains a major topic for southern Alberta’s giant irrigation sector.

• Water quality for irrigation in Alberta is generally good or excellent; • Water quality guidelines for nutrients and metals were met by the majority of time; • Pesticides were detected in most water samples, and herbicide guidelines for irrigation were frequently exceeded, which may be a concern for some specialty crops; • Source water quality varied among the districts for some parameters, even for districts within the same river basin; • Salinity and major ions were not a concern for most districts, with the exception of the Western Irrigation District at Strathmore and Bow River Irrigation District at Vauxhall; • Some degradation of water quality occurred as water flowed through the irrigation water distribution system, and; • Pipelines had minimal effect on water quality, except for reducing bacterial indicators.




istory often means change for industry, and the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District has seen more than its share of change. Allan Harrold, LNID general manager, said the district incurred its first expense in 1920, and change has been the order of the day since. Producers got the first annual report in 1921, and sod was turned for construction June 16, 1921. Water was turned into the main canal for the first time May 2, 1923. On June 1 that year, the Oldman River head gates flooded out. LNID farmers initially were assessed $1.25 an acre for water rates. That cost jumped to $3.25 an acre in the fourth year. Major change came in 2009 as pipeline use gained priority. The average pipeline pressure assessed farmers was at 24.2 pounds per square inch, excluding the Keho-Barons and Piyami pump stations. That gave farmers downstream from pipelines that much advantage, allowing them to reduce pumping costs. Harrold said there are approximately 410 kms of canal in the district. Of that total, 81.8 km is through Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource. A major change hit in 2012 when the Keho-Barons pump station was completed to serve 74 parcels of land containing 10,772 irrigated acres. Initially, producers in that region had applied for their own irrigation district. Government

decided it would be best operated as part of the Lethbridge Northern Irigation District. Harrold said LNID has 174,654.6 irrigation acres operated with water rights. It also has issued terminable water agreements for 2,406.4 acres and operates annual agreements on 531.6 acres for a total of 177.592.6 acres. Major improvements in water application efficiencies have allowed LNID to launch an expansion plan, said Harrold. That expansion was started in 2010 when farmers added 143.5 acres by adding water rights to existing parcels. That was followed with 52.2 acres in 2011 and 68.3 in 2012. More significant expansion has come by adding water rights to new irrigation parcels, he said. Under that category, 405.4 acres were approved for expansion in 2010 and added in 2012. Another 1,018.9 acres were approved in 2011 and added in 2012. Also in 2012, 1,703.2 acres were approved for use in 2013.

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ry beans as a row crop have competition on the horizon in southern Alberta’s irrigated land.

Ross McKenzie, a recently-retired soil nutrition specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development in Lethbridge, said the final reports on four years of research on solid-seeded beans will be available in January 2014 when Viterra hosts its annual bean grower information meetings across The South. Since beans were introduced in southern Alberta, growers had to use tradition row-crop planters. Row-crop beans have to be undercut below the field surface to allow the plants to be picked up by a combine. Plant proximity every two inches in a row could be a source of disease problems, and at harvest, dirt from the undercut plants often caused problems for the producer and company bean plants at Taber and Bow Island. Solid-seeded beans require regular seeding equipment to produce plant distance margins that tend to increase plant spacing and reduce disease. Yield tends to increase. The crop must be swathed with a MacDon header unit, which cuts the crop off at ground level, leaving the plant material to be picked up by combine without dirt residue. McKenzie said a solid-seeded field produces a crop leaf canopy that covers most of the field surface quicker, allowing the crop to compete better with weeds. The experiment involved variety testing, row spacing impacts and bean seeding rates. For the test, the research team looked after all land preparation, fertilizing, seeding, and application of herbicides and fungicides, and harvest. The co-operators looked after irrigation.


In one experiment, McKenzie and team found the variety Winchester yield was significantly better than AC Resolute at Bow Island. The fields seeded with seven-inch row spacing yielded significantly more than 28-inch row spacing at Bow Island and Vauxhall. The seven-inch and 14-inch row spacing yielded more than the 28-inch spacing at higher seeding rates, although under optimal emergence, yield peaked at lower seeding rates. Often bean growers do not inoculate bean seeds prior to seeding, said McKenzie. Tests showed significant yield increase with inoculated seed at Bow Island, with less benefit at Grassy Lake and Vauxhall. “Overall, yields were excellent (in the program),” McKenzie said. “The average yield was 3,500 pounds an acre.” McKenzie said solid-seeding is more feasible now with the development of more upright-growing bean varieties. More farmers will be interested because solid-seeded fields create less land disturbances. Tests showed that yields from solid-seeded crops were equal to or greater than yields from row cropped fields.

