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Volume Sixteen • Number One Spring 2012 • Price $3.50 IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 1

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Table of Contents Table of Contents........................................................................ 3 Editors Column........................................................................... 4


Letter to the Editor...................................................................... 6 The Value of Conservation.......................................................... 8

is a proprietary publication of

From the Field, to Your Table................................................... 10 Feeding Our Rivers................................................................... 11 In Your Community - Gen Manufacturing................................ 12 Learning To Share..................................................................... 13 Your Crop, Your Choice............................................................ 13 Effectiveness of Nitrogen in Soil......................................... 14,15 The Necessity of Water............................................................. 18 Ask the Pros.............................................................................. 20 FEATURE Optimal Seeding Time........................................................ 22, 23 Water License Ammendments.................................................. 24 Irrigation Financials.................................................................. 25 Keeping Up With The Jones’.................................................... 25 Exhibition Park Aggie Days (May 8 & 9, 2012)...................... 27 Water Usage Beyond Agriculture............................................. 28

Head Office 1320 - 36th Street North Lethbridge, AB T1H 5H8 Toll Free: 1-877-328-0048 Phone: 403-328-5114 Email: Reproduction or use of editorial content in any manner without written permission is strictly prohibited. Thank you for supporting our advertisers. Without them, this publication would not be possible. Irrigating Alberta is proudly produced in Southern Alberta and distributed inside the Farmer/Stockman AD-Viser.

The Future of Southern Alberta’s Water................................... 29

Publisher Jeff Sarich

Van Rijn Electric....................................................................... 29

Editor / Production Sarah Lyon

Importance of Farm Safety....................................................... 30

Contributing Editor Ric Swihart Advertising Consultants Al Such, Mel McDonald Advertising Co-ordinator Sarah Still Title



Alberta Featuring:

Optimal Seeding Times Aggie Days

Cover Photo Credits: Pivot picture courtesy of AIPA. Wakeboarding picture courtesy of Sarah Lyon & Matt Laurie

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Volume Sixteen • Number One Spring 2012 • Price $3.50 IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 1

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 3

Editor’s Column w

isten to pundits, L market specialists and opponents of the wheat

board and you might be getting the real facts correct about 20 per cent of the time. But change is coming, and one has to wonder if the shark-like federal Tories are calling the shots based on a drive to turn Canada into the 51st state or if they are listening to the pundits Ric Swihart at all. Regardless, it boils down to the former reform Contributing Editor party wheat board policy, so perhaps there is a true Alberta face on the debate. Changes to western farming practices have occurred many times over time. Many will remember the move from low grain prices to phenomenally high prices, which brought along high fertilizer prices. Both prices have moved back. Large investment funds owning most of the grain futures contracts in the U.S. should be a worry. Is that magnet for the free market price discovery really so true? NISA is gone; Agri Stability is the latest farm safety net. The federal government is convinced government farm programs are the saviors for farm incomes. So be it, but Ottawa must be prepared to implement a Farm Bill like the one in the U.S., which pays farmers royally. So much for the safety net concept. So what is new? A 10,000-acre farm is common, and it isn’t run by Hutterites. Farm advisors are more common, and some producers are paying $40,000 for advice to run their farms. Ethanol uses one-third of U.S. corn crops, but enough will be left over if the western barley price gets too high for the cattle industry. CN Rail bought into the giant American rail industry and now western rail sidings and low-use lines are abandoned, along with a worry producer cars may be a thing of the past, costing producers $1,200 saved when a producer car is used. The U.S. has beat Canada to the draw on many bilateral agreements. When the American multinationals take control, how will they justify a strong Canadian grain industry if the American industry slides? Remember when American farmers surrounded their northern Montana grain elevators to stop individual Canadian farmer sales? The boiling global economy may play a major role in the fate of Prairie grain farmers. Look at the American deficit. Read that in the trillions and a major war in Washington on how to fix it. And ponder the severe crisis in Europe. There will be a future in Prairie agriculture, but nobody has a clear crystal ball, especially the federal government and three of the western provincial governments. One can likely expect to see wild swings in farm incomes. Investment companies will be in and out of the grain industry like 4 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

the pants of some ladies of the night are up and down on a Saturday night. Farms will get bigger, and labor will be a bigger problem. Industry will likely see mergers, and expansions through acquisitions will increase. Smaller players will be squeezed. Companies that supply all or some of inputs, like seed and fertilizer, will take product back on delivery. Private ownership of varieties will facilitate that system. Transportation will continue to be a sore spot. Railways will out lobby farmers and transportation costs will increase. With the financial crisis around the world, grain prices will have to fall. Farmers will feel most of any decreased price. The bottom line is the world’s grain trader giants will never be able to spend the money they will make on the backs of prairie farmers. The other option rests in at-risk federal legislation. The federal government is required to hold a western Canada-wide vote to allow farmers to decide the fate of the Canadian Wheat Board. The federal government has opted to change that law in its mushroom policy for farmers — you know, keep them in the dark and feed them a lot of manure. If and when that massive show of wheat board support comes through, don’t stop. Farmers must take ownership of the wheat board and remove government at the top at least. Take that Ritz and if you can’t convince Harper, perhaps it is time you stepped aside to allow a real man to take control.

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Letter to the Editor Irrigating Alberta is a magazine for you, the producer. Have something to say? We want to hear from you! Write us a letter, and it may be included in the next Irrigating Alberta magazine! Never written a Letter to the Editor before? No problem! We are here to help! Here are some basic guidelines to help you with your letter writing! A letter to the editor can be an effective way for individuals and/or organizations to deliver important information to the public. The “letters” section in newspapers, and radio and television stations that have a listener/viewer feed-back system, exist to provide a forum for public comment or debate. The “letters” section is widely read. Whether you are writing a letter to respond to “bad press” or to reinforce “good press”, there are a number of important points to keep in mind. THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE PUTTING PEN TO PAPER The Purpose of a Letter to the Editor • to correct or clarify information or perceptions; • to provide additional information; • to express an opinion or point of view; • to introduce or reinforce a message. Should You Write a Letter? A letter to the editor is generally written in response to a specific news story, editorial or letter. Publications also allow for general letters of comment on timely issues or events not reported by the publication. It is always appropriate to compliment the media when they provide balanced and accurate coverage of an issue. A letter to the editor is only one of several ways to respond to or address media reports and issues we know and care about. Other options include contacting the journalist directly, submitting a professionally written opinion piece/editorial, or, in the case of an ongoing concern, requesting a meeting with the editor or editorial board. • If you read, see or hear something that is inaccurate or misleading, don’t over-react. Try to be as objective as possible. • If an error or omission is not significant, let it go. Don’t be a nit-picker. There will always be another opportunity. • Sometimes what seems negative or unbalanced to those close to a subject, is not seen that way by others. Get a second opinion. Ask someone who is not directly involved to comment. If the report seriously misinforms them or leaves false impressions, then you have good ground to respond. • If it is just a case of you not liking the story, but it is factually based and includes various points of view, it is best to leave it alone.

6 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

• If the story has an unfair, derisive, negative tone, write a letter to the editor that cooly lays out your response. • Don’t just write critical letters. Letters should also be used to reinforce positive accurate stories. Journalists, like anyone else, appreciate receiving credit when they’ve done a good job. And a supportive letter can help balance any criticisms they may receive. Letters should also be used to reinforce or clarify a particular message or point of view. Don’t underestimate the effect of this type of feed-back. Not only are letters to the editor widely read, but they can have an effect on the editorial stance a publication or program adopts (after all, readers/audiences are their customers). How to Begin Begin by collecting your thoughts on paper. What are the main points you want to make? Keep them to three or less. List them by priority and use this as an “outline”. Remember you do not have to answer every error in the story or letter, only the most significant ones. Decide on the “approach” of your letter. What is the best way to make your point? Always approach your subject with an intelligent argument. Do not just voice your sentiments. Avoid whining or complaining. Your letter should stand on its own. Your readers may not have seen the original report. Once the letter is written, read it over. Keep the tone objective and professional. Don’t be offensive or make personal attacks. Focus on the information not the person. Letters containing derogatory or libelous statements will be edited or rejected entirely. Format Submit type-written letters. Address the letter to the publication to the attention of the Editor. Refer to the item you are responding to: title and date, in the opening sentence if possible. State your position clearly and concisely in the first or second sentence. The letter must include the author’s name and signature, address and telephone number. Most newspapers are required to verify letters they are considering publishing with the author. Whether it is to express an opinion, to set the record straight, or to reinforce accurate information, writing a letter to the editor is one simple, direct and effective way to communicate with the public. Guidelines taken from the Ontario Farm Animal Council “How to Write a Letter to the Editor”

How to Submit Your Letter Email: Fax: Attn: Editor, 403-328-5443 Mail: Attn: Editor, 1320 - 36 Street North, Lethbridge, Aberta T1H 5H8 In Person: to 1320 - 36 Street North, Lethbridge, Alberta

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 7

The Value of Conservation


arry McFarland is a third-generation farmer in Alberta, and all he knew about water was conservation — when you haul every drop of water to your farm, you treat it like gold. Water conservation became a major family teaching and discussion topic for McFarland and his wife Mary who rented land in the Carmangay area and then proceeded to purchase a farm in 1972. His father and grandfather before him launched farming careers the same way. Water is changing in his part of the world. At one time, most communities had their own water license. Then regional water programs became popular with centralized water collection and treatment plants sending water to urban and rural residents through a pipeline system. Mary and Barry learned quickly when they took over an old farmstead on their land east of Carmangay. They started hauling water to a cistern that was about 80 years old. There was no water for plants and flowers, and Mother Nature was counted on to keep the grass as green as possible. McFarland had worked on concepts for water service long before he entered provincial politics. When a pipeline was proposed east from Carmangay for 1990, the McFarlands pined for a chance to sign up. It is the Plainview Water Co-op, established for water users and run by them. It was near the end of a 10-year drought, money was scarce, and the pipeline hookup would cost $7,500 per unit to provide a constant flow of two gallons a minute while the cistern had capacity. Finally, the ability to turn on a tap and watch fresh water flowing without keeping the water hauling truck running. Surprisingly, the McFarlands didn’t change their water management. “We had been so careful with water for so long, we just kept on conserving. There is a setting on our washing machine called load minimizer, and I don’t think it has even been off that setting designed to save water,” said McFarland. “We just had to remember I had to take the truck and tank to town for water once every three weeks, regardless of the weather.” McFarland, who has worked on the Alberta Water Act at times, knows the value of water like few MLAs. While he has no irrigated land, many in his riding are major irrigators, the industry which consumes the bulk of Alberta’s fresh water. Irrigators know the value of water for crop diversification and increased production. They appreciate it because 8 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

they know their crops will not go short almost regardless of what Mother Nature does. Since the late ‘60s, the Alberta government has been helping irrigation districts rehabilitate water distribution systems and canals. At one point, the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program called for 86 per cent funding from the province because that much of the spending flowed back to benefit the province. Farmers through their annual water rates paid 14 per cent of approved rehab work. When the province decided to reduce its cost-shared formula to 75 per cent, there wasn’t a whimper from farmers — they knew they still had strong support from government and could continue to improve the irrigation system. McFarland said government spending for so long continues to pay dividends. Irrigators and their districts have become so water efficient, many are adding acres to their districts to get closer to their licensed allotment. Those water use efficiency gains show promise to continue. And in at least one case — the massive pipeline carrying water from Milk River Ridge Reservoir to past Manyberries — the irrigation industry has been the guiding light. In the case of that pipeline, one of the smaller irrigation districts on the western fringe of Irrigation Land gave up enough water license to assure that volume of water to thousands to the east. In fact, had commonsense prevailed, even more landowners would have benefitted from an assured supply of water in the southeast corner of Alberta where some claim a quarter inch of rain was recorded when Noah was getting ready to float the Arc. It turns out many landowners who paid the fee to join the pipeline were south of the dividing line, living in a portion of Alberta’s watershed that drained to the United States. There are many who know the value of water because they have lived in water-short times. Perhaps many of the rest of us in Alberta can learn a lesson from those folks.



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IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 9

From the Field, to Your Table


hat is the best way to develop a robust local food system in the province? That is what a team at Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development has been assessing. The team has identified a few barriers, and reviewed successful systems to see what might apply. “Along the way we’ve learned from Alberta producers and from a literature search what has been working well in Canada and in the United States,” says Bill Reynolds, at ARD. Reynolds is leading the work on a supportive local food policy at ARD. This project’s outcomes will assist in providing direction to the Explore Local initiative, which was set up to help the local food industry connect and to shorten the distance from farm to plate. “The steady interest in ‘local’ foods is good news for businesses that are positioned to take advantage of it, and it’s good for the Alberta agricultural economy, which benefits from serving a broad customer base in international, domestic and local markets. Having the capacity to grow in all of these markets is important for the longterm sustainability of Alberta’s agriculture industry.”

Reynolds says the next step is to consult with industry. As such, his group will be holding a series of regional Local Food Policy Engagement sessions in January. “There are certain issues and successful approaches that seem to come up as we study other jurisdictions and we’ll be asking people if these ring true here. Workshops, web surveys, and talking to people individually will be part of the mix in our consultations.” The kind of suggestions that come in - such as the need for the development of local food networks, food hubs, farm incubators or regionally accessible processing and distribution infrastructure - remains to be seen. “What strategies and systems are needed to make it easier to produce and market local product, and who could be involved in setting the groundwork – these are the types of things we want to hear from people,” adds Reynolds. “We want to tap into the diverse expertise of farmers, processors, distributors and retailers to help us understand what would support a sustainable local food system.” This project is supported by Growing Forward, a federalterritorial-provincial initiative.

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10 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

Feeding Our Rivers


rrigation districts, Alberta Environment and Water, and the University of Lethbridge are collaborating to enhance riparian areas along rivers in the Oldman River basin. Riparian areas are the green strips along rivers, area where the vegetation depends on water in the river and in the groundwater adjacent to the river. This riparian strip works like a giant water filter that removes soil particles, nutrients, and toxins from runoff water and river flows. Over 80 per cent of all animal and plant species in southern Alberta live in the riparian area. Stewart Rood told delegates about a project to establish new cottonwoods along the river valleys in the Oldman River basin. Cottonwoods are examples of riparian vegetation, and are indicator species – when the cottonwoods are regenerating and growing, that indicates the riparian area is healthy. Rood has found that to recruit new cottonwoods, water levels in rivers need to be at a level that will provide new `ground` for seedlings to establish above usual water flows and that the rate of recession of the river must not exceed a drop in water levels more than four centimetres per day. Seedlings need two years of high water levels to grow and a third year with sufficient water levels to keep young roots in moist soil so they can grow deep enough to

tap the stable water source found in the banks along a river. The timing of high flows must also correspond to release of cottonwood seeds from mature trees. Logically, the best time for recruitment of new cottonwoods is in wet springs. The past two springs have been ideal for concerted efforts to establish cottonwoods along southern Alberta rivers. Using Rood`s information and guidance, Alberta Environment staff has released water from reservoirs on the Oldman, Waterton and St. Mary Rivers at the right time and in the right quantity to meet these specifications. The result has been the development of millions upon millions of young poplar seedlings in river valleys, particularly along the Oldman and Waterton Rivers. Seed-bearing branches have been cut and moved to the lower St. Mary River to provide a seed source, with some success in starting new seedlings along that river. It is hoped that the seedlings along the three rivers will become well established, and provide superior riparian areas that will function well as water filters for society and aquatic ecosystems, while providing habitat for many animal species along the river.

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IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 11

In Your Community - Gen Manufacturing


alking into the spacious showroom at Gen Manufacturing in Coaldale, one is greeted with clusters of seed drill openers and other pieces of specialty soil tools, kind of a museum of the art launched by Henry Bergen. The real positive is Bergen’s decision early in his design and manufacturing career to welcome his son David as an integral part of the operation. The large windows facing north and east provide a view of the pinnacle of the market for Gen` products — agriculture and small towns that are the lifeline of most farmers across the Prairies and the Pacific Northwest United States. The concept of improving soil penetration for better seed placement while reducing soil disturbance to better protect the land from erosion hit Henry Bergen while he was working at the Lethbridge Research Centre. Helping to get rid of the prevailing dust storms has been one of his greatest pleasures. With too many official duties, time was limited for his development of the openers. Soon, he resigned from the centre to create Gen Manufacturing.

held back from adversely affecting the atmosphere, it contributes to soil health which can enhance crop production. Henry said acknowledging the benefits of soil-stored carbon should give the rural community a feeling of making a valuable contribution to saving the planet, lifting their social status. “This new, improved status in society could help attract the young generation back to the land and become the new generation of food producers.” He believes attitude is vital in any sector. For too long, despite the vital role of feeding the world, farmers at times felt like secondclass citizens. “This must change to create a more balanced society,” he said. “It is important for the farm children to think positively about their parents and themselves in order to continue their way of life.”

Son David worked in the family business while still in high school, and after graduation from the faculty of management at the University of Lethbridge, became an integral part of the company. Accuracy of seed and fertilizer placement was deemed vital, and rather than build the parts for the various manufacturers’ machines, they opted to make a mold and have the units poured by Lethbridge Iron Works. At times, with very large orders, Gen consumes the capacity of Lethbridge Iron, leaving the Coaldale team to focus on marketing and design to meet new needs in agriculture. That dedication to industry has earned Henry an Order of Canada followed by an honorary doctorate degree from the U of L, and last year, the Alberta Order of Excellence. The Bergens appreciate the soil conservation movement, and the role they have played in helping farmers better adopt the practice. “The agronomic and financial benefits of zero till farm practices have been realized for some time,” said Henry. “It is of major importance that the social benefits of this change in soil management is realized.” That eventually boils down to the carbon debate. Carbon dioxide in the air is captured by plants during photosynthesis and is stored in the soil. Not only is it 12 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

Henry Bergen, left, and his partner / son David in the Gen Manufacturing showroom in Coaldale with some of the latest soil openers developed and manufactured for farmers.

Learning to Share


ater knows no boundaries, but when people realize they must share a valuable resource, it becomes a transboundary resource, says a water expert. Robert Harrison, head of Transboundary Secretariat for Alberta Environment in Edmonton, said Alberta has three major river basins and have neighbors, and “we have to get along with our neighbors.” Speaking to the 2010 Water, Agriculture and the Environment Conference, Harrison said any water management decision in Alberta could affect Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, Northwest Territories or Montana. Alberta has no detailed transboundary agreement for the northern rivers. The Northwest Territories is concerned about water supply and quality coming from Alberta. Negotiation started in 2011 to build an agreement. Harrison said a transboundary agreement is based on many issues, especially water quantity earmarked for each jurisdiction. The large siphons that divert St. Mary River water heading for the Hudson Bay into the Milk River on its way to the Gulf of Mexico is one scene that has been hotly debated in recent years. Lake Winnipeg is another example, the world’s 10th largest lake is being affected by water flowing across the prairie provinces. Algae has become a major problem, caused mostly of nutrient load which promotes algae growth. Agreements all include monitoring water consumption to ensure all know how the water is being used along its flow path. One part of the eastern transboundary agreement is instant notification to Saskatchewan if there is a pollution problem in Alberta, he said. Officials have worked at times to assure downstream water users that Alberta did not contribute to a certain water quality issue. Harrison said it is vital that every jurisdiction within a transboundary agreement have the same level of knowledge. Dispute resolution is also a major component of the agreement. The Canadian way is to sit around the table to try to settle all issues. “We have never had a disagreement that ended up in a dispute settlement action,” he said. Alberta has three existing transboundary agreements. The Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Water Master Agreement, Master Agreement on Apportionment and the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty are still on the books. In southern Alberta, Alberta and Montana are the

local managers of the 1909 agreement with both federal governments on the horizon. That agreement focuses on water quantities to be shared by Alberta and Montana. Harrison said ground water supplies are getting looked at under the apportionment agreement for the first time. It can be simple. If a well is to be drilled within Alberta, the well owner must communicate with all neighbors. If that neighbor is in Saskatchewan, then people in both provinces that could be affected must be contacted. It gets more complex if an aquifer has high demand. Resiliency to climate change is a new topic for water use. If the water flow in Alberta’s South Saskatchewan River Basin drops significantly, Alberta will still have to pass 50 per cent through to Saskatchewan. Discussions on Alberta retaining more in low water supply years raises concerns in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Harrison, with the new work unit, Transboundary Secretariat, said his responsibilities have been expanded. Air quality is the new horizon with the potential need for transboundary agreements similar to those used for water.

