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Farming Smarter Research

Do Hail Recovery Products Really Work? by Lee Hart

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lberta crop researchers expect the next two seasons of field trials will answer key questions about whether so-called “rescue products” actually help hail damaged crops to recover. With data from the 2016 plot research trials still to be crunched, Ken Coles, general manager of Farming Smarter, and project lead, says it always takes more than one season of measurements to reach a conclusion in any research story. The three-year project, launched in 2016, will evaluate grain, oilseed, and pulse crop plots in three areas of the province that were all deliberately treated with simulated hail damage. After degrees of damage were inflicted by mechanical means, researchers later applied rescue products — including crop nutrients as well as fungicides — to determine if there was measureable improvement in recovery over untreated damaged crops and even crops with no damage. The Alberta Wheat Commission and Alberta Pulse Growers are funding trials involving wheat, and peas and dry beans, while in a separate but related project the Alberta Canola Commission is funding work involving the oilseed crop. “There is plenty of anecdotal information out there, but we wanted to see if these products really do work in a research setting,” says Coles. “We are using three commonly grown crops, applying various degrees of simulated hail damage, at different stages of crop growth, and then randomly selecting to apply products that carry a label claim to help crops recover from hail damage. This isn’t an evaluation of any particular product, but more generally we’re looking to see if any products with a hail recovery claim actually work.” TECHNOLOGY BEHIND ARTIFICAL HAIL

Farming Smarter inflicts simulated hail damage on research plots with a tool developed in collaboration with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) in 2015. The hail simulator involves a hydraulically driven bar or drum, mounted on the front of a tractor front-end loader. A series of 18-inch-long sections of chain are mounted in four rows around the drum. Depending on the speed of the drum rotation and/or the number of passes over a target crop, the hail simulator can apply crop damage ranging from very light to a 100 per cent wipe out. Alberta Financial Services corporation crop inspectors evaluated various hail simulator treatments and found the damage as close as you can get to natural hail storm damage of varying severity. The hail simulator opens the door to study a number of research questions concerning the affect of hail on crops. The effectiveness of crop rescue products is the first. The Alberta project will look at the effectiveness of crop recovery products on damaged crops near Lethbridge in southern Alberta, near Vegreville in east central Alberta and in the Falher-area of the Alberta Peace River region. Farming Smarter leads the research project with assistance from Dr. Ralph Lange, a plant pathologist at Alberta Innovates research centre in Vegreville and Vance Yaremko with Smoky Applied Research Association based in Falher, about 430 km north of Edmonton. All three research sites evaluate treatments on wheat and peas. In southern Alberta, the project includes dry beans; which are commonly grown in the Lethbridge/Medicine Hat area. At Vegreville, Lange coordinates a separate project evaluating the impact of hail damage on canola.

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Farming Smarter / fall 2016

Damage levels on canola June 15, 2016.

Photo: Farming Smarter

The project is designed to evaluate as many variables as possible. The crop plots are exposed to three levels of simulated hail damage — 0 to 25 percent or light, about 50 per cent or moderate; and 75 per cent or severe damage. The damage is applied at different growth stages ranging from rosette stage and tillering through to early maturity or flowering. All treatments are replicated. About two days after inflicting damage, they treat crops with fungicides and nutrient products with hail recovery claims. “We just looked for products that had that claim on the label, and there are several,” says Coles. “And then we just randomly selected products for this research.” Wheat for example, was treated with the fungicide Prosaro and a recovery nutrient product Alpine G22. They used Headline fungicide on peas and treated the dry beans with a copper hydroxide fungicide such as Parasol and a nutrient recovery product, Omex P3. With the canola project, crop damage was inflicted on research plots, but by design no rescue products were applied. Evaluation of the damage and treatment includes field observations, yield data and a complete quality analysis of yield samples from both treated and untreated crops. As well, the damaged crops are photographed by camera-equipped drones to collect aerial imagery. Near infra-red images and vegetative index imagery may prove a useful tool in determining the severity of crop damage and any treatment options, if applicable. “It is really too early to tell if the treatments made any difference,” says Coles. “That will come when we can analyze yield and crop quality data. There were no obvious or dramatic visual differences in the various treatments versus the untreated in our ground observations. “One thing we did note with differing degrees of hail damage is it did result in a significant weed response,” says Coles. “And of course that leads to another question — if hail damage is going to result in a new flush of weeds, do you want to be applying any type of fertility that might further encourage weed growth? So that’s another question.” Lange says while there are some specific questions this research project addresses, access to a realistic hail simulation tool “opens up a new era in hail research opportunities.” Combine that with information captured by aerial imagery and researchers have valuable tools for tackling many more research questions. h GROWING NEW IDEAS / GROWING KNOWLEDGE / GROWING STEWARDSHIP

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