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spring 2017 Edition

What are your crops talking about? »6 Learning in the field at Farming Smarter »10 Who do you trust in a world of fake news? »26

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Spring 2017 EDITION

GM’s Message: Warmed up and ready to roll. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 What are your crops talking about?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Use agronomics to effectively reduce weed pressure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Learning in the field at Farming Smarter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Spotlight on Alberta’s root rots. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

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More flexible rules around green electricity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Sustainable profits with diversified crop rotations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Pinpoint climate data at your fingertips. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 VRT and thinking on the margin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 New projects a win for agriculture. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Promoting farm health and safety with a carrot instead of a stick . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Innotch Alberta makes strides in flax research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Go forage it!. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

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Dryland grain corn can fit prairie rotations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Who do you trust in a world of fake news?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Ike Lanier wins 2016 Orville Yanke Soil Conservation award. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 Opinion: Stop the Troglodytes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 OWC fosters agricultural stewardship. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Precision planter banter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 In cahoots! AG Canada scientists and FS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Book Review: What might news be worth?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

Pg. 30 Visit us online for innovative agronomic . and technical research information:


Raising the bar for on-farm research. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Grant to protect Alberta’s water resources. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

Farming Smarter is published bi-annually by . Glacier FarmMedia LP for Farming Smarter, . #100, 5401 – 1st Ave. S., . Lethbridge, AB T1J 4P4 . with the support from the Agriculture . Opportunities Fund

Cover photo:

Young corn plants from Farming Smarter’s precision planting corn trials. Photo: farming smarter

Editorial Board: Ken Coles, Jamie Puchinger. Editor: C. Lacombe

Farming Smarter / SPRING 2017


General Manager’s Message

Warmed up and ready to roll! by Ken Coles, General manager, farming smarter


hort days, snow drifts and a surplus of American politics has me itching to get back in the fields. Too many meetings, too much sitting and too much time staring at a screen is a stark reminder of why farming and rural life is the best.

Farming Smarter advances this way of life through continued learning, sharing of ideas and growth. Our research program is full of creative projects with the goal of managing risk, improving productivity, conserving and enhancing valuable resources. In 2017, Farming Smarter research applications include durum agronomy, winter cereals, drones and remote sensing, rotations with alternative crops, impacts to soil health from residue removal and periodic tillage in zero-till cropping systems and regional on farm research networks. Also our extension program focus will be to

deliver top quality events. The Farming Smarter Conference will become an annual Lethbridge event and grow to be the premier farm management event in southern Alberta. In Cypress County, we plan an annual one-day conference in Medicine Hat in late October. In the field, you’ll see full day, comprehensive events. Members will also notice more digital extension including website upgrades and short project based videos and reports. The Board and I actively seek partnerships with Lethbridge College and University of Lethbridge. We need strong partners to support and leverage both capital and human resources. Specifically, we need more land, shop and office space and qualified people to do the work. We want to be ready for the 2018-22 federal agriculture funding round. So where does our funding come from you may ask? It’s not all about the money but it’s a

pretty darn important piece that most people don’t want to talk about. Farming Smarter is a Canadian charity that doesn’t charge a membership fee. To be clear, we are not government and no we’re not planning a carbon tax. Our funds come from project-based research and extension contracts and a small provincial grant (10%). Our funding sources are roughly 30% government, 30% producer groups, 30% industry and 10% self-generated. It’s fantastic support from all parts of the industry, but lacks stability and flexibility. We want a stable, selfgenerated portion, so that we can be responsive to southern Alberta needs and ensure the long term sustainability of Farming Smarter. We will continue our organizational selfdiscovery and pledge to work diligently in science-based innovation to grow news ideas, knowledge and stewardship. See you in the field!

Message from the Chair

Change or tried and true for 2017? By Craig Walsh


ello and welcome to 2017, I know you are reading this in March but I am writing in January. Last issue, I talked about change on the personal side of things and at Farming Smarter. I guess I should have thrown in the weather as well. I hope your harvest is at the very least over and, if not, I hope you are able to manage through into the coming year. On my farm and in the area harvest wrapped up. Though some guys combined chickpeas into November, the majority finished in September. Yes, I live that far south. My oldest in college finished her first semester with a 4.0 GPA; which would have taken me two or maybe even three semesters to get. At Farming Smarter, we had a successful year as well. The board continues to make progress on our strategic plan and struck some committees to deal with some of the emerging issues. The committee I sit on is struggling right now. We are the Members and Stakeholder committee and we struggle to define what makes someone a Farming Smarter member.


Farming Smarter / spring 2017

L to R back: George Clayton, Garry MacLagan, Craig Walsh, George Lubberts, Doug Brodoway, Art Bird, Rick Stamp. Front: Ben Van Dyk, Jacob Kodde, Carrie Butterwick, Matt Stanford.

So I will put out a query to any and all who are willing to respond. What do you think makes you a member of Farming Smarter? Any comments or ideas on what a member is and what the benefits of membership are would be greatly appreciated. You can send them to claudette@ farmingsmarter.com and she will get them to the committee. Sticking with change, what are you going to

change this year? Crops, fertility or stay with what is tried and true? We at Farming Smarter hope you will take the time to come out and see what is new around our operation. Take in one of the plot hops and the field school is always full of great information, or just pop in sometime to say hi and have a coffee with the staff. Good luck to you in the coming year and farm safe. h


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Farming Smarter / spring 2017


Growing Knowledge

What are your crops talking about? by Lee Hart


anola, wheat or pea plants in a field do not have any audible chatter, but they are communicating loud and clear with each other through smell and root connections, says a University of Missouri researcher. It is one of the little appreciated, but phenomenal features of nature as plants have evolved over the millennia to communicate effectively to themselves, with each other and to the soil, all as part of their defence mechanisms, says Jack Schultz, a biologist and zoologist whose business card describes him as a chemical ecologist. Schultz, who gave a presentation at the 2016 Farming Smarter conference, says while he didn’t necessarily have any take-home message for management changes for producers, it is important for farmers to understand that plants do communicate and have developed their own complex defence mechanisms. “Plants communicate very effectively with each other both above and below ground,” says Schultz. “By understanding these mechanisms it can help farmers understand how crop production practices might affect these natural defence systems.” All plants produce odours, says Schultz. When they are attacked or damaged by a pest, they produce a specific volatile odour. His research over the years shows if a pest attacks a plant, the plant emits an odour that will soon trigger a defence mechanism in the plant next to it, even though the next door plant isn’t being attacked itself. The next-door plant senses the odour change and takes action. And the odour emitted by the attacked plant will vary depending on which pest is attacking — a different volatile odour for each pest. “But then we had to ask ourselves, why would one plant emit an odour that’s going to benefit the plant next to it when actually it is trying to compete with that plant,” says Schultz. They concluded what is happening is that the plant next door is actually “eavesdropping” when it senses odour from the plant being attacked. The plant being attacked by a pest is really producing an odour that it wants to be sensed by other parts of the same plant. If a pest starts attacking the lower leaves of a plant, for example, the plant emits a volatile odour to alert the rest of the same plant it is under attack and trigger defence mechanisms. The plant next to it is just eavesdropping on the odour of this attack and mounts its own defence. This eavesdropping can sometimes backfire, says Schultz. He explained research they did with a viney, sap-sucking weed called dodder and a tomato plant. Through time lapse photography Schultz showed a spindly shoot of a dodder weed emerging from the soil. The growing shoot waved around, sensing the odour of a nearby tomato plant and grew toward the tomato, eventually connecting and wrapping itself around the stem of the tomato plant. “If we put a glass jar over the tomato plant the dodder shoot didn’t find the tomato,” says Schultz. “And if we put a picture of a tomato plant nearby, the dodder wasn’t attracted to the picture. But if we took a Q-tip and smeared it with the scent of tomato plant it grew toward the Q-tip, so the dodder was looking for the odour of the tomato plant.” In this experiment the dodder grew toward the odour of the tomato plant until it found it. If other nearby tomato plants were “eavesdropping” on the first plant attacked by the dodder seedling, and stepped up their odour defences, other dodder plants would grow toward them. “Eavesdropping can alert the rest of the crop to a nearby pest, but in this trial


Farming Smarter / spring 2017

Professor Jack Schultz

Photo: M. Molyneux

it also showed that tomato plants turning on their odour will also attract pests that are looking for them.” Essentially if they kept their mouths shut the dodder weed may not find them. How else can the odour mechanism benefit plants? Schultz used the example of wheat plants under attack by wheat midge. The wheat midge begins feeding on wheat and the plant emits a volatile odour that in turn can be sensed by parasitic wasps that feed on wheat midge. “The parasitic wasp can be very effective in controlling wheat midge, but it is very tiny,” says Schultz. “If there is a wheat midge in a field of wheat how does that little wasp find the pest? The wasp senses the odour produced by the wheat plant and is attracted to the plant and attacks the wheat midge.” Corn, is another example, of a crop that emits odours when attached by root worm, for example, and those odours attract beneficial soil nematodes that feed on the pest. The odour or chemistry changes within the plant acts as signal to “bodyguards.” While pesticides can be used to control pests, on the downside they will also kill the beneficial agents. While plants emit above ground odours to protect themselves, they also send signals through their roots into the soil, says Schultz. Experiments in this area showed if an attacked plant was covered with a jar so its odour was contained, neighbouring plants with root connections to the covered plant would still respond to the threat. The signal is carried through the intertwined roots, and perhaps even by the bacteria (mycorrhiza) in the soil to nearby plants. How else do plants communicate and what other defence mechanisms do they have? With brassicae plants such as canola, for example, when plant leaves fall on the ground and decompose they produce a natural fungicide in the soil that helps control certain fungi. With that knowledge, humans have developed bio-fumigants from the glucosinates produced by brassicae plants. GROWING NEW IDEAS / GROWING KNOWLEDGE / GROWING STEWARDSHIP