Your Crop, Your Choice With the passage of the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, the Government has given Western Canadian grain producers the same freedom to market their crops as their counterparts across the country. This change to a voluntary Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) will bring new opportunities for producers, and innovation and value-added jobs to the Canadian economy. Marketing freedom is about choice -- the same kind of choice producers have had to sell canola, oats, and pulse crops. This is about prosperity and new potential for Canada’s growing agricultural sector well into the future. With the new law now in place, the Government will work with the CWB, farmers, our provincial partners and the entire supply chain, to provide information and support for the transition to an open, competitive wheat, durum and barley market in Western Canada. Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada - December 16, 2011

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 13

Effectiveness of Nitrogen in Soil


armers frequently ask about the relative effectiveness of fall versus spring nitrogen fertilizer applications, and they come from both irrigators and dryland producers. “Fall fertilization can range from very effective to disastrous depending on soil moisture conditions, the form of nitrogen fertilizer used, and how it is applied,” says Ross McKenzie, Agronomy Research Scientist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD), Lethbridge. Various soil processes and environmental conditions will affect the fate of fertilizer nitrogen in soil. Fertilizer nitrogen is applied to soil in the form of urea 46-00, anhydrous ammonia 82-0-0, or liquid fertilizer 280-0 which contains urea, ammonium, and nitrate. Urea and anhydrous ammonia quickly convert to ammonium, which won’t leach and normally won’t volatilize. It is the ammonium and nitrate forms that are taken up by plants, but generally most nitrogen is taken up in the nitrate form. If the soil is warm, moist and well aerated, ammonium is rapidly oxidized to nitrate through the nitrification process, which is a soil biological process performed by highly specialized soil bacteria. Banding nitrogen fertilizer slows the nitrification process by creating an environment near the band that inhibits the activity of the bacteria converting ammonium to nitrate. Therefore, if urea or anhydrous ammonia is banded in late fall, most of the nitrogen is retained in the ammonium form over winter until the soil warms up in the spring. If the fertilizer is broadcast or banded in early fall, likely most of the ammonium will be converted to nitrate prior to freezeup. Large nitrogen losses caused by anaerobic bacteria through denitrification can occur when soils are water saturated during the spring. Denitrification converts nitrate to gaseous nitrogen forms such as nitrous oxide. Once this process occurs the nitrogen fertilizer is lost from the soil. “Research has also shown that denitrification will occur in virtually all of our agricultural soils,” says McKenzie. This is not surprising since denitrification is not a particularly specialized function. Many different types of soil bacteria use denitrification as an alternative form of respiration when oxygen is in short supply. “In terms of fertilizer management, this means that no soil type or region of the province is completely safe when it comes to losses of fall-applied nitrogen. In most years, nitrogen losses through denitrification 14 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

in the southern Alberta are relatively small and fall banded nitrogen is usually 90 to 100 per cent equally effective to spring banded nitrogen.” 
In cases where spring banding causes a significant loss of seedbed moisture, fall banding can be superior to spring banding. Typically, denitrification can be significant on irrigated soils after extended saturating rain conditions in spring and summer. “Denitrifying bacteria are less than two millionths of a meter in size and respond to environmental conditions in the micro-pores of soil,” notes McKenzie. “This means that the microclimate in soil is important.” In fields with localized wet, depressional areas, denitrification can occur. Over winter nitrogen losses can vary greatly over a short distance in fields with rolling topography. Fall-applied nitrogen can be very effective on upland areas of a field and totally ineffective in depressional areas just a short distance away. It is important to remember fall-application always puts your fertilizer nitrogen at risk. The level of risk is generally assessed at the regional level, but whether or not losses occur is a function of very localized moisture and temperature conditions. General rules about nitrogen application methods and timing include: - Generally spring banded is the most effective method of application and fall broadcast the least effective. - Fall banded nitrogen can be as effective as spring banded if there is no extended period of saturation in the spring. - Fall banded nitrogen may be more effective than spring banded when lack of seedbed moisture is a concern and the spring banding operation dries the soil and reduces the quality of the seedbed for spring seeding. With all this information in mind here are a few tips to consider before fertilizing in the fall: - If your soils tend to be saturated with water for extended periods in the spring, then fall application is probably not a good option. However, if saturated soil conditions are normally not a problem, then you should get good results from fall banding. - Soil test to determine the optimum rates of fertilizer required. Producers should sample zero to six, six to 12, and 12 to 24 inches to determine the cumulative nitrogen to two feet. Based on soil analysis, then you can decide the ideal rates of nitrogen fertilizer to apply.

- Select a fertilizer formulation that is right for your conditions. Generally, under low risk conditions such as those in southern Alberta, anhydrous ammonia (82-0-0) or urea (46-0-0) perform equally well when fall banded. However, soils in southern Alberta tend to be alkaline and losses through ammonia volatilization can occur if the bands are too shallow or the soil is dry and cloddy. - Avoid the use of nitrate containing products such as 28-0-0 on soils that tend to be saturated in the spring. Nitrates are subject to both denitrification and leaching losses under wet spring conditions, so it is best to apply nitrogen as late in the fall as possible to reduce the potential of the nitrogen fertilizer converting to nitrate in the fall. - Apply nitrogen in late fall after the soil temperature has dropped below seven degrees Celsius and the nitrification process has slowed down. - Band, don’t broadcast. Banding restricts the contact between soil and fertilizer and as a result over-winter losses are lower.

Farmers should consider consulting with a soil fertility specialist when setting up a fall fertilizer program. Other management factors farmers should weigh when considering whether to fall fertilize include: - Fall fertilization can improve your time management. By applying fall-fertilizer, a field operation can be eliminated in the spring and allow earlier planting. - Fertilizer prices and payment schedules tend to be more favorable in the fall, making it economical to fall apply. - Availability of product and application equipment is often better in the fall than during the peak demand periods in spring. - Soils tend to be drier in the fall, so nitrogen application equipment is less likely to cause soil compaction. “These are the major points farmers should keep in mind when making a decision on whether to fertilize in the fall,” says McKenzie. “It is always a good idea to get several opinions and to weigh all the factors before you make your final fertilizer timing decision.”

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 15

16 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 17

The Necessity of Water


ural Alberta may turn a tap for cool, clear drinking water, but it usually comes from a rural source.

Melissa Orr of Edmonton, a farm water supply water engineer with Alberta Agriculture, said there are different sources of water in different rural areas. That poses a challenge with such a vast difference across the province, she told 200 at the 2011 Water, Agriculture and the Environment Conference. Dugouts are common, and can range from a few thousand gallons to millions of gallons. There are also many shallow wells to wells in the very deep Milk River acquifer, and that creates the need for a range of management options. Cisterns, often filled by rural pipeline co-operatives, are becoming more important with the expansion of rural residences. Spring developments were prime water sources in the early days, often a criteria for farm development. Today, many producers are developing springs to boost water supply potential. Orr’s department is encouraging landowners to build water systems with capacity for two to five years. In years of drought, runoff needed to replenish dugouts may fall short, leaving producers to search for water. Livestock access can be a problem without the best possible dugout water quality. The department provides extension and awareness to show better management practices to manage the dugouts. There is dugout variability across the province. While it may take runoff from up to 50 acres to fill a dugout in the Peace River district, runoff from 2,000 acres may be needed to fill the same dugout in the Brooks area. Water wells remain the most common rural household supply source. Alberta has more than 600,000 registered across Alberta. Flowing wells can be found across province. But now, all flowing wells must have restricted flow capacity. “Imagine the waste of precious ground water supplies” when those wells flowed all the time. Orr said gas has been found in well water as long as producers have had wells. Methane is the biggest culprit, most often found in coal seams where water often is found. Abandoned wells are also a challenge, every old farmstead at least one abandoned well. If not plugged, old wells could cause cross contamination with working wells. The biggest challenge for adequate rural water supplies is to plan ahead. Properly-sized systems and projects with long-term management plans are vital. People should assess needs and determine surpluses or deficits. Watershed planning authorities also play a role. 18 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012


eeding the world will always be a major challenge, and Alberta farmers have been challenged to rise to the need through improved farming practices and technologies and optimum use of the province’s plentiful water supply. Chandra Madramootoo, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Science at McGill University, said increased production of quality food would happen as he painted a picture for 180 at the 2011 Water, Agriculture and the Environment Conference at the Lethbridge Lodge Hotel. Canada is blessed with rich resources, bright people, great universities with “the horsepower and brains” to get the job done.’ That network of resources has gained Canada credibility around the world. Alberta has been a leader in agriculture, “Because you know how to use the potential you have.” Lethbridge environmentalist Cheryl Bradley asked Madramootoo how Alberta’s vast water resource could be used to meet the nutritional needs of the world. He agreed with her that trade-offs between water uses would be needed in striving to ensure that water is used most efficiently to meet the needs of the world’s people. But there is no universal formula throughout the world to make sure available water supplies are used most efficiently to feed the masses. “We will never come up with a universal solution,” he said. Session chairman Jennifer Nitschelm, manager for the basin water management section for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, pondered Madramootoo’s look at the growing scarcity of water around the world, and his suggestion of economic water shortages already in place. Madramootoo pointed to the water merchants in major India cities who drive tanker trucks. Those with enough money can get a container of water or have the trucker pump water into a home cistern. “As the truck drives by, a certain wealth (allows people) to buy water,” he said. And yet, people in the slums, side by side the other areas, wish they could get a bucket of water. “That simply comes down to the purchasing power of poor people.”

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 19

Ask The Pros

What Should Farmers do to Prepare Irrigation Equipment in Spring?


very spring our phones ring off the hook with farmers and their farm hands calling in about issues with their pivots, pumps, and other irrigation equipment. Although we are more than happy to help out any and all of our customers regarding their issues, there are a few helpful tips we can give to help alleviate these problems. We hope we can help in decreasing panic situations when attempting to move pivots out of the way for field work or to start your systems up for irrigating. If you follow some of these tips you will greatly increase the lifespan of your equipment and also decrease the amount of down time experienced after your system has been sitting idle over the winter months. Without a doubt our No. 1 reason for service calls in the spring time is due to blown fuses. These blown fuses can occur somewhere in the supply power of your irrigation equipment or even within the equipment itself. Due to extreme weather conditions over winter, storms, and power spikes; fuses can often blow resulting in a loss of or decrease in power to your equipment. I recommend, after disconnecting power at the very source (often found at the edge of your field, immediately following your transformer provided by the power supply company) to check the size of fuses in your disconnects, pivots panels, and possibly tower boxes. While you are there at your transformer pole it is a good habit to check the fuses at the top of the pole to see if any are hanging down. After taking note of the different sizes of fuses, be sure to carry a good stock of all sizes. Most panels will be equipped with a volt meter which I encourage you to check as soon as you notice your equipment not working properly. While doing this keep in mind most meters only measure two out of the three phases on the 480 volt power, which is required by your pumps and pivots. If you are comfortable and knowledgeable in the operation of a multi-meter, you should remove the fuses, test, and replace any that are faulty. If you are not comfortable with the use of a multi-meter you can simply replace all three main fuses, or replace one at a time in a sort of trial and error method until you see the meter on your equipment’s voltmeter read 480 volts. Always be sure to disconnect all 20 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

power sources to your equipment before conducting any work. Another common problem in the spring is flat tires on pivots. Flat tires can cause extreme wear to the drive train including gear boxes, center drives, and drive shafts. This is because most of the time the flat tire will not even be noticed until stuck or the tire has rolled off the rim completely. This simple, yet annoying issue, can be largely prevented by checking air pressures in the fall time after completing the irrigating season as well as in the spring before first use. Lastly, another common issue we hear about in the spring is, “My end gun will not turn on.” This can be the result of a couple different issues but the majority of the time it is due to a faulty solenoid. This solenoid, which controls the on/off operation of your end gun, is mounted in a few different places depending on the brand of your pivot. It can be mounted on the end gun, near the end gun, under a tower box at the last tower, or somewhere on the overhang. Again, if you are comfortable with using a multi-meter you can check the continuity of this solenoid which should read approximately 180 ohms. This value will remain the same for almost any brand of pivot that has a solenoid operated end gun. If you are not comfortable with using a multi-meter, this solenoid can be easily replaced with another one you may have in stock. If the ohm value seems to be a good reading but the end gun will still not turn on, there could be an issue with plugging or seizing inside the solenoid which can also prevent the end gun from turning off. Seizing can be caused by freezing water inside the solenoid, this can be prevented by draining hoses and components properly before the winter months. We recommend stocking a number of solenoids depending on the number of pivots you operate. Spring time can be a hectic time of year for farmers. By following some of these helpful tips we hope to decrease some of the stresses that are brought on by the season. Written by Colin Friesen, Service Manager, New Way Irrigation

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 21

Optimal Seeding Time


ccording to Alberta Agriculture’s soil fertility specialist Ross McKenzie, seeding dates are vital for irrigation farmers striving for optimum crop production. The timeliness of seeding is one of the most important agronomic practices for achieving high yields of cereal and oilseed crops under irrigation. As well, increased seeding rates can be useful for ensuring higher yields under irrigated conditions. From 2006 to 2009, two sites in southern Alberta were at the centre of a study to determine the optimum seeding date and rates for achieving high yields and quality of 11 cereal and oilseed crops. These crops were either typical for irrigated production in southern Alberta or had the potential for increased adoption due to high productivity or value. See the crops and cultivars used in the four-year study in Table 1. Weather conditions during the four years of this study were generally within the normal range for southern Alberta. The years 2006 and 2007 were warmer than average, with more days above 30 °C during June and July than average. In 2008 and 2009, temperatures were cooler than average. The growing season precipitation ranged from 54 to 138 per cent of the long-term average.

Crop name CWRS wheat Durum SWS wheat CPS wheat Feed barley Feed triticale Malt barley Barley silage Triticale silage Canola Flax



 0$    2(  %%$)-'!2%1

Seeding dates show different stages of development

Overall, seeding date did not strongly affect plant establishment. Plant establishment (plants/ m2) tended to decline slightly as lodging was not consistently affected by seeding date. Durum, SWS wheat, CPS wheat, triticale and flax had little or no lodging at any seeding date. Lodging of CWRS wheat was severe at the second and third seeding dates in 2006 and was greater at the third and fourth seeding dates at Bow Island in 2009, but was otherwise minimal.

Table 1. Crop types and cultivars used in the study Class or use Cultivar CWRS (Canada Western Red 5602 HR Spring) CWAD (Canada Western Morse Amber Durum) CWSWS (Canada Western AC Andrew Soft White Spring) CPSR (Canada Prairie Spring 5700 PR or 5701 PR Red) Feed grain Ponoka or Vivar Feed grain AC Ultima or Bunker Malting (2-row) CDC Copeland Silage Vivar Silage AC Ultima or Bunker Oilseed (hybrid cultivar) 5020 or RR 71 - 45 Oilseed McDuff or Flanders

22 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012


Lodging of barley occurred in most trials, but was generally unaffected by seeding date in 2006 and 2008, decreased with later seeding in 2007, and increased with later seeding in 2009. Lodging of canola only occurred at Lethbridge in 2006 and 2009, and increased with later seeding, particularly in 2009. Overall, lodging tended to be a greater problem at later versus early seeding dates. Seeding date significantly affected the yield of all crops. Crop yields generally were not significantly different between the first two seeding dates in April, but they were lower at the third and fourth seeding date for most crops. Analysis showed that crop yields declined by 0.6 per cent to 1.7 per cent per day after April 30 for the 11 crops.

!6 %%$)-'!2%/0)+  (.2.!*%-3-%  Yeilds declined 0.6 - 1.7% per day for crops seeded after April 30th.

Large seeding site with irrigation.

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 23

Water License Ammendments


mproved water management in the face of tight water supplies is the goal of Alberta Environment’s water diversion license amendments for farmers who pump from rivers and streams. Letters including the amendments were mailed to producers in August outlining the changes to Water Act licenses. The amendments were effective Oct. 31, 2011. Kathleen Murphy, a senior water spokesperson in Lethbridge, said all license holders notified are required to measure the total volume of water diverted on a monthly basis, monitor the rate of diversion on a daily basis, and measure the total area irrigated. Under the former licenses, irrigators were required to submit water diversion data when requested. All data collected must be recorded and then retained a minimum of five years, noting the place, date and time of all measuring work. Water reporting has been part of the license, but stricter guidelines were needed to upgrade the data in the department’s quest to optimize water management for the benefit of all. The new reporting system is a legal requirement under the Water Act. To aid irrigators, the department has implemented its Water Use Reporting System, a secure Internet website, for submitting measuring and monitoring results to the program director. Producers can access the Water Use Reporting Website at html. Details on how to enroll and access the WUR system can be obtained by calling the Water Use Reporting coordinator at 780-427-6311. Steve Mathyk, senior water administrative officer for the Environment Department’s operations in Lethbridge, agrees the new reporting requirements puts all irrigators on the same page, and will help the department maximize the use of water in Alberta. Eric Macknak, soon to move from his job as water approvals coordinator for the southern region, said many licenses were written 10 to 15 years ago, some 30 years ago. The department recognizes the tremendous strides in irrigation efficiencies to improve water use, with most producers able to make the switch to electronic reporting easily. Dave Hunt, a water technologist working in water 24 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

license approvals, confirmed the department plans to work with producers for two years before compliance issues arise. “We know there will be lots of questions in the first two years, and we want to help them out. There have been about 5,000 license amendments across the province. But in the future, we will look at compliance.” The reporting system will include an ability to review all reporting contacts, send out reporting reminders, and if producers continue to fail to meet the requirements, launch compliance efforts. Compliance could be a letter to possible suspension of a water license. Meeting the reporting requirements can be done in various ways. Basically, knowing the volume of water being pumped and the time each day the pump is operated gives the measurement over the irrigated land for that day. A water meter is one sure way to know the amount of water being diverted. In some areas like Medicine Hat, flood irrigation is used. In those projects, producers will be asked to estimate the amount of water diverted to their fields and the area being irrigated. Roger Hohm of Lethbridge, secretariat for Irrigation Council and section head for basin water management for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, welcomed the mandatory water reporting system. He pointed to a time in the late 1980s when drought and water supplies were limited. All private irrigators were called to tell the department how much water they were diverting from rivers. His telephone started ringing off the wall because most didn’t know how much their license allowed them to divert, and they didn’t want to report overages. Hohm said there are about 300,000 acres of private irrigation diverting water from rivers and streams. Knowing the actual diversion levels will give authorities the information needed to optimize water use across the province. 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

Irrigating Financial$


rrigation pays huge dividends for southern Alberta, according to a study from the University of Lethbridge economics department. Danny LeRoy, speaking for fellow economists Kurt Klein and Wen Yan, told delegates to the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association annual meeting in Lethbridge in December, that incremental gross margins from irrigated crops in organized irrigation districts in Southern Alberta appear to be quite stable over the years. That comes even when relatively large annual changes in farm output and input prices have occurred. LeRoy confirmed the average annual incremental gross margins from irrigation totaled $244 million, with the lowest during those five years being $218 million in 2007 and the highest $271 million in 2005. Irrigation activities account for 71 per cent of surface water consumption in Alberta while commercial, industrial and municipal activities account for just 20 per cent of consumption. Very little research has been conducted on the value of water used for cropping agriculture in Southern Alberta. Their study was to investigate the financial benefits that accrue to primary agriculture from irrigating crops in Southern Alberta and to estimate the gross margins in constant Canadian dollars of the most important irrigated crops in Southern Alberta across time (2004 –2008) and crops (16 major crops that are irrigated in Southern Alberta). It was also to estimate the total incremental gross margins to irrigation above those of dryland farming, across the five-year time frame and by river basin. LeRoy includes years where both commodity and input prices varied considerably. The result of increased use of corn and wheat for ethanol, rapid growth in several developing countries, and other factors, higher prices of grains and oilseeds in 2007-2008 were also included. From May 2006 to July 2008, when the commodities’ price bubble burst, corn, soybeans, red hard wheat, oats and feed barley prices increased 193 per cent, 149 per cent, 92 per cent, 125 per cent and 124 per cent, respectively. This was followed by steep rises in the prices of fertilizers and other major inputs. The gross margin for each irrigated crop (for each year and each sub-basin) was calculated as gross income (price multiplied by yield) minus the variable costs of production. Overhead or fixed costs are important for an individual business operator but generally excluded from farm enterprise analysis because they are difficult to allocate among various crops and enterprises and the level of costs of some inputs,

especially land, is directly affected by the profitability of the enterprise. It was assumed that the dryland cropping patterns that existed on adjacent land would be used on the irrigated area in the absence of irrigation. Estimates of area of each crop in each sub-basin for each year were multiplied by the yield and price of each crop to obtain an estimate of gross returns for each subbasin under assumed dryland conditions. LeRoy said irrigation plays an important role in crop production in Southern Alberta with total gross margins from crop production on irrigated land always much higher than those on an equivalent area of crop production on dryland.

Keeping Up With The Jones’ An irrigator in the Steveville area in southern Alberta comes into the office and is looking for help. He states he plants the same variety of barley as his neighbor, fertilizes the same, puts all the same inputs in, yet his neighbor always beats him when it comes to yield. The only thing left is the irrigation management and that is why he came to us. Sure enough, his soil profile had a bit of water within the top 8” or so but it was completely dry below that. He was still managing his irrigations as if he were doing it with wheels. If one inch rainfall rain came through, that was good enough to enable shutting down the irrigation system. That philosophy served an irrigator well with wheels or flood – there was always soil water at depth and the decision to irrigate was based on a shovel in the soil – if its dry – irrigate. One inch of rainfall would make the near surface wet and good enough to leave it since there was water at depth. Crops can transpire a one inch rainfall within 4 days – if that is all you are counting on, with no soil water at depth, yields are going to suffer. We worked with the irrigator over one growing season, monitored his soil water weekly, he indicated to us he had never irrigated so much as he had done that summer, but his yields finally beat his neighbors. A very good yield for irrigated canola is in the 50 bushels/ acre range. A grower in Strathmore area would be very disappointed if he couldn’t get 80 bushels/acre this year. How does he do it? He attributes his success in part to variety, proper fertility but mostly to proper irrigation management. He uses the Alberta Irrigation Management Model to guide him towards proper irrigation scheduling. His comment to the recent attendees at a field day he organized and hosted was “why should I fertilize for an 80 bushel/acre canola crop and irrigate for a 40 bushel/acre”. ~Ted Harms, Irrigation Management Specialist IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 25

Exhibition Park - Lethbridge

Feb 29, March 1 & 2

Daily 9 am to 5 pm Admission $5 /person Under 10 Free

March 14 - 17

Wednesday to Friday - Noon to 9 pm Saturday - 10 am to 5 pm Admission $ 5 /person Under 10 Free



Parking $2 / vehicle

Parking $2 / vehicle • 403-328-4491 PARRISH & HEIMBECKER, LIMITED

Serving the Agriculture Community Since 1909 ALBERTA LOCATIONS Head Office: 480 - 220 4th St. S. Lethbridge, AB T1J 4J7 Phone: 320-9440 Fax: 328-8561 Bow Island . . . . . . . . . (403) 545-2748 Medicine Hat . . . . . . . (403) 526-2831 Milk River . . . . . . . . . (403) 647-3633 Mossleigh . . . . . . . . . . (403) 534-3961 Vulcan . . . . . . . . . . . . (403) 485-2727 Wilson Siding . . . . . . . (403) 381-8710 26 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

Aggie Days


griculture is front and centre at Exhibition Park for the annual Aggie Days, and future consumers are the target audience. While the majority of the crowd of kindergarten through Grade 9 students fluctuated as the scheduled schools arrived, most of the volunteers and workers at the 21 exhibits were busy explaining their role in the agriculture industry. Many individuals, mostly mothers with preschool children, shepherded groups of preschoolers, and everyone praised the concept of Aggie Days, and the opportunity for youngsters to pet animals and make their own butter. Just Fur Fun Petting Zoo of Coaldale was a popular stop with days-old chicks and very young ducks providing a close-up look, to baby pigs and lambs, a donkey and a llama providing a real life size comparison. Alberta Milk shifted gears for the 5th annual Aggie Days. Gone was the Holstein cow that had been milked twice a day, replaced with three young Holstein calves. But the cream in a pill bottle, the shakee shook by the shakers to make butter the old fashioned way, proved very popular again. It was old hat for Sunneke Quinton of Coaldale and her siblings Kyle and Susie, all home schooled by parents Justin and Angela Quinton who own Sandberg Labs in Lethbridge. “We make butter at home all the time.” They agreed Aggie Days was a good learning experience for all kids. David Loewen, Peter Loethler and Maria Fehr, aided by teacher aid Joanne Van Tryp from Burdett School, were able to run their fingers through samples of pulse crops at the Alberta Pulse Growers Association booth manned by Elizabeth Tokariuk of Coaldale. Many of the student at Aggie Days knew of gonzo beans, often used in salads, but few knew about lentils. Tokariuk had visited a local grocer to buy several items made from Alberta pulse crops, including a pea butter product make in Legal, Alta. that is a substitute for peanut butter. Jennifer Olsen and Darlene Nakonechny of Calgary, representing Fortis Alberta, used a live power showboard to showcase the power of electricity and the need for strong safety rules. There were set up to explain electricity, but not to answer questions. Jacki Fuhrmann of Lethbridge brought her four-yearold son Ryder and his buddy Tyson Gejdos, 4, and had no trouble getting them to pet a donkey in the petting zoo. “I think these kids liked the animal best because so many kids in the city don’t have as much chance to touch and see farm animals,” she said. Another preschool clutch, manned by mothers Jody

Klassen and Tara Willis of Coaldale, both with farmer family members, feel the animals were in a more controlled environment, making it safer. “We aren’t afraid to let them explore,” said Klassen. Three students from St. Joseph’s School in Coaldale, guided by Suzanne Boras, were impressed with the water management instructional equipment manned by Lawrence Schinkel and Brian Scott with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development in Lethbridge. Liam Mattice said he wonders if farmers need as much water as they use or if they should get only the amount of water they need to grow crops. He wondered if there was enough water for farm animals. He finally agreed that farmers must manage their water supplies to meet the needs of crops and animals. Coreen and Dalyce Unruh of Vauxhall spent much of their time in the Alberta Goat Breeders Association booth debunking misinformation about goats. Few knew they are important sources of goat meat, milk and fiber. Coreen, whose family at Hays raises four breeds of goats, crossbreeding to gain improved supplies of meat, milk and fibre. Breeders had a strong export market for doelings, young goats under one year, but the big market in Mexico dried up when BSE hit in Alberta in 2003. American animal officials won’t allow goats passage through to Mexico. Melissa Logan of Edmonton was kept busy with small groups explaining the work of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The message was the best ways to care for various animals. Wayne Johnson of Lethbridge, member experience relations representative for the major Aggie Days sponsor UFA Co-operative, said his company has spent five years working with Aggie Days to build the education of young students on the agriculture industry and where they food comes from. Rudy Nordin, manager of the Lethbridge UFA Farm and Ranch Store, said participation helps alert urban consumers of a shopping alternative for hardware goods, but more important, to give UFA an opportunity to be a more visible part of community.

Editors Note: Aggie Days takes place May 8 & 9th, 2012 at Exhibition Park. Admission is Free.

IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 27

Water Usage Beyond Agriculture


ne of the key messages at the recent AIPA conference is that Alberta’s irrigation system still has an important role in supplying water for many types of water users. History is very clear that irrigation came about because it was the best way to encourage rural development in southern Alberta. Pointing to a presentation by Len Ring, former irrigation educator and secretariat for Alberta Irrigation Council, who said the people constructing the first irrigation systems saw these systems as a way to supply water for crops, livestock, homes, businesses and for growing trees, flowers and gardens. For example, when irrigation water arrived in Lethbridge, one of the first things the mayor and other citizens did was plant 1,000 trees to help beautify the city and make it a more pleasant place to live. Today, the irrigation system in southern Alberta still meets many water needs in this semiarid climate. In recent years, opposition has grown to irrigation districts supplying water for uses other than for watering crops, he said. As well, new rules changed how water licences were amended to include any purpose over-and-above that of supplying water for irrigation of crops. Some districts were simply able to amend their licence to include other uses, but some districts encountered public opposition along with official appeals trying to stop the amendments that would see districts deliver water to communities, livestock operations, businesses, and wetlands. Ring of Ring Irrigation Engineering describes the role irrigation districts play in supplying water to users other than irrigators. Along with many other important points, Ring quoted Hansard (2002) where the discussion at the Alberta Legislature included: “The amendments will make it clear that users of small volumes of water can receive water from an irrigation district for purposes other than irrigation, as they have in the past, and they will not require a separate water licence to do so under the Water Act.” Another MLA quoted in Hansard and cited by Ring states:“In my riding . . . it is readily apparent that an irrigation district does much more than just deliver water to irrigation farmers. But there are many rural residents and other users of small volumes of water that rely solely on irrigation districts for their water supply. Recreation and wildlife habitat projects also benefit from the availability of water in these dry areas of southern Alberta, and it is imperative that we continue to serve these types of projects. The amendments proposed in this legislation are important

28 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012

to all end users even though the total amount of water supplied to them is minimal. Ask a hamlet about water for fire protection or talk to an acreage owner who needs water for their shelterbelt or their horses or visit a small livestock operation that needs water for their cattle, and you’ll soon see the value to them of having an irrigation district in their area. Mr. Speaker, we aren’t changing the intent of the legislation that we passed in 1999. In fact, we are strengthening the spirit of the Irrigation Districts Act after working with it for the last two years. These amendments are empowering; that is, they allow each district to deliver water to users in their area and to do so in a manner that meets the needs of that particular region.” Irrigation district water distribution systems will continue to be an important driver of rural development in Alberta, making food production and processing possible, while delivering municipal water for communities and farm families, water for livestock, water for businesses, water for recreation, water for beautification, and water for wetlands and other habitat, says Ring. Although the most southern of Alberta’s river basins are closed to new applications for water licences, that does not mean southern Alberta is closed to development. New developments can receive water by being served by existing water licence holders such as irrigation districts, towns, villages or cities. In addition, in some cases, they have obtained their own water licence by a water allocation transfer with an existing water licence holder.

Written By Ron McMullin GM, AB Irrigation Projects Association

The Future of Southern Alberta’s Water


time machine would be great to look into Southern Alberta`s future, but that remains in the realm of fiction, says Mike Kelly with WaterSmart. In reality, computer models are available right now that can help us look at future water management options in river basins and assess their impacts, Kelly told the 2011 Alberta Irrigation Projects Association annual meeting in Lethbridge. A computer model of the Bow River system has been created that can examine flows and the multiplicity of water uses along the river. This allows the water community to propose water management changes and see the effect of those changes on the river ecology and water supplies along the river. Many partners in the Bow River Basin Council are using this model to evaluate which possible changes in water management will bring about desirable end results. Kelly explained the modelling project’s impact on water. “If we manage the Bow River collaboratively, using only 10 per cent of upstream storage differently, based on 67 years of data, we can have many things,” he said. Included are: • Protection of water supply for economic and municipal growth for 50 year forecasts; • Healthier in-stream aquatic systems, fisheries and riparian zones; • Sufficient water for irrigation needs; • Renewal of Kananaskis tourism, recreation and aquatic ecosystems, and; • Achievement of the Water for Life Goals. TransAlta Utilities owns and operates a number of reservoirs on the Bow system for power generation. Their collaboration would be required to achieve these outcomes. Power generation dams are operated to meet electricity demands, and modifying those operations to meet other water needs along the river would reduce income for the company. That income would need to be offset in some manner, but the possibilities to enhance the river for a many other uses are now well documented. Kelly said this same modeling process can be used over the entire South Saskatchewan River Basin to predict how water management changes will affect the whole river system and those dependent on it. This is the beauty of a computer model – all affected parties can participate in suggesting management options to see how those options would affect their interests. For example, the modeling group looked at changes in timing and flow volume of irrigation diversions.

When combining diversion changes with changes to TransAlta reservoir operations, the modeling showed that the water needs of irrigators and communities were still met while achieving higher flows in the downstream portions of the Bow. The model will need to be completed for the entire South Saskatchewan River Basin in Alberta and then the entire water community will be able to find ways to best manage Southern Alberta`s river systems for people`s needs and the aquatic environment.


Van Rijn Electric

entre pivot sprinklers are taking over the lion’s share of the job of powering the irrigation industry in southern Alberta. That means electricians are key players in the industry. Jack Van Rijn of Coaldale, a partner in Van Rijn Electric with brother Hank and nephew Jason, said his firm normally gets involved in a pivot installation project after either the customer or an irrigation company has finalized the design phase. “Some farmers like to take a more active part in the project, like buying their own parts,” he said. “We have been dealing direct with some customers for 25 years, and design the electrical with them. But some like to deal directly with an irrigation company, partly because of warranties and work scheduling.” When the companies are involved, Van Rijn assists by providing a total installation package that gives companies help in writing the proposal. But Van Rijn can also gets directly involved in the planning phase if a project is larger or more complex. Size matters in a pivot project, said Jack. He needs to know the number of towers for a pivot and the size of the pump to plan the proper wire sizes. On newer models, the impact of computer operation and complexity of the control panel also plays a design role. “But the set up for a pivot starts from the pivot point,” he informed us. There are basic measurements. For instance, wire that can deliver 480 volts of electricity to the end tower is vital. That means three wires must be installed to that end tower for three-phase electricity. A ground wire is added. If a communication system that allows a producer to control the operation of the pivot by computer or cell phone is added, another wire is needed. His firm works directly with a customer or irrigation company to wire a pivot to do the job needed by the customer. IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012 • 29

Importance of Farm Safety


wo farm fatalities in the Warner-New Dayton district in 13 days last year rocked the communities.

While checking the cow herd on the family farm 17 kilometres southeast of Raymond during calving, Annetta Duncan, 61, wife of Bill Duncan died. Annetta left home about 2 p.m. on a Saturday on an all-terrain vehicle. When she failed to return by 3:30 p.m., Bill went looking. He found the ATV parked and idling near a cement spillway on a small irrigation canal running through the property. The water level in the canal was higher than normal, according to Doug Johansen with the Raymond/Magrath RCMP. The waterway is a natural drain called Centre Coulee. It has several concrete drop structure s along the way to control the runoff water and any released from Milk River Ridge Reservoir south of Raymond. Friends and family joined the search. Raymond RCMP was called to assist and it called in the Milk River detachment and the Lethbridge RCMP police dog section. Fire rescue crews from Warner and Raymond joined the search followed by members of the Miami and Kingsland Hutterite Colonies. Annetta was found at 7:46 p.m. in the water about eight kilometres downstream from where the ATV was found. Paula Kaupp of New Dayton, friend of the Duncans, said the pioneer family suffered a major loss with Annetta’s death. At one time an early Duncan family operated a general store in New Dayton. “It is still a mystery how Annetta got into the water,” said Kaupp. “We suspect she got off the ATV and walked to the creek and slipped. It is a natural creek that flows through the coulee. I only hope she was unconscious when she slipped under the water.”

How are you planning to be safe this year? On average, at least 1,500 people are hospitalized and 115 are killed in farm-related incidents in Canada each year, according to the Canadian Agricultural Injury Surveillance Program. Farm Safety Week is September 19-25th. Watch for more in the next Irrigating Alberta

30 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Spring 2012


ick Orcutt of Warner, 61, was crushed when a large square hay bale fell on him. Neighbours said he was assisting his brother who had suffered a heart attack. The hay was being moved to the brother’s cattle herd. Const. Larry Osmond with Milk River RCMP, said it appeared Orcutt had loaded large square hay bales on a wagon, and was in the process of bending over to reach the load strap to hook it together. The strap is designed to hold the bales in place during transit but a weather-pressured bale dislodged and fell on him. Kaupp said the two accidents have enhanced farm safety concerns in the area. She said both Annetta and Rick were alone when the died, and that could send a strong message — “Don’t work alone if possible.”

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Irrigating Alberta Spring 2012