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The work was an attempt to assess different tillage options for unharvested sugar beets.

is a year that will live long in the southern Alberta sugar beet industry.

None of the sugar beet plants at the test site were defoliated, a major part of the normal harvest operation.

Extremely low temperatures hit the region Oct. 8 that year, persisting through Oct. 14. Temperatures dropped to a low of minus 13.9, with below-zero temperatures recorded five consecutive days in that period.

Regitnig said tillage operations included fall plowing, fall and spring disking and leaving sugar beets untilled over winter with direct seeding of grain in the spring.

Peter Regitnig of Taber, head of Lantic Sugar’s research department, said a significant percentage of that year’s crop was left in the fields. Long-term storage of the unharvested beets was not an option, he said. The damaged root tissue did not exhibit healing from the frost injury. It forced growers and the company to harvest as long as possible on a controlled basis, with all harvest progress through that period processed within a few days of digging. The research department launched a project to try to figure the best way to help farmers handle the acres of unharvested sugar beets in preparation for the following year’s farm production on the affected lands. A strip trial with three treatments and four replications was conducted at the Lethbridge irrigation demonstration farm that fall.


Strips were randomized within each replication. He said wheat was planted May 26, 2010 on all treatments using a Consera-Pak air seeder with a low disturbance hoe opener with nine-inch shank spacing. For the no-tillage work, wheat was planted parallel to sugar beet rows. Fertilizer was applied at the rate of 124 pounds of nitrogen per acre and 40 pounds of phosphorous. Wheat samples were harvested on Oct. 15, 2010, and yields adjusted to 13.4 per cent moisture. He said the average irrigated grain yield was 94.4 bushels an acre for fall-plowed strips, 99.8 bushels an acre for fall/spring disked strips, and 98.1 bushels an acre for wheat planted directly into sugar beet stubble. “The absence of tillage when sugar beets were left unharvested did not appear to result in any detrimental effects to wheat yield the follow year,” he said.

SUGAR BEET ZONE WORK A new sugar beet cultivation and seedbed preparation system is gaining steam across southern Alberta, says the senior research official for Lantic Sugar in Taber, Peter Regitnig, armed with 14 years of service with the company while it operated in Manitoba, and 14 since it moved operations to southern Alberta, likes zone or strip tillage, and feels it will continue to gain converts in industry.

Locally, Kirchner Machine in Lethbridge started making the system last year. Regitnig said a zone tillage machine is a soil moisture conserver, an important factor in southern Alberta even with irrigation. In some areas, where soil moisture is high, the system isn’t being adopted.

The system is simple — cultivate a field that perhaps produced a cereal crop in the fall to prepare for the sugar beet crop the following spring with a zone or strip tillage machine. The machine creates a narrow cultivation zone, leaving a strip of stubble undisturbed between, perhaps an exaggerated zero-till cereal operation that allows seed to be planted while leaving soil-protecting stubble on the surface of the field. Regitnig said he noticed a farmer in the Taber area using a cultivator-based homemade version of a machine that is commercially available from different firms. Working with the provincial Ag Tech Centre on the Lethbridge College campus in 2004, he made a similar six-row unit of research plot size and started researching. The commercial unit was purchased in 2009. Lantic moved to a field-scale test at the Canada-Alberta Irrigation Demonstration Farm at the Lethbridge Agriculture Centre, basically expanding the work that continues at the company’s small plot research areas. Regitnig said the field-scale tests were launched to give growers more confidence in the new technology. The Pepneck brothers in the Vauxhall area have purchased a commercial machine. It is a 24-row unit.



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igh river flows are as much a part of every spring as the return of robins – but robins don’t cause major flooding, pain and inconvenience to irrigators along watercourses in southern Alberta. Spring 2013 will go down as one of the hardest-hitting flood seasons for irrigators who take water directly from rivers across southern Alberta. Jack Van Rijn, a senior partner with Van Rijn Electric in Coaldale, said every electrician outfit with experience in irrigation was run off its feet when major mountain and foothills rains pushed debrisladen water, rushing for release along river courses, caught many producers late extracting pumps and motors from flooded pump sites.

Many producers could only watch, as electrical control panels were flooded, some completely covered by water. Damage ranged to $12,000 per pump site, and some producers had up to five pump sites affected. Dwayne Graham, owner of Southern Rewind, said calls from producers started pouring in the Saturday following a major rain, about the time operators were forced to release large volumes of water from the Oldman River Dam near Pincher Creek. Most motor-pump units faced a complete teardown. Debris and silt settled in most motors. Crews, working almost around the clock through mid-July, had to do a complete clean up, washing and drying all components and motor windings. All contaminated bearings had to be replaced. Producer costs ranged $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the damage, said Graham. There were a few bright spots, he said. Some of the units brought in after being flooded were found to have problems not associated with the floods, problems that were caught before they could become a major problem.


Van Rijn said there were so many calls for help that replacement parts became a big

One of the major switches, especially in older panels which work with higher horsepower pump motors, is very expensive, and he normally keeps one in stock. He had two this spring, and still had to call suppliers for help. For one project, he could only offer a used switch in the panel network to get a producer irrigating sooner. Van Rijn said education of river flows is important for irrigators. One producer west of Fort Macleod said he was watching the Oldman River flow, and at 10:30 p.m. the evening before the flood thought the river had crested with about two feet of room on the riverbank.

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He didn’t remove the pump, and the electrical control panel, which can’t be moved quickly, wasn’t high enough to avoid the flood. The following morning, he found the pump and motor submerged and the electrical panel very wet.

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hina is now Canada’s second largest market for pulses with nearly 600,000 tonnes of exports worth approximately $250 million in 2011,” says Peter Watts, director of market innovation with Pulse Canada. “By signing this Memorandum of Understanding with China, the federal government has shown its commitment to strengthening Canada’s trading partnership with this important market.”

ideal value-added ingredient for companies developing new food products to meet consumer needs,” says Watts. “Using pulses in foods can increase the protein and fibre content and we have seen strong interest in the potential contribution pulses can make to creating healthier food products.” Even a small percentage of pulse inclusion in some traditional Chinese staple foods could result in significant incremental Canadian pulse exports to China.

“The government has shown initiative in signing this MOU, and is raising the profile of Canada’s agricultural sector as an important source of agri-food products for China’s growing food manufacturing sector” says Watts. “This bodes well for long-term exports of Canadian pulses into this huge market.”

There is a growing interest in health and nutrition among China’s burgeoning middle class, and pulses offer an ideal solution for food manufacturers looking to offer healthy foods. “There is a significant opportunity to increase the use of pulses and pulse products such as flours in China in coming years,” says Watts. In 2010, Pulse Canada began collaborating with the Chinese Cereals and Oils Association to pursue new product development using pulses. With the support of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian pulse industry, Canadian and Chinese scientists are working together to conduct research on using pulses in Chinese staple foods (noodles, steamed breads and dumplings), snack foods (cakes, muffins, biscuits, fried dough twists and fillings) and meat products. “With their inherent health and nutritional benefits, pulses make an


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weep into any of the modern irrigation farms these days, and technology oozes from every gatepost.

Global positioning systems, pivots remotely controlled from home computers or from a smart phone anywhere in the world, variable-rate water application capabilities, and now, the ability to bend a pivot around buildings or field obstructions to optimize the area covered by a single unit – massive changes for even relative newcomers in the industry. What must it look like to the irrigator pioneers who were armed with management tools like rubber boots, shovels, water-diverting canal canvasses and siphon tubes used to move water from a ditch to leveled strips of farmland? Of course, some of them grew with the industry to a point.

Back row from left: Paul Thibodeau, Peter Bergen. Front left: Taber Mayor Ray Bryant, Frank Merkel, Joe Machacek, Jack James, Paul Gregus and Alex Estalos.

Put on the coffee pot, add a selection of sandwiches and ask such pioneers for a peek at their life on the irrigated farm is better than any rerun television programs. It is real life in the ditch for men who grabbed hold of assured water supplies for their crops, expanded their crop selection range, and gave irrigation the spring board to become the economic engine it is today across southern Alberta. Jack Jones, 90, remembers the first thing he did when irrigation was introduced - that was to level the land. It was the day of flood irrigation, moving water across a field to wet every square foot possible. He started with 80 acres, and immediately opened his production base to sugar beets, soft wheat and malt barley. Jones remembers diverting water into leveled strips of land of varying widths dictated by the topography. It took about 10 hours

to get the flood water to the end of a half-mile strip. Often, he would sleep in the field to be able to change the water to minimize the time to cover all his land and to try to avoid spilling water. Joe Machacek, 80, irrigated for years. He started helping his father when he wasn’t in school. The family farm had some hills, and irrigation water had to flow around them until land could be leveled. That posed a water management problem – how to avoid flooding areas of the field while maximizing the coverage area. He remembers his father irrigated his wheat crops first, followed by sugar beets. Alex Estalos, 73, started leveling land in the late ‘60s. Determining when water would be available for the flood strips was always a management item. He remembers when the hand-move irrigation pipe was introduced; it was a major advance because irrigation could be expanded more easily. But it also meant significantly



more labour. When a set was finished, each length of pipe had to be disconnected and moved by hand to the next set. Estalos grew sugar beets, grain, and vegetables for Lucerne Foods in Taber. Frank Merkel, 89, moved from Regina, attracted by the opportunity to grow sugar beets. Land in the Barnwell area was his first home. Irrigation allowed him to grow more grain, alfalfa, an acre of yellow beans and cucumbers for the Dyson pickle outfit. Finding enough labour for the flood and hand-move pipe era was always an issue, he said. He irrigated until wheel-move sprinkler were introduced. His grandson purchased his original 80 acres and “I visited for years to help where I could, and I still check on the crops these days.” Peter Bergen, a retired agriculturist for the Taber sugar company, remembers joining the staff in 1956 with Norm Thomson, District Irrigationist, who strongly advocated land leveling and flood irrigation. “In their original state, most farms did not have uniformly sloped contour,” he said. “It required improvised cross ditches to control and direct water flow.” Flood irrigation required a steady supply of water. Surges in supply caused grief. Dependable drains at the bottom of strips were also important to deal with the tail water that flowed after the land had been irrigated. Bergen had some irrigated land at his farm, and leveled it for optimum water management. While the land was sold, it is still under flood irrigation.

lass. He learned the next day that he had used much of the downstream neighbors’ water allotment, shorting him for the time. While flood irrigation was labour intensive, it required no energy. Lack of ability to regulate the water flow was always a frustration. At the end of the ditch, the water level was always up or down all the time. On his farm, Gregus grew sugar beets, grain, sweet corn, peas and carrots. Paul Thibodeau moved from eastern Canada to marry his sweetheart and begin farming with his father-in-law in 1954. Most of the farm was irrigated by then with hand-move pipe. He remembers the provincial government encouraged land leveling through the 1960s, even offering a free survey service. While the land was irrigated, it was difficult not to waste some of the valuable resource, a problem solved to a large degree by modern irrigation equipment and management.


Paul Gregus, 68, remembers his early days in flood irrigation and his introduction to siphon tubes. One Saturday, “likely with a pretty girl on my mind,” then 18-year-old Gregus decided that if 50 siphon tubes would get the field irrigated, 100 would do the job quicker, and allow him to date the

2013 1962 IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2013 • 23



ecessity can be the mother of invention.

When Bert Oostenbrink planted a farm shelterbelt on his Fort Macleod-area farm, he pondered how to promote optimum growth in a region renown for strong westerly winds and low annual precipitation. In 1984, he happened on to a relatively new advance in specialized irrigation – drip hose. He bought a system for his shelterbelt and noticed quick results. That became his major promotional tool. Why not launch a drip irrigation system business? Oostenbrink headed to the Chilliwack, B.C. region and opened his shop. Marc Jongerdon of Coaldale followed a similar path, opening Precision Drip Systems in Lethbridge, and in 2009, he sold his outfit to Oostenbrink and became a partner in Southern Drip. Stocking and marketing a full range of irrigation equipment outside of the centre pivot sector, Southern Drip has launched its first major expansion in Lethbridge. Jongerdon has already hired one new counter sales person, and when the company’s new building is opened in January at 5th Avenue and 43 Street N, more jobs are expected. Oostenbrink said Chilliwack was an ideal location to start his business because of the intensive special crops production. IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2013 • 24

In Lethbridge, the company continues to add product lines as demanded by industry and customers. The latest is air reels and traveling end guns. Now, a retractable hose up to 2,000 feet long is available for those traveling guns. He said the traveling guns are gaining popularity with pivot owners to cover the corners of fields not irrigated by circular pivots. With increasing land values, producers are looking for ways to irrigate the six to seven acres on each corner of a square quarter section. Another advance is use of drip irrigation hoses in those pivot corners. The plastic pipe is buried deep enough to allow farming operations. That system was successfully tested on an Edmonton football field, and in water-tight regions in the Midwest United States, more farmers are installing drip lines in full fields. He said the key is a good water filter system to keep the drip holes in the hose open. In commercial farm applications, installation of a drip system costs similar to buying a pivot. But producers use about one-third less water and achieve one-third more production. And there are no longer corners to worry about.

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ost farmers say safety is an important and essential core value in their operations. But building safety into everyday work plans for themselves, their families and employees is often a different story. Sometimes it’s tough to know the best way to pass-on the safety ethic. But it can be done in six steps.


The first step is identify work expectations. Write a work procedure for each major job on your farm. In it, describe job responsibilities and duties, giving specific performance objectives, standards or requirements for each including safety expectations. This will include describing the quantity and quality of results with emphasis given to critical behaviours. Be sure that you and the worker each have a copy of the written job description. Use it for training and annual performance evaluations.


Second, set up to succeed. Successful work has two primary ingredients – the right worker using the right tools. Select and place workers based on matching their capabilities and competencies with the job. Ensure they have or get proper task instructions, skill training or coaching as needed and give a full review of related policies, procedures and practices. Empower workers by giving them knowledge, responsibilities and authority to succeed at their job. This also means ensuring they have the proper materials, equipment, resources and environment to do the job effectively and safely.


Third, monitor and measure performance. The best way to monitor and measure performance is through simple observation that concentrates on objective, measurable, job related factors such as attendance, accuracy, quantity and quality of work, safety behaviours and other performance requirements. Evaluate their work and offer both positive comments and areas where improvement is needed. Document your findings as part of your employment business records.


Fourth, provide performance feedback. Provide ongoing feedback to their work in general, pointing out both problems and progress. Use facts, figures and specific incidents to discuss job performance so as to avoid getting personal. Ask questions to ensure two-way communications – as they say ‘learn to listen and listen to learn’. Strive for agreement on how the person is performing and why – and how they can improve. “Plan • Farm • Safety” For more information on this and other farm safety topics visit



Fifth, practise workplace coaching. Always set a good example as to how to do things safely. When a worker’s behaviour needs to be changed to become safer, correct the behaviour through re-instruction, reminders, reviews, refreshers and reinforcement using a mutual problemsolving approach. Base rewards on results and performance improvements by giving immediate recognition for desired (efficient, safe, productive) behaviour. Make a habit of reinforcing positive performance to make positive performance a habit.


And finally, stimulate continual improvement. Get to know your workers and find out what motivates them. Demonstrate your concern for their health and wellbeing, career development, professional growth and life-long learning. This means giving them the knowledge, tools and support to work safely. If something goes wrong, help your workers learn from experience by tracing incidents from consequences back to basic causes. Help them enjoy a safe and productive workplace. For more information contact: Theresa Whalen, CFA Farm Safety Consultant T: (613) 822-0016, E:



sing pivot sprinklers in a livestock grazing operation has showed promise, says a central Alberta advisor, Jim Stone. He worked with producer Robert Spleidt of Cluny to develop a pivot grazing system operated in conjunction with two other quarter sections where he grazed one in fall for a second crop, and the other for swath grazing for winter. It was home for up to 250 cows.

His graphic showed gray circles which are the pivot wheel tracks; and black dots for the permanent one-wire electric fence. Water was supplied to both sides of the quarter, in this case from gravity as the ditch is above the field. There was only one wheel track through the water alleys so by opening only four gates at the water sites allows the pivot to make a full circle. Moveable twine electric fences are used to divide the round pastures to operate as a rotational pasture system. Cattle can graze and then the areas can be irrigated behind them. This reduces compaction. Stone said management is simple. Very high yields can be expected. Fertilizer will be cost-effective with the irrigation compared to dry land were fertilizer is seldom used. This also allows you to hay areas if growth of grass gets ahead of you. He said mixed grass and bloat-free alfalfa were used. The cost of fencing is minimal and it took about one day for the two of us to set up the whole system, said Stone.

Taber Irrigation District


Specialty Crop Country

(Established in 1915) Taber is the centre of specialty crop production and value added processing in Alberta including sugar beets, hay, potatoes, corn and many other vegetable crops.

4420 - 44 Street, Taber, Alberta T1G 2J6 Telephone: (403) 223-2148 • Fax: (403) 223-2924 Email:

TABER IRRIGATION DISTRICT Serving over 82,000 acres and 750 water users in the Taber area




team of Alberta Government and irrigation district staff are putting up a shield to protect Alberta’s irrigation system from an invasion that has swept across the United States and is poised to enter western Canada. The threat is from tiny clam-like creatures called “mussels.” Zebra and Quagga Mussels have cost Canada and the United States more than $5 billion dollars since their arrival and establishment in 1988. They originated from the Baltic or Caspian Sea, being transported as microscopic larvae, called veligers, in ballast water and/or attached as adults to the hulls of ships. The spread of the mussels in North America likewise occurs as people take their boats from infested waters and then launch the boat on an uninfested lake. Now, more than 620 lakes and reservoirs are infested in the United States, the closest ones to Alberta being in Utah. Common recreational lakes like Lake Mead and Lake Powell are significant potential sources of the mussels. “We need to stop mussels from getting into the irrigation system,” says Ron McMullin of Lethbridge, executive director of the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association. “The mussels cause havoc to water control structures as they coat any hard object with layer-upon-layer of shells.” Mussels particularly


flourish in pipelines and other structures where water moves by, constantly bringing a new supply of food to the mussels. As the layers of hard shells form, the effective diameter of the pipe is reduced, making it impossible to supply the water that the pipe was designed for. The irrigation districts have approximately 3,700 kilometres of pipeline supplying water to farms that would be particularly vulnerable if mussels were to invade the irrigation system. Quagga mussels also attach to soft material and can coat beaches and other recreational areas with sharp shells which are a nuisance for recreation. Mussels also alter the ecology of lakes by removing the food needed by fish and other organisms, and by clarifying water which results in more water weeds growing. Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development staff have teamed up with irrigation district staff to monitor reservoirs to see if mussels have already arrived in Alberta, and to spot any new infestation that might occur in the future. Spot treatment can eradicate mussels over a small area, but a large water body is impossible to treat. Andrea Kalischuk of Lethbridge, Water Quality Branch Head of Alberta Agriculture,

says, “We’re hitting the ground quickly and are monitoring about 20 reservoirs/lakes this summer. The water bodies were chosen because they are commonly used by boaters and also supply water to the irrigation districts.” Staff will be monitoring for the juvenile and adult mussels by submerging weighted PVC pipes and visibly inspecting them every month. They will also be on the water with a net checking for veligers, the microscopic larvae. Kalischuk says, “In addition to the monitoring, we’ll be working with the districts to install signs at the boat launches to inform the public about mussels and how to prevent their infestation.” All across the Pacific Northwest, a campaign is mounting to prevent the spread of mussels. The campaign slogan is “Clean, Drain and Dry.” It’s good practice that whenever you take your boat out of a lake or reservoir you ensure that you

clean it, drain all bilge water and any live well, dry the boat to remove all water, and remove any mussels attached to the hull or propeller. This may require a hot pressure wash. Also remove any water weeds from your boat while you are at it.

“Every boater who travels from the United States into Canada with a boat needs to join the effort to keep Zebra and Quagga mussels out of Alberta,” says Chris Gallagher, a worker with the St. Mary River Irrigation District. “Remember to ‘Clean, Drain and Dry’ your boat, and when you enter Alberta give a little of your time to protect our water resources by ensuring your boat is inspected by the qualified staff at the boat inspection stations.” A few simple actions by each boater will keep Alberta free of invasive mussels and protect Alberta’s irrigation system.

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southern Ontario native whose agriculture exposure came from the giant dairy industry in the Brantford area is the new manager of the Taber Irrigation District.

Chris Gallagher, son of a United Church minister, graduated from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, is a biological engineering graduate. Work was hard to find after graduation, so Gallagher moved his family west. He worked for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind for five years, including two years in the Lethbridge office. His wife Diane is a learning assistant at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale. “My wife convinced me to return to technology and my engineering roots,” said Gallagher. He studied two years with the Lethbridge Community College’s watershed management program. He was hired right after graduation by UMA Engineering, now called AECOM, in Lethbridge. He worked on the water resources department with a focus on irrigation design. Much of his early work was with the St. Mary River Irrigation District, Eastern Irrigation District and Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District. He joined the engineering staff at SMRID in 2007, and took over the manager’s job with TID in late summer. His goal: do the best job possible and fit in well with the producer board of directors and district staff. “I intend to stay for the long term.”


Since its introduction, the Rubin has proven to be the No. 1 for Compact Discs Harrows. The combination of full surface cultivation even at shallow depth, excellent mixing quality and high durability has convinced farmers around the world. That is the quality of LEMKEN. Or, as we call it : The No. 1 in blue. Contact your LEMKEN dealer to arrange a demonstration.

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