Humans are very familiar with other chemistry processes within many plants that are used as defence mechanisms. Plants such as tobacco, coffee and hot peppers, for example, produce chemicals that humans have capitalized on for components in food and consumer products. Cigarettes and cigars, a cup of coffee and hot pepper sauce are examples of those products. “Why would a plant develop nicotine or caffeine or some other chemistry we sense as burning or hot?” says Schultz. “They don’t do it for humans to enjoy. These are all natural insecticides. Nicotine or caffeine or that hot pepper spice were all developed through evolution by plants to act as a natural defence against some type of pest or threat.” A damaged or attacked plant will produce higher levels of these compounds to increase their defences. Nicotine dust, developed many years ago, is one of the oldest and most effective natural insecticides. And there are other examples. The all-familiar headache remedy Aspirin comes from a chemical found in the bark of willow trees. Tannins, produced by oak trees and grapes, are a chemical defence of those plants against pests, but tannins have been found to be an important component in tanning and preserving leather. All plants have defence mechanisms whether it be above ground odours, internal chemistry, signalling carried through the soil, or fumigants produced by decomposing plant material, says Schultz. He says there are complex chemistry-related interactions between plants, among different species of plants, with bodyguards and with the mycorrhiza in the soil. Where possible in crop management systems, it is important to maintain not only a diversity of plants, but perhaps more importantly a diversity of chemistry that in turn affects the soil. h

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Farming Smarter / spring 2017



Use agronomics to effectively reduce weed pressure By Lee Hart


roper agronomic practices can make a herbicide treatment the last line of defence in controlling weeds, says a University of Saskatchewan researcher. While there are plenty of effective chemicals on the market that do a good job of controlling weeds, overuse of these products can increase the risk of weeds developing herbicide resistance, says Steve Shirtliffe, a weed control researcher. Shirtliffe, who dedicated his career working with both conventional and organic crop production systems, says proper use of agronomic practices — just “tweaking” practices most farmers use today — can go a long way in reducing the number of weeds, and ultimately reduce the amount of herbicides required. “Particularly with products like glyphosate, which is so important in conservation farming cropping systems, we really have to guard against over using it,” Shirtliffe, told producers attending the 2016 Farming Smarter Conference. “We are already seeing increased cases of glyphosate-resistant weeds. We need to ensure it remains an effective herbicide option — we don’t want to lose it.” Shirtliffe who says they may put “good agronomy is good weed control” on his tombstone, says some of agronomic weed control options came out of research during the study of organic cropping systems, but he figures, if they work there, they might also have a fit in conventional cropping systems, as well. Regardless of the cropping system, increasing the seeding rate is his first suggestion for reducing weed numbers and the need for herbicides. Some earlier research with higher seeding rates involved organically-grown lentil crops, infested with wild mustard. While the recommended lentil seeding rate was 100 plants per square metre (about 12 plants per square foot), he bumped that to a seeding rate that provided 200, 300 and even 400 plants per square metre. At the higher seeding rates crop competition choked out virtually all weeds and produced high crop yields. In another trial, with conventional crop production, the higher seeding rate combined with a low-rate of a Group 2 herbicide in-crop provided very effective control. “I’m talking about increasing the seeding rate, not just a little but a lot,” says Shirtliffe.


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

Professor Shirtliffe speaks at the Farming Smarter conference in Medicine Hat Dec. 2016. photo: farming smarter

“But at the higher rates weed numbers are dramatically reduced, and if you do use a herbicide it can be more effective at lower rates.” He appreciates it is a tough call for producers when the cost of some seed can be quiet high, but overall yields increase, herbicide costs go down and the risk of developing herbicide resistant weeds becomes less. Another option being explored in organic cropping research is the use of light tillage either pre or just post crop emergence. A light pass over a field with a rotary hoe or rotary harrow, even in a growing crop appeared to cause little damage to the crop but removed many of the newly emerged weeds. Inter-row cultivation used on pea and lentil crops seeded with 12 inch spacing was also effective. And when the two treatments were combined in research trials, Shirtliffe says they achieved 90 per cent weed control and an 80 per cent increase in yield, over untreated plots and no herbicides were used at all. “We’ve only had one year of research results, so it is too early to draw conclusions, but the first year produced some astounding

results,” he says. “These may not be ideal tillage tools to be used in a conventional cropping system, but it is worth considering and over the next 10, 15 or 20 years new technology will develop.” Other practices that can benefit weed control might include chaff collection during harvest. It isn’t a new idea, says Shirtliffe who researched the practice years ago, but it can be effective in reducing the number of weed seeds that go back onto a field. Weed wiping — using some type of wick system tool on a tractor that targets tall weeds standing above low-growing crops can also be effective in reducing weed seed numbers. Again, it’s not a new idea, but newer weed wiping technology has been developed that is much easier to use and is effective in reducing weed seed numbers. “A few changes in production practices can reduce weed numbers, reduce herbicide use and help reduce this risk of herbicide resistance in weeds,” says Shirtliffe. “With proper agronomic practices a herbicide should be the final step in a weed control program.” h


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Faming Smarter Research

Learning in the field at Farming Smarter Farming Smarter simulates hail damage on peas as part if its hail recovery project in June 2016.  photo: Farming Smarter


s a farmer, you know that every year there’s something new to think about or learn. A promising cultivar, a dangerous pest and weird new crop that promises big bucks. Farming Smarter also finds it needs to expand its research capacity and add different applied field studies that answer questions identified by growers and industry stakeholders. Thus, 2017 promises to be another busy field season. Feel free to contact us, 403-3170022, about our projects or, better yet, attend one of our field days and see firsthand what we’re learning.

Hail Damage Recovery

Hail is all too common in Alberta and 2016 was no exception. Farming Smarter developed a tractor-mounted hail simulator and began a series of studies to learn more about yield losses from hail at various crop growth stages and at various damage levels. A threeyear study (2015-17) explores canola yield response to four hail damage levels at five growth stages. A three-year study (2016-18) with wheat and a four-year study (2015-18) with field pea and dry bean examines the effect of three hail damage levels at three crop growth stages on crop yield losses. Additionally, the trials include applying various fungicide and


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

fertilizer recovery treatments within a few days of hail damage to determine whether they have potential to reduce hail-induced yield losses in these crops. Two collaborators, Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta, Vegreville) and Vance Yaremko (SARDA, Falher), expand the findings of these hail studies. Precision Planting

Canola emergence is often only a disappointing 50-60 per cent across the prairies. A three-year (2016-18) study under dryland and irrigated conditions in southern Alberta hopes to determine the merits of a precision planter to improve canola emergence. Objectives include a) determine optimum seeding rate and row spacing with a Monosem precision planter vs. an air seeder and b) determine optimum rates of in-row liquid P fertilizer applied at planting with a Monosem planter vs. an air seeder. A related project with Morris Industries starts in 2017 to examine the performance of several planter openers in various crop stubbles on crop emergence and yield. Winter Wheat Studies

Farming Smarter, in collaboration with project co-ordinators Brian Beres (AAFC, Lethbridge) and Yvonne Lawley (University of Manitoba), has a series of trials with the overall goal of

expanding successful winter wheat production across the prairies. A three-year project (201517) conducted at 13 sites will examine winter wheat yield response to six seeding dates and two seed treatments. A three-year study (2015-17) conducted at Lethbridge, Lacombe and Melfort will determine the combined effects of cultivar, seeding rate, split N fertilizer rates and growth regulator treatments on winter wheat canopy architecture and yield. Another three-year study (2015-17) conducted at Lethbridge, Edmonton, Indian Head and Brandon will evaluate various stabilized N treatments to reduce N losses and improve overall N efficiency in winter wheat. Japanese Brome

Japanese brome is increasingly a more troublesome weed, especially in cereals where few herbicide options exist. A three-year study (2017-19) at Lethbridge and Scott, Sask. will identify optimum combinations of pre-plant and in-crop herbicides for selective Japanese brome control in barley. Gazali Issah (WARC, Scott) is the project co-ordinator. Sainfoin

Sainfoin is a non-bloat forage legume and the recent release of a grazing-tolerant cultivar led to the possibility of it being a good fit


in cattle grazing systems. An on-farm study across Alberta examines various blends of sainfoin with other forages in terms of forage productivity and stand longevity over time. Grain Corn Study

Another Farming Smarter priority research looks at new cropping opportunities for southern Alberta and, if sufficient potential exists, development of best management practices for crop production. Expansion of grain corn under both dryland and irrigated conditions in our region shows tremendous promise. Farming Smarter has a three-year project (2015-17) with trials at Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Bow Island, and Vauxhaul. Study objectives include: a) determine optimum row spacing and plant populations; b) determine optimum N fertilizer rates; c) determine optimum crop residue for planting corn and the merits of conventional versus no-till seeding systems; and d) identify suitable corn hybrids for our region. Manjula Bandara (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Brooks) and Brian Beres (AAFC, Lethbridge) are collaborating researchers on this project.

Hemp Agronomy

Hemp is another relatively new crop in southern Alberta and Farming Smarter began to develop a suite of best agronomic practices. This three-year study (2015-17) conducted at Lethbridge, Vegreville and Falher has the following goals: a) determine optimum seeding date for grain and fibre production; b) determine optimum N fertilizer rates; and c) identify suitable hemp cultivars for grain and fibre production in the various Alberta agro-climatic regions. Study collaborators are Jan Slaski (InnoTech Alberta, Vegreville) and Vance Yaremko (SARDA, Falher). Winter Wheat Grazing

Grazing winter wheat and then harvesting it later for grain is a common practice in the southern U.S.A. A few producers in southern Alberta are trying this and Farming Smarter has a three-year project (2015-17) in Cypress County. One trial evaluates the effect of winter wheat cultivar, seeding date and seed treatment on forage production for fall grazing and subsequent silage or grain

production the following summer. A second trial tests monocultures of winter wheat, winter triticale and fall rye and compares them with mixtures of wheat-triticale, wheat-fall rye and triticale-rye for fall grazing potential and subsequent regrowth and yield the following season. VRT

Precision agriculture is an on-going research focus for Farming Smarter. These types of studies are often best conducted at a fieldscale level. There is an ongoing five-year on-farm study (2013-18) that examines sitespecific N fertilizer application in canola. There are about 10 sites each year across the prairies, and over the last three years Farming Smarter managed 11 sites in Alberta. In 2017, that number will likely increase to 15. The project uses historic crop yield maps to create various zones within a field that get various N fertilizer rates applied. Canola growth and yield are determined in these various field zones. Alan Moulin (AAFC, Brandon) is the project co-ordinator of this large multi-site study. h

Take a survey; FOr a chance TO Win $250 Farming Smarter, working with Dr. Nicol, University of Lethbridge, invites you to complete a survey about precision agriculture on your farm. It’s 10 minutes of your time to help us better understand the use of precision agriculture on southern Alberta farms. Find the link at



Farming Smarter / spring 2017


Pest Patrol

Spotlight on Alberta’s root rots By Jennifer Blair


r. Syama Chatterton isn’t a huge fan of aphanomyces, despite its celebrity status in the news lately. “I like to call this one our A-list celebrity pathogen — it gets all the attention,” said Chatterton, a plant pathologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. But if aphanomyces is like A-lister Kanye West, fusarium root rots are a little like Kim Kardashian. “Fusarium species are our D-list celebrity pathogens. They’re kind of like the Kardashians,” said Chatterton, who spoke at the Farming Smarter Conference in December. “You don’t know why they’re famous, they’re everywhere, supposedly they do something, and we’re left trying to figure out what it is they do.” Aphanomyces was first found in Saskatchewan in 2012, followed by its discovery in Alberta one year later. Initially, researchers weren’t certain what was causing this devastating root rot in pea and lentil field across the Prairies, but they soon nailed down the culprit. “The biggest problem with this pathogen is that it’s very difficult to isolate and determine what was the causal agent,” said Chatterton. “It wasn’t until we moved into using a DNA test that we actually found that we have it in Saskatchewan and Alberta — pretty much anywhere where peas are grown.” Unlike fusarium, which generally strikes at the seedling stage, aphanomyces can hit at any time during the growing season making it potentially more destructive than fusarium. “If you have a nice, healthy pea plant and get a bucket of rain, aphanomyces can infect as soon as there’s some excess moisture in the soil,” said Chatterton. Both aphanomyces and fusarium degrade the roots of susceptible pulse crops — primarily field peas and lentils — but aphanomyces generally decays the lateral roots, affecting the whole root system, while fusarium starts at the point of seed attachment and spreads along the taproot. “If you’re seeing plants that have a characteristic yellowing and stunting of the shoots, it’s a good indicator that you’re dealing with aphanomyces, whereas oftentimes we see that plants in the field with fusarium root rot can look fairly healthy,” said Chatterton.


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

Chatterton holds up infected roots for participants of a Farming Smarter Plot Hop to examine. photos: farming smarter

But in many cases, producers aren’t just looking at one or the other in their fields. “Usually, if we find aphanomyces, we find fusarium as well.” And when this A-lister meets this D-lister, the marriage isn’t exactly a happy one. In a series of field trials in Taber and Lethbridge, Chatterton found that pea yields took a serious hit where both fusarium and aphanomyces were present in the soil. “When we only have fusarium, we actu-

ally had fairly good yields in this trial, ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 kilograms per hectare,” said Chatterton. “But if we compare that to where we also had aphanomyces present, our yields are down to about 1,000 kilograms per hectare and only up to about 3,000 kilograms per hectare. “We’re seeing a fairly large yield penalty from aphanomyces that we don’t often see if there’s only fusarium present.”


This unhappy marriage between aphanomyces and fusarium root rots “complicates the whole issue” of managing the disease complex, said Chatterton, who is working on a tool that could predict root rot risk in the soil. “The idea is that you can take a soil test, quantify the amount of inoculum you have present in the soil, and know if you have a low, medium, or high risk of getting root rot,” said Chatterton. Right now, Chatterton’s team is trying to determine how many aphanomyces’ oospores (long-lived resting spores) in the soil trigger the disease and if there is a difference between the soil zones across the province. “We’ve found you need about 100 oospores per gram of soil in the dark brown soil zones to cause severe disease, whereas in the brown and the black, you need about 750 oospores per gram of soil,” said Chatterton. “However, if you add fusarium into the mix, particularly in the brown soil zones, we see that disease incidence increase to about 100 oospores per gram of soil in all soil types to cause disease. “There does seem to be an interaction

between aphanomyces and fusarium that causes more disease.” Until that test is in place, producers should take a number of steps to reduce the root rot risk. First, avoid planting susceptible crops in fields with a history of root rots. “If you know that you have aphanomyces, you should avoid planting peas or lentils in those fields and prolong your rotation of susceptible hosts in those infested fields for about six to eight years,” said Chatterton. Second, get a soil test to confirm the presence of root rot pathogens in the soil. “Most of the seed labs offer an aphanomyces test, but right now, they can only confirm presence or absence.” And finally, remember that prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to root rots. “An in-crop fungicide application unfortunately doesn’t have any effect on root rot. There are no chemicals that you can spray on the shoot that move down into the root to help control the disease,” said Chatterton. “Long rotations between susceptible pulse crops are currently our only control option.” h

Chatterton addresses a Farming Smarter Plot Hop in her pulse study fields.

More flexible rules around green electricity You might want to revisit your solar or wind dreams after changes to the regulation that governs micro-generation in Alberta. The legislation increased the size limit from one megawatt to five megawatts and allows a micro-generating system to serve adjacent sites; which is especially helpful for operations with more than one building, such as farms. The revisions allow for more flexibility and a greater variety of configurations. For example, a farm operation or a university campus could have multiple buildings served by one micro-generation system. Other regulatory updates will help ensure the reliability, stability and safety of micro-generation and the distribution grid. “These changes will provide even more opportunity for Albertans to reduce their reliance on the grid and benefit from the choice to generate clean electricity. They provide more options and enable larger projects, and will contribute to our province’s target of 30 per cent renewable electricity by 2030,” said Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, Minister of Energy The Climate Leadership Advisory Panel recommended


Solar panels at Earth’s General Store in Edmonton. updating the micro-generation regulation. The province created Energy Efficiency Alberta with a mandate to deliver a variety of programs and services for energy efficiency and small-scale renewables. Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan has invested over $9 million in solar programs for municipalities, Indigenous communities and farms.

Farming Smarter / spring 2017



Sustainable profits with diversified crop rotations Good things happen with crop rotation

By Dr. Bob Blackshaw


ow that I’m over 60, I feel obliged to reminisce about the good ole farming days. Bear with me for a few moments, you may find my ramblings interesting and relevant to you. The Blackshaw clan has farmed for 195 years in Canada; first in Ontario and then in Manitoba. My brother currently runs the family farm. When visiting, I go for a long walk checking out the crops and I can’t help but ponder the future of farming. My grandfather and dad were pioneers in carbon-neutral, ecologically-based, lowinput, integrated farming systems. If only good marketers they could have been wealthy! Like most farmers of that era they operated a mixed farm. They grew wheat, barley, oats, fall rye, flax, sweet clover, and bromegrass/alfalfa hay. Livestock included beef cattle, pigs, chickens, and a few turkeys for special occasions. Most of the barley, oats, hay and sweet clover were value-added by feeding them to livestock. Manure spread liberally on fields improved soil quality, especially on eroded knolls. Wheat and flax were the cash crops. Dad liked to grow flax as a break for cereal diseases and flax prices were sometimes good. I remember one year in the early 1970s when he sold 2,000 bushels at $14/ bushel. Shortly thereafter, a new tractor and grain truck appeared on our farm! If there was an extremely weedy field, Dad would grow oats; seeding heavy to smother weeds. We harvested oats for grain, but sometimes cut the worst weed patches for green feed before weeds could set seed. We grew fall rye to spread out the seeding and harvest workload, but also for weed suppression. We planted biennial sweet clover with wheat or barley and harvested for hay the following year. Planned or not, it was a reasonably diverse cropping system including cereal, oilseed and legume crops as well as winter annual and perennial crops. Weeds and diseases remained generally manageable with only limited pesticide inputs; the main herbicides were Banvel, 2,4-D, and MCPA. However, not all was ideal as Canada thistle was always a severe problem and intensive tillage resulted in soil erosion. And even in those days, the repeated use of specific herbicides caused weed species shifts with green foxtail becoming one of the most prevalent weeds on the farm. Interestingly, my MSc research project in the late 1970s was on green foxtail;


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

Stinkweed is a common weed on the prairies.

Chickpea growing at Farming Smarter.

developing new information on its biology and management. Now how does this story relate to today’s farming? I feel strongly, and there is overwhelming scientific evidence, that diverse crop rotations and diverse cropping practices are the key to profitable and sustainable farms. There is no sustainable monoculture system anywhere in the world. Continuous cotton and continuous rice are notable examples that have resulted in severe land degradation and monumental pest problems. The U.S. Corn Belt has a severe glyphosateresistant weed problem that threatens its no-till production system. Glyphosate-resistant weeds are not only the result of repeated glyphosate use, but also limited crop rotations. Crop census records indicate that over 75 per cent of that region is a two-year rotation of corn-soybean. In some states, 40 per cent of the acreage is continuous corn. Western Australia is noteworthy for having the worst weed resistance in the world. This is at least partially due to the lack of diversified rotations; 70 per cent of its acreage is wheat and 20 per cent is canola. Lupin acreage

collapsed to near zero and perennial forages are rare. Monoculture and short-duration rotations facilitate a buildup of weeds (and other pests) adapted to that production system. This in turn leads to shifts in weed species and higher weed densities that increase selection pressure for resistance development. Bad things happen. It is tempting to pat ourselves on the back and say we are doing better in terms of crop diversity grown in the Canadian Prairies. We grow a wide array of annual cereal, oilseed and pulse crops; winter annual crops such as wheat, rye and triticale; and perennial forages in some regions. Many growers consistently implement a fouryear crop rotation and include a legume crop in at least one of those years. This has served them well in the past and will continue to do so. Yet we know that a two-year wheat-canola rotation has become common in recent years and even continuous canola occurs in some areas. A nine-year rotation study conducted at five Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada sites across the prairies found that, compared with continuous canola, a two-year rotation with either wheat or barley increased canola yield by nine to 14 per cent. A three-year rotation that included a cereal plus either field pea or lentil increased canola yield by 15 to 27 per cent. Thus, short-duration rotations not only have negative consequences in terms of pest management and resistance development but they may not be as profitable as one thinks. The bottom line in my opinion is that long-term farm profitability and sustainability go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other. Rotation, rotation, rotation! Not exactly a new phrase but one worth repeating. h


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New Tech

Pinpoint climate data at your fingertips By Kristi Cox


gricultural producers will find the temperature and precipitation data in an online, interactive tool useful in planning crop and management choices. With the short-term changes we see in our daily and yearly weather patterns, it can be hard to convince anyone about climate change. Dr. Stefan Kienzle, Professor of Geography at the University of Lethbridge, took up this challenge and analyzed the data for Alberta. With the help of a New Media graduate student, Christine Clark, they turned data into a tool for everyone. Dr. Kienzle specializes in hydrology and mapping, studying the impacts of climate change on water resources. He observed media coverage and debates around the existence of climate change and decided to take action and find a definitive answer using instrumental data and measurements. “What do the instruments tell us? Not anything anecdotal or models or whatever — I wanted to get observations,” Kienzle said. The Government of Canada provided a database in 2012 that contains daily minimum and maximum temperatures and precipitation on a 10x10 km grid. This data goes back to 1950. Dr. Kienzle first began analyzing the data for the Oldman River basin, but quickly realized the value in doing this for the entire province. He worked together with his students to accomplish this. Website visitors can click on any square on the mapped grid to see what the trends are in any of the 43 climate indices under the broader categories of mean temperature, cold weather, hot weather, growing temperature, and precipitation. This is valuable when producers are deciding which crops to put into their rotations. It will provide them with information like beginning of the growing season, expected dates of first or last frost, and growing degree days. This can aid the selection of seeding and harvest timing, as well as decisions around what crops can be grown in a region. Kienzle feels dryland producers will benefit from the precipitation information on the website. “Information on precipitation and snow trends help rain-fed farmers to determine the profitability potentials of their land.” What does the data show? Climate change is happening. While weather on a short-term basis can vary greatly, the trends over time are


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

A screen capture from the website showing a reduction in frost free days. image: Alberta Climate Records

evident. Kienzle has found that there is still much confusion about the difference between weather and climate. “Weather is the condition of the atmosphere that changes over hours or even minutes. Hot and cold. Wet and dry. Humid and sunny and windy and all of those things,” Kienzle explained. “Climate is simply the long-term weather, typically over 30 years.” A key question to ponder is whether climate change is a good thing, or a bad thing, for agricultural production in Alberta right now. It’s likely both. There are benefits to the warming trends, but they come at the price of increased, extreme weather events. “The good side is that it is getting warmer so that means the growing season has extended,” Kienzle said. The growing season in southern Alberta has expanded two and four weeks since 1950, and in central Alberta there are areas with up to five weeks more. There are fewer days with frost and there are more growing degree days. “The number of growing degree days is clearly increasing. That means more energy is available in a relatively cold region and that’s good for the farmers of course,” Kienzle said. But climate change isn’t all a bonus for producers. “Hand in hand with climate change, we will have more extreme weather,” said Kienzle. “I think most of us have experienced that in the last ten years.” Flooding of fields, hail damage and wind

damage are all showing up at an increasing rate. Dry and windy conditions combined with lightning can also cause catastrophic wildfires. Greater incidents of heatwaves add to the troublesome mix, as there is an upper temperature threshold where crops suffer. Kienzle explained, “For most crops it’s about 30 C. If it’s above that, then crops are stressed. They’ll close their stomata and they go into a dormant stage, which of course has an impact on the yield if this phase is too long.” If the extreme weather itself isn’t enough to trouble us, the milder winters are creating beneficial conditions for pests and diseases that were once held in check by our harsh winters. An interesting phenomenon is that when you look at the mean annual changes, they appear to be very little, but when you look at seasonal changes, they can be quite alarming. While the annual mean temperature in Lethbridge has increased from 5 C to 6.5 C since 1950, the winters have warmed by 4 C to 5 C in southern Alberta. “The reason for that is that the number of days where it’s below -10 C has basically halved,” Kienzle said. “When you look at the summer temperatures they have increased by between half a degree and 1 C, so the summers have not warmed as much as the winters. But the summers still contain more heatwaves, so we have actually more temperature fluctuation in the summer.” To see the climate trends are in your area, visit albertaclimaterecords.com. h


Farming Smarter Research

VRT and thinking on the margin by Dennis Dey


magine while working on a contract that pays $30 an hour, you come across a truck that has lost its load of tires. The driver states there are 200 tires scattered along the road and in the ditch. He offers you $2 for every tire you bring back to the truck. After an hour you have recovered the 50 tires closest to the truck and earned $100. Working for $100 an hour is enticing so you decide to forgo the contract work and spend another hour retrieving tires. Over the second hour you are able to bring back 40 tires that were a little further from the truck and earn $80. The driver has also brought back 100 tires and will begin loading them if you agree to bring in the remaining tires that are furthest from the truck. Over the past two hours you have averaged $90 per hour. However, the real question is whether spending another hour retrieving the remaining 10 tires is worthwhile. The most you could earn over the next hour is $20 while you can earn $30 on the contract. Thinking on the margin allows you to think ahead and consider what the next expenditure of time or money will return. It can frame decisions on whether applying more Nitrogen (N) fertilizer to a crop will make sense. Incremental amounts of N provide increased crop yields. But continuing to apply incremental N eventually results in smaller and smaller yield increases. At some point, applying more fertilizer is not

worthwhile. However, response curves capturing the relationship between incremental applications of N fertilizer and crop yield are not always available. This limits the ability to determine the economic value of applying incremental amounts of N fertilizer.

Thinking on the margin allows you to think ahead and consider what the next expenditure of time or money will return One approach to addressing this information gap is to use representative response curves for your location. The Alberta Farm Fertilizer Information Recommendation Manager (AFFIRM) program provides Alberta producers with N fertilizer response curves for the different agro-ecological areas of the province. By inputting soil test results users are able to determine an economic rate of N for different crop values, fertilizer costs and economic circumstances. An alternative approach is to participate in yield response experiments in order to

measure crop yield responses to varying rates of N under different moisture conditions. Then you can use techniques like those presented in the publication A Cookbook Approach for Determining the Point of Maximum economic Return to convert this data into N fertilizer response functions. A toolbox of fertilizer response functions allows producers to assess the economic value of applying incremental N fertilizer under varying crop price, fertilizer cost and soil moisture scenarios. Agricultural producers face the challenge of allocating scarce resources among many possible uses. For crop producers, possible uses of time and capital include investing in greater precision by switching to site specific applications of fertilizer. Often this decision is framed as a matter of determining whether there is significant variability in crop yields between different regions, fields or zones within a field. However, if the desired outcome is to determine the economic value of applying additional fertilizer, a more appropriate frame might be whether there are zones in a field that consistently demonstrate differing responses to incremental applications of N fertilizer. In other words, will the investment to identify different management zones provide a framework for determining the economic value of applying additional fertilizer for a range of possible crop prices and fertilizer costs? h

Colin Bergstrom tows both a Veris and an EM38 soil sensor across a field in the Peace River district. GROWING NEW IDEAS / GROWING KNOWLEDGE / GROWING STEWARDSHIP

Farming Smarter / spring 2017



New projects a win for agriculture By Trevor Lewington, CEO Economic Development Lethbridge


he start of a new year is always an opportunity to take stock of past successes and set goals for the future. At Economic Development Lethbridge (EDL), our agenda for 2017 includes continuing to work on the development and growth of the agricultural and agri-food sectors in our region. Agriculture and agri-food are core wealthgenerating industries for southern Alberta with more than 1,200 related businesses in the Lethbridge area. In fact, the strength of this sector is a major contributor to the economic stability that sets Lethbridge apart from other resource-dependent parts of the province. In 2016, the agri-food sector in Lethbridge grew even stronger with two significant investments from major agri-food processors. In August, Richardson International Ltd. announced a $120 million upgrade to its canola processing facility that would enable the plant to process an additional 250,000 metric tons of canola every year. In December, Cavendish Farms unveiled plans to expand its Lethbridge operations through the construction of a new frozen potato processing plant. This $350-million facility is the largest private investment in Lethbridge’s history and will enable Cavendish Farms to increase its annual production capacity. Besides the obvious and significant direct and spin-off benefits for the local economy, both these announcements represent a step forward in the development of the agri-food industry cluster and the growth of the valueadded processing sector in the region. Today, there are more than 120 agri-food processors in Lethbridge with a number of others outside the city. But there’s still much room for growth in value-added processing, given that Alberta currently only processes 35 per cent of the crops grown here. Bringing more investment in this area will continue to be a major focus of our efforts in 2017. We’ll also continue to work to capitalize on Lethbridge’s strength as an education, research and innovation hub in order to share knowledge and form new partnerships. EDL commits to building capacity with its academic partners Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge along with the rest of the Regional Innovation Network of Southern Alberta (RINSA) organizations to


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

MP Rachel Harder toured with Farming Smarter in late August to get a feel for harvest 2016.

…there’s still much room for growth in value-added processing, given that Alberta currently only processes 35 per cent of the crops grown here. Bringing more investment in this area will continue to be a major focus of our efforts in 2017 support business and entrepreneurial development that often fosters the convergence of technology with traditional industries such as agriculture. This and other close partnerships with Lethbridge’s first-class, post-secondary institutions will bear fruit in research capacity, new technologies and in creating the next generation of agricultural professionals who will continue to push the industry forward.

Moving beyond the local market, we are taking steps to raise international awareness about our strength in this sector by attending conferences like the World Agritech Innovation Summit that brings together agribusiness leaders, investors and innovators focused on knowledge-sharing and partnership building. With our regional partners, we are also building relationships that connect us to foreign investment opportunities through reciprocal missions, business-to-business meetings and targeted key messages centered on the Invest in Southern Alberta opportunity. 2017 is shaping up to be a year of uncertainty on the global market. However, southern Alberta’s agriculture sector has always shown resilience and the remarkable ability to adapt to new market realities while embracing innovation. It is this trait that has made this sector one of the key pillars of our region’s strength and stability. Industry expertise, high quality products and ongoing commitment toward food security and safety all help bolster the appeal of southern Alberta’s agriculture sector to investors. Economic Development Lethbridge is proud to continue to serve as a support system, community collaborator and proactive advocate for the future evolution, growth and prosperity of this vital sector. h


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Farm Safety

Promoting farm health and safety with a carrot instead of a stick

By Madeleine Baerg


ince the Alberta Government unveiled Bill 6 in December 2015, the mere mention of farm health and safety is enough to rile up many Alberta farmers and ranchers. While Bill 6 may dominate newspaper safety headlines, a much smaller, much quieter farm safety initiative is underway in rural community centres, colony meeting rooms and kitchens across Alberta. Also, it is proving effective on a scale that far surpasses its size. It’s called the Sustainable Farm Families program and is an intense, ultra-personal look at how health and safety — specifically one’s own health and safety — can make or break a farm business. The new-to-Canada program, run by a non-profit called the Farm Safety Centre, seeks to foster on-farm safety through educated buy-in rather than legislated compliance. What makes it so different from other safety programs is its personalization: each free, daylong small group session includes individualized health assessments that test everything from cholesterol levels and body composition to metabolic age, heart health, blood glucose rates, hearing, sight and more. Farmers sign up for a full day session in each of three consecutive years; which allows for year to year comparison of health results and assessment of lifestyle choices. The results of the health analyses are enough to scare many farmers and make them listen. Most farmers believe that the farming lifestyle — working independently in the great outdoors, far from the traffic, stress and smog of city-life — is healthy. Turns out they may not be right. Research shows that compared to urbanites, Alberta’s rural citizens are significantly more likely to die of cardiovascular disease, of cancer and of injuries. In fact, rural men can expect to live three years less than their urban counterparts on average and to enjoy less quality of life in their final years. “We get a lot of resistance when we talk about this amongst farmers,” says Jordan Jensen, co-ordinator for the Sustainable Farm Families program. “They say no way, you’re twisting the numbers. Why, why are farmers unhealthy?” For answers, look to the lifestyle and the statistics: most farmers regularly experience elevated stress, have minimal time off and only poorly — if at all — separate work and home. They have no paid sick leave, and many have poor diets and little exercise.


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

Left: A group works on manuals during a Safe Farm Families workshop. Right: Jordan Jensen. Photos: Farming Smarter

Among 270 Alberta farmers that participated in the Farm Safety Centre’s voluntary health assessments, 71 per cent were overweight, 16 per cent were obese, 34 per cent had a visceral fat rating in the danger zone (the fat that squeezes your heart and other organs). Also, 58 per cent had a metabolic age (the age their body is functioning at from a metabolic health perspective) 10 years or more higher than their chronological (calendar) age. Farmers are also notorious for being dangerously tough: skipping medical attention, pushing themselves past exhaustion and taking risks. In fact, farming ranks as the third most hazardous industry in Canada and the leading cause of workplace fatalities. Yet, farmers tend to push back against any discussion of occupational health and safety. At best, the topic tends to draw yawns. At worst, it draws resentment and ill-will, with farmers angrily asking what right others have to tell them what to do on their own farms. The Sustainable Farm Families Program, based on an incredibly successful program of the same name in Australia, banks on the fact that education can overcome farmers’ largely negative default emotions toward the topic of safety. It seems to be working; 98 per cent of program participants in Alberta rate the program as worthwhile and good value for their time. Of course, as Jensen says, the program

wouldn’t be useful if participants didn’t commit to making health and safety improvements based on what they learn in the program. Luckily, the vast majority of participants commit to changes: between 87 and 98 per cent (depending on the group) report that they will make some kind of a lifestyle change based on what they’ve learned through the program. The program’s approach to farm safety is matter-of-fact: “It doesn’t matter if you lose your leg in a grain auger or to diabetes. Ultimately it will have the same impact on your farm. So, do your farm safety checks,” says Jensen. By program’s end, 89 per cent of participants say they understand the link between farm safety and their own health and 96 per cent report that they will complete the program’s recommended farm safety activities on their farm. “We often find that people are reluctant when they first show up to the workshop, saying: ‘I don’t know why I’m here,’ or ‘My wife made me,’ or ‘My boss said I had to.’ But by the end, they are quite appreciative and surprised. They say, ‘At first I was upset and grumpy, but then it was worthwhile.’” The Sustainable Farming Families is free of charge to any small group (10 to 25 participants) of farmers and/or their families, anywhere in Alberta. Contact Jordan to book your group, (403) 752-4585 or j.jensenSFF@ abfarmsafety.com Visit the website www.abfarmsafety.com. h



Innotch Alberta makes strides in flax research by Alexis Kienlen


lberta grows 10 per cent of Canada’s flax acres, which excites Jan Slaski, senior researcher and team lead of Crop Development and Management at Innotech Alberta (formerly Alberta Innovates Technology Futures). For the past seven years, Innotech Alberta in Vegreville has been a powerhouse for flax agronomy research. “Flax is a short stature crop, so it doesn’t take a lot of fertilizer. It doesn’t deplete your soil, which is beneficial in the rotation,” said Slaski. In 2010, Innotech Alberta started working with the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission on the northern adapted flax program, supported by numerous farmers’ organizations, and completed about three years ago. Since then, the organization has continued flax agronomy research. “If you look at the distribution of flax acres across the prairies, flax is a southern crop,” said Slaski. “It is grown in southern SaskatchewanSaskatoon, Regina and south of Regina. In Alberta, it is grown primarily in the irrigation districts.” Southern crops typically do not perform well in the central or northern prairies. But thanks to the northern adapted flax program, growers are growing flax as far north as La Crete or Fort Vermilion. Flax growers wanted to expand into areas without moisture problems; which made the north more appealing. Northern grown flax has superior oil characteristics. Cooler temperatures in the Peace region, particularly at night, change flax oil’s metabolism, producing better quality oil with higher omega-3s. The northern adapted flax program developed varieties that flourished up north, even in the region’s cold spring soil. Innotech, in collaboration with its research partners, developed new genetics and determined best management practices. The breeding objective was to develop crops that would tolerate spring frosts and germinate well in colder soils. “Flax varieties meant for the south are very late maturing. Up north, you don’t have enough growing degree days, so late maturing is a problem and it has to be shortened,” said Slaski. Flax varieties that grow well in the south do not do as well when they are transferred to northern or central Alberta. Many of these varieties experience delayed maturing or fall reflowering.

Jan in flax plots. photo: jan slaski

“If you talk to regular flax growers, they have the tendency to seed flax as their last crop,” said Slaski. “They seed wheat first, then canola, then barley and then flax.” Around Vegreville, the planting date for flax was usually around June. The late maturing varieties didn’t grow evenly, so parts of the plants were ready for harvest while stems were still green, which was a problem. The researchers conducted a number of seeding date trials, and found early seeded flax didn’t perform as well as expected. It took longer to germinate, and overall yields were reduced. “We found that flax yield is very sensitive in terms of seeding date. Here on the central and northern prairies, the optimal seeding date is between May 17 to 20. When you plant then, you get significantly higher yield of all tested varieties and statistically higher yield benefits,” said Slaski. Northern and central Alberta growers who delayed by one week and seeded after the May long weekend suffered a 20 to 30 per cent yield penalty. Penalties were even higher when growers seeded in the first week of June. While Slaski can’t speak to a specific seeding date for southern Alberta growers, he urged them not to delay seeding until the second part of May. “They have warmer soils, so they can seed earlier,” he said. When flax seeding is delayed for too long,


flax gets taller; which isn’t a good thing. Flax straw management can be a big problem for some growers because it decomposes poorly and there are limited markets for the straw. “If you seed late, you get lower yields of grain and higher yields of fibre; which you have to manage somehow, so you’re adding to your troubles,” he said. “We haven’t done trials in the south, but I guess there is a window of opportunity for them to seed flax, for higher seed yields, shorter plants and shorter straw.” Flax does offer a lot of benefits to growers. Farmers who grow flax have another crop in their rotations. Flax is a short stature crop that doesn’t use a lot of fertilizer. “It doesn’t deplete your soil; which is beneficial in the rotation,” said Slaski. “It’s not thirsty for fertilizers and can utilize residual fertilizer from the previous years.” Flax is harvested almost exclusively for the seed used for pressing oil. The cakes are used for animal feed. There are thousands of applications for flax seed and about 80 per cent of flax is exported with Europe and China as the big markets. Slaski and his team are currently researching fungicide application on flax and the spin-off benefits they see from applying fungicide on the plants. They have no confirmation yet of initial findings. But one thing is for certain — flax production in Alberta is here to stay. h Farming Smarter / spring 2017



Go forage it! AAFC’s Dr. Alana Iwaasa (re)introduces two cultivars designed to counter producers’ biggest forage headaches By Madeleine Baerg


ince forages constitute more than 80 per cent of an average beef cow’s diet over its lifetime, a successful cattle producer must be, first and foremost, a top-notch forage producer. In the western prairies’ dry, calcareous, often saline southern regions, it can be challenging to grow forage mixes that maximize land and livestock productivity. Luckily, Canadian scientists are stepping forward with significant forage advances geared specifically toward southern landscapes. Recent new research from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Lethbridge and Swift Current may help southern producers overcome two major forage stumbling blocks: land salinification and its commonly resulting weed problem, and livestock bloat. “With our unpredictable cattle market and increasing land prices, producers need to increase their production efficiency,” says Dr. Alan Iwaasa, a grazing management research scientist with AAFC in Swift Current. “Getting the most out of the land you have is a priority today because you can’t necessarily just run out and buy more land: producers need to maximize gain per acre and also maximize the utility of less productive land.” Saline seeps — areas where groundwater carries salt to the soil surface — are a large and growing concern in many southern Albertan fields. Planting a perennial crop that can use up the groundwater in order to keep salts lower in the soil profile can be an effective way to counter this productivity-sapping problem. Unfortunately, few plants are salt tolerant enough to handle growing in groundwater discharge areas. The more severe the salinity, the narrower the choice of forages. Those that might survive are often pushed out by salt-tolerant weeds. Seven years ago, Iwaasa (AAFC-Swift Current) was part of a team lead by Dr. Harold Steppuhn (retired) responsible for developing a new, extremely salt tolerant green wheatgrass called AC-Saltlander. Though AC-Saltlander is fairly expensive to plant, it has gained interest — particularly over the last couple of years as its seed becomes more readily available — because of its success outcompeting foxtail barley and downy brome in slightly to severely saline soils. AC-Saltlander is a creeping rooted forage with qualities and production similar to smooth bromegrass and salinity tolerance close to that of tall wheatgrass. It grows very well in very dry areas, with dry matter biomass production around 3,000 kg/ha. Most importantly, it can produce dramatic declines in both foxtail barley and downy brome in certain saline soil conditions.


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

Sainfoin growing in Dr. Surya Acharya’s research fields at Lethbridge. photo: Farming Smarter

“AC-Saltlander is a good alternative to grow in some of our saline areas. It can offer a way to recoup marginal and unproductive land and reduce the expansion of saline areas on fringe land,” says Iwaasa. Recently, the Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) announced a new study to develop best management practices for AC-Saltlander and efforts are underway to provide AC-Saltlander seed with zero downy brome weed seed. Iwaasa is also part of a team studying another kind of under-appreciated forage called sainfoin. Back in the 1970 and 1980s, Canadian researchers introduced Melrose and Nova: the first ever made-in-Canada cultivars of sainfoin. Highly palatable to livestock and offering decent productivity, sainfoin gained attention as a non-bloating alternative to alfalfa. However, it quickly fell by the wayside because it was largely designed for monoculture but had expensive seed, only moderate longevity, and could not stand up to alfalfa’s productivity. Fast forward multiple decades. Since the early 2000s, Canadian researchers have studied sainfoin’s potential when mixed into a forage stand. While monocultured sainfoin may never become popular, the research shows that a stand containing just 20 per cent sainfoin highly effectively reduces the incidence of cattle bloating from alfalfa. This is exciting news for the cattle industry, since the fear of bloat limits many producers’ enthusiasm for feeding alfalfa despite its exceptional feed value. GROWING NEW IDEAS / GROWING KNOWLEDGE / GROWING STEWARDSHIP

Grazing Saltlander.

photo: Alan D. Iwaasa, Ph.D.

Though sainfoin is not the only non-bloating legume available, it is one of the very few that does well in drier areas, can handle drought and competes well with alfalfa in a mixed forage field. In the driest of dryland areas where farmers rarely manage multiple cuts, Nova is an excellent choice. In moister dark brown or parkland dryland areas that achieve two or more cuts per season, AC Mountainview, a new cultivar developed by Dr. Surya Acharya (AAFC-Lethbridge) and released by AAFC in 2014, could be a better choice. Though its seed is more expensive, its improved regrowth potential maximizes its forage benefits throughout the season. Acharya and Iwaasa have now shifted some of their sainfoin research

efforts to focus on its longevity. While some sainfoin stands manage to remain productive for a decade or more, research needs to determine what best production and grazing management practices maintain and improve sainfoin’s longevity under intensive and extensive production systems. Additionally, the researchers are studying best practices for introducing or re-introducing sainfoin into existing alfalfa and/or certain grass pastures via various seeding methods. Results from the research may be released in 2018-19. Iwaasa is excited about his work and keen to share. If you’d like to learn more about AC-Saltlander or AC Mountainview, you can reach Iwaasa at Alan.Iwaasa@agr.gc.ca. h

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Farming Smarter Research

Dryland grain corn can fit prairie rotations By Lee Hart


hile there are still plenty of agronomic questions to answer, early indications from southern Alberta field trials show dryland grain corn has potential to be an economic cash crop for prairie farmers. Results from just one year of Farming Smarter field trials at several locations south of Highway 3 show without really any exceptional measures, grain corn varieties can yield at least a respectable 80 bushels per acre, says Ken Coles, Farming Smarter general manager. It isn’t a run-away figure, says Coles, but it is a good indication that growing corn on dryland, under conservation farming practices, can be economic. He says there is still plenty to learn about seeding practices and proper agronomics but the crop has a potential fit in dryland crop rotations. Interestingly enough, from the first year of field trials, he also learned field corn isn’t quite as needy as many people thought. “We’re looking at production practices for grain corn, because some of the major seed companies are eyeing Western Canada as a new opportunity for dryland grain corn acres,” says Coles. “There is some talk that in the coming years, as improved varieties are developed, that this could be an eight or nine million acre crop across western Canada. Our applied research association thought if this crop is going to be considered, then how do we grow it? What are proper seeding practices, what are fertility and moisture requirements? Does dryland grain corn have a fit?” Field trails were set up in four southern Alberta locations in 2015 — plots at Lethbridge, Vauxhall, Bow Island and Medicine Hat. Funding for the three-year project came from the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund and Dupont Pioneer, with co-operation from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and Alberta Crop Diversification Centre at Brooks. The proper seeding rate (plant population) for grain corn under dryland conditions and where it fits in rotation, are two of the questions the trial is exploring. Farming Smarter used a plot-scale Monosem vacuum-type row planter for its trials. They compared 20 and 30-inch row spacing and applied a number of seeding rates from 15,000 to 35,000 seeds per acre. While it is only one year of data, it appeared the 20-inch row spacing produced the highest yields. That was attributed to the fact that with narrower spacing and a dense crop, the crop can-


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

opy closed faster and provided more leaf area to capture solar energy and heat. And while yields increased as seeding-rates increased Coles says it appears targeting a seeding rate in that 15,000 to 25,000 seeds per acre range provided the highest economic return per acre. The Monosem planter was equipped with a double chute fertilizing system that allowed Farming Smarter to apply liquid phosphorus with the seed and sideband nitrogen. “One of the things we learned is that corn is fairly efficient and isn’t dependent on a lot of added nitrogen,” says Coles. In fact, in the fivesite years of data, they found no yield response to added nitrogen. Corn needs about 1.1 to 1.2 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of yield. “In our plots, we compared everything from zero to 150 pounds of added nitrogen and really saw no yield increase regardless of the amount of nitrogen applied,” says Coles. “I believe one of the misconceptions about corn is that it really goes after the nitrogen. But in our experience dryland corn makes fairly efficient use of soilavailable nitrogen.” Overall on research plots, corn yields ranged from 80 to 120 bushels per acre but they found none of the yield differences could be attributed to added nitrogen. The Farming Smarter trial is also looking at

crop sequencing — where does corn best fit in rotation? Perhaps as no surprise, the crop had its poorest performance when seeded after canola, mustard and wheat and best when seeded after peas, soybeans and lentils. “Wheat and oilseeds are non-mycorrhizal crops,” says Coles. “It appears from a nutrient uptake standpoint, corn performs better after mycorrhizal crops such as legumes and pulses, which appeared to improve the uptake of phosphorus and other nutrients.” And when comparing corn yields under tillage and no-till systems they found actually a slight yield increase (about five bushels per acre) under no till systems. The grain corn varieties also appeared to handle a range of growing conditions from near drought to too wet. “It seemed to perform quite well under these varied conditions,” says Coles. “And perhaps that was another surprise — corn is really quite drought tolerant.” “There are still questions to be answered, but without high, added fertility and under fairly dry conditions at times, we were still able to achieve at least an 80 bushel yield, which is pretty respectable,” says Coles. “We’ll look at the data over the next couple seasons and hopefully we can continue the project but it appears grain corn has potential under dryland farming.” h

Dryland grain corn growing in 2016 Farming Smarter plots in Cypress County. photo: farming smarter


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Growing Knowledge

Who do you trust in a world of fake news? by Alexis Kienlen


arming Smarter had Alexis Kienlen talk to some FarmTech delegates about how they access information in the Digital Age. People face a blizzard of social media, fake news and real journalism. How do they find useful stuff?

Duane Kent

Duane is a precision farming specialist with Moody’s Equipment based in Olds. He farms near Beiseker where he runs 100 pair of cowcalf. Conferences like this (FarmTech) are a good source of information for sure. I’m kind of anti social media, but Twitter is amazing, especially the ag community. I try to stay away from the hot topics, but Twitter is quite good. It’s amazing the responses you get. You send out a question and you get 1,000 answers. I listen to Real Agriculture, that one is really good. I read Alberta Farmer Express and The Western Producer. Most of the links that I follow are to articles on Twitter. Ed Tollefson

Ed is a director for Alberta Barley, farms about 1,700 acres of grains and canola and runs 100 cow-calf near Valleyview. Ed attends farm conferences like FarmTech and reads The Western Producer and Alberta Farmer Express. I also research on the Internet. We still have an A&W crowd that chats at the coffee shop, but it’s getting worse because we’re in the Peace Country and farms are getting so much bigger and there are fewer and fewer of us all the time.

I guess you also rely on your ag retail and your agronomists. It’s their job to filter out all the ideas and present to you something that’s decent. I also watch Real Agriculture and Farming Smarter on YouTube. John Kowalchuk

John is a grain farmer from Trochu who farms about 1,400 acres. He grows wheat, barley, canola, yellow peas and soy beans. He’s also on the board for the Alberta Pulse Growers. I get a lot of information from other farmers. I talk to other farmers and go on the Internet and Twitter. A lot of times, I’ll use links in Twitter to find out more. I don’t hire anyone to do any agronomy on my farm. It’s all done by me. I do my own soil testing. I follow a lot of other agronomists on Twitter so I can track and see how they do things. I grow soybeans, so I have watched all the videos on soybean school on Real Agriculture. I’ve watched a lot of American videos too. Sometimes you have to go out of the country to see what their practices are because people are just not doing it in Canada, so you watch YouTube videos. I went to the Crop Production show and I go to Agri-Trade and FarmTech every year. h

Duane Kent

Ed Tollefson

Scott Keller

Scott farms near New Norway and grows malt barley, canola, wheat, peas and faba beans. Top Crop Manager is still a good publication for solid agronomy information. I go to FarmTech, but that’s about all I go to. I use Twitter a lot and follow good people and then read the articles they tweet out. There are people who have a little more clout, especially if you know who they are and trust them. You use them as a filter. You can’t read everything yourself, so you follow a guy and you think, “This guy is a good farmer or we think along the same lines.” The good articles always keep resurfacing and cycling around and around. I read way less in print and way more online.


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

Scott Keller

John Kowalchuk


Farming Smarter

Ike Lanier wins 2016 Orville Yanke Soil Conservation award By Madeleine Baerg


nowing the best path forward depends on knowing what — and who — drove key industry change behind us. For this reason, Farming Smarter awarded long-time southern Alberta farmer, farm activist, and zero-till pioneer Ike Lanier with the 2016 Orville Yanke award for contributions to soil conservation at its December conference. “Ike Lanier is an incredibly worthy recipient of the Orville Yanke award,” says Rob Dunn, an agronomic consultant with FarmWise Inc. and presenter of the award. “He hasn’t just led the conservation tillage and zero-till movement, he was on the bleeding edge of it. He exemplifies agricultural leadership, both on his farm and through his commitments to agricultural associations.” The Orville Yanke award is a memorial award named in honour of one of southern Alberta’s earliest and most ardent soil conservation leaders. Medicine Hat farmer Orville Yanke played a pivotal role in founding both the Southern Alberta Conservation Association and the Southern Applied Research Association, the two organizations that merged in 2012 to form Farming Smarter. Since 2009, Farming Smarter has presented the Orville Yanke award annually to celebrate a farmer or researcher whose contributions have significantly impacted soil conservation research and extension in southern Alberta. This year’s choice of winner surprised no one: after all, few have done nearly so much to further the no-till system of farming in Alberta as Ike. The Laniers were among the very first southern Albertans to attempt conservation farming back in the early to mid-1980s on land they aptly named ‘Neveridle Farm’ (now under the care of son Rod). Ike Lanier credits the wind with encouraging him to look beyond norms. “We had too much wind, too many years of dust and damage to the soil. I lived through the 30s and that was bad of course. But there were other years that were just about as bad. It was experiencing what the wind was doing to our soils and what appeared cultivation was doing to our soils that convinced me,” he says. At the time, every factor seemed set against his success: glyphosate cost $25/litre, equipment was inadequate, peer pressure was mostly against him. “Ike faced great personal cost. He had to constantly adapt, invest and push against popular opinion to come up with a system that worked. But, he was of the mind that we need to invest in zero-till at all cost,” says Dunn.

Ike & Rod Lanier in a field at Neveridle Farm around 1970.

Rob Dunn (L) presented Ike Lanier (R) with the Orville Yanke award at Farming Smarter’s conference in Dec. 2016. photo: Farming Smarter

Still, he never questioned whether swimming against the tide was worth it. “I never had any doubt. We never had a crop failure from continuous cropping. And we found that there were cost savings in the amount of machinery we needed that offset the cost of roundup.” “I didn’t worry too much about acceptance. I thought it was the right thing to do so we did it,” he adds. “We farm between two major highways so we got a lot of exposure. People were pretty sceptical at first. But, I didn’t really care too much


photo: submitted

because my priorities initially were selfish: I was looking after our farm.” Ike Lanier’s contributions, together with those of a handful of other farmers who were willing to be on the bleeding edge of conservation tillage, helped Canadian prairie agriculture make enormous leaps forward far more quickly than might have happened without them. “If there’s one thing that economists always teach us, it’s that the early adopters of any economically beneficial innovation or technology get the biggest benefit,” says Dunn. “Ike helped western Canadian farmers get ahead of the pack. He helped stimulate research, he worked alongside scientists, he led on his own farm. What that means for us now is that western Canadian farmers have, to a large extent, been leading the charge instead of following it.” Lanier shrugs off the praise, but admits that seeing the new, mostly zero-till landscape around his farm today is a pleasure. “I was driving down from the farm towards Foremost, Alberta when I realised the landscape had been changed over the past couple decades and that it’s never going back. The fact that 80 per cent of western agriculture is now under reduced or zero tillage is making a major difference.” Thank you, Ike Lanier, for your willingness to lead southern Alberta’s agricultural community so boldly. And, adds Dunn, with such class. “Ike Lanier has never been afraid to take a risk. And through it all he did it in such a gentlemanly manner. He’s challenged us all and has always done it with grace and a smile.” h Farming Smarter / spring 2017



Stop the troglodytes By C. Lacombe


don’t know about you, but I’m finding it harder and harder to remain tolerant of what people say on their chosen soapboxes – social media, conventional media, highly public or around a small table. Increasingly, I find myself trying really hard not to show how I want to respond even though my whole body and mind is reacting in a way that makes me want to grab someone by the throat and shake them. I find myself thinking, “how can you be that ignorant and still be alive?” I can be having a perfectly happy day and get thrown off-kilter by a single meme on Facebook. Not because I’m a hot-head, but because communication seems to have devolved into political attacks and implications that I’m sooooooo stupid, I’ll believe the quasi truthful, isolated fact that calls my ethics and values into question. And there I am, banging my head on my desk and wondering just how many troglodytes live on this planet. Should I be worried about the fabric of our country because I appear to live in a society where ignorance is a justifiable reason to take violent action? And I feel it in my body. I know it’s those stress hormones flooding my body and clouding my mind and turning my thoughts to pure resentment. It makes me wonder how many of us are moving around in a state of apprehension that at any moment someone may violate societal laws or norms and smack us for something we say. Also, how many people are in a state of distraction while driving a car or crossing a street? I also wonder

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if hordes of people feeling threatened, misunderstood and angry makes it more likely someone WILL take action in real life. Is this what might be behind some of the racial attacks? I think so. By allowing ourselves to take our public discourse to the mud-slinging level in all arenas, do we degrade everyone’s respect for each other, the law, accepted morals and common decency? Are we pushing our country toward division and is that really the outcome we want? Do we want Canada to fragment? I think the unity of our communities, provinces and country depends on our ability to respect each other. I’m not seeing a lot of respect these days in our public conversations. I can’t help thinking that trying to rip apart our democratically elected governments isn’t the best way to ensure any kind of advantage. Or that pitting citizens against each other secures our future in a world where we will confront differences far greater as we move inevitably toward interacting with a global market and culture. If we can’t get along at home, how will we go forth and sell our products to a different culture where we might have to confront extraordinarily different people? We all need to be able to approach challenging topics and challenging people with respect (even while we fantasize them walking off a cliff). We are, after all, a highly educated population that lives in relative comfort for the most part. We are not actually threatened on any given day and aren’t really surrounded by violent idiots with no respect for authority. None of us actually want to live in a community, province or country where we kill off our political leaders to make change or shoot each other for thinking impure thoughts. Lots of us actually used to enjoy debate, examination of facts and exchange of ideas. Let’s do that again! h Suggested Video:

TEDTalk Robb Willer: How to have better political conversations

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Farming Smarter / Spring 2017



Wheat Stalk – July 20

4pm - 8pm (includes dinner)

9am - 4pm (includes lunch)

Farming Smarter Lethbridge Site

Lethbridge Plot Hop – June 8 Farming Smarter Lethbridge Site 9am - 3pm (includes lunch)

Farming Smarter Lethbridge Site Cost: $95

Open Farm Days – August 20 Farming Smarter Lethbridge Site

Cost: $95

11am - 4pm (BBQ)

Field School – June 27-29

Cypress Conference – Oct 26

8am - 3:30 pm (includes lunch)

9am - 4pm (Includes lunch)

Cost: $195

Cost: $195

Medicine Hat Field Day – July 6

Farming Smarter Conference – December 5 & 6

Farming Smarter Lethbridge Site

Farming Smarter Cypress County Site 9am - 3pm (includes lunch) Cost: $95

Medicine Hat – venue TBD

Coast Hotel Lethbridge 8am - 4pm

Includes meals, snacks & refreshments Cost: $295 full conference; $195 one day

watch for details on www.farmingsmarter.com GROWING NEW IDEAS / GROWING KNOWLEDGE / GROWING STEWARDSHIP

Farming Smarter / spring 2017



OWC fosters agricultural stewardship By Cody Spencer – WLP Manager

WLP team member Anne Stevick showing off a successful off-stream watering system.


he Watershed Legacy Program (WLP), started in 2009, helps landowners achieve a higher level of stewardship on their land. Since its inception, its mandate dictates that it provide funds for projects that improve the health of ecosystems and benefit water quality. Usually, projects take the form of riparian fencing to keep cattle out of creeks and rivers, off-stream watering systems, invasive weed management (weed pulls!) and bioengineering of stream banks. These projects have had a good impact on the land and I’ve talked to a lot of the past recipients who are extremely appreciative of the support from the WLP. But we feel there is more opportunity to support the agricultural community in improving the conditions on their land and in the social arena. Things are changing quickly in many facets of our life and agriculture is no different. Consumer expectations are higher than ever and demand more transparency at the producer level. Technology has, and will continue, to alter food production in ways that would be unfathomable to the farmer of say, even the 1950’s. We have a climate issue on our hands, that whether we like it or not, will require we adapt. The amount of natural resources needed to feed 10 billion people are slowly dwindling. All of these things make for a complicated situation in the coming years and we will need to adjust. By expanding the capacity and broadening the scope of the WLP, the OWC wants to make sure the producers of southern Alberta have resources to deal with issues coming down the pipe.


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

OWC executive director Shannon Frank with our friend, cattleman Lloyd Price and Cody Spencer, WLP Manager. Photos: Oldman Watershed Council

Our first step in redesigning our program will be to host three discussion sessions throughout the watershed. We want to give producers and watershed stewards a chance to tell us what they think are the big challenges facing watershed stewardship in an agricultural context. These sessions titled Voices of the Oldman: Agriculture Matters took place in January/February 2017. We would like to hear from you if you happened to miss them. With the input we get from the events, we will send a summary to the Government of Alberta in hopes that they will use the information to craft their own programs and policies. Another goal we have is finding ways to incorporate youth into our program. The OWC wants to create positions that will give young people interested in agriculture

the chance to gain experience working in a land stewardship setting. As we all know, the youth are the future and agriculture specifically needs to cater to the young demographic, so we encourage any aspiring agriculturalists to contact us about internship opportunities with the WLP. We have big dreams, but to do this we also need financial support. We need donors to help us keep doing on-the-ground stewardship projects, help with the social license of agriculture and engage youth in ag stewardship. If you are interested in supporting the future of agricultural stewardship in the Oldman watershed by becoming a sponsor, volunteering, joining the OWC board of directors or just taking photographs for the OWC Flickr page, please contact Cody Spencer — WLP Manager 403-360-4572 or email cody@oldmanwatershed.ca. h


Farming Smarter Research

Precision planter banter


by Mike Gretzinger

his aerial shot (plots were Photoshopped into a grid) sums up the Precision Canola Seeding Rate trial nicely. It was taken July 12, 2016 at the Lethbridge rainfed site and shows each of the treatments. We had five seeding rates (20, 40, 60, 80 and 160 seeds/m2) and three seeding systems (our custom research drill with Pillar Laser disc-hoe openers 9.5" spacing, the Monosem Precision Planter 12" spacing and the Monosem Precision Planter 20" spacing). The photo provides visual evidence of differences in seed distribution, plant uniformity and canopy closure. Our first impressions of the precision planter were that the seed-to-soil contact, uniformity of depth, seed spacing and emergence improved at all locations (Lethbridge rainfed, Lethbridge irrigated, Medicine Hat rainfed) vs the air drill. Canola seeded with the precision planter 12" rows had 35 per cent higher emergence and 21 per cent higher yield compared with our standard airdrill 9.5" rows. The plots seeded with the precision planter 20" spacing had 20 per cent higher emergence but a 13 per cent decrease in yield compared with the air drill 9.5" spacing. At the Lethbridge rainfed site, the lowest yielding treatment was, not sur-

prisingly, the air drill at 20 seeds/m2 and the highest was the precision planter 12" at 80 seeds/m2. However, at the Lethbridge irrigated site, the lowest yield was from the precision planter 20" at 160 seeds/m2. This treatment resulted in the most dense seed row of any treatment and probably contributed to the poor result. The highest yield was the precision planter 12" at only 40 seeds/m2 and, in this case, was probably all the seed we needed under ideal conditions under the pivot.  The implications of this study so far indicate that the right combination of seeding rate and row spacing using the precision planter will allow lower seeding rates (and reduce seeding costs with less risk) and still target optimal canola stands of four to six plants/sq. ft. But the jury is still out on the overall cost savings of doing so, as the precision planter may require more time and maintenance to operate compared to a standard air drill. While the precision planter clearly improved emergence, I’m also not sold on the 20" row spacing as those yields were usually the lowest. Over the next couple growing seasons, we hope to see if these trends continue and gain more insight into the other effects of the treatments in terms of maturity, canopy closure, leaf area index, NDVI and disease/pest impacts. h

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Farming Smarter / spring 2017


Partner Profile

In cahoots! AG Canada scientists and FS By Kristi Cox


ood research becomes great when its results can be applied and utilized. The partnership between Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) and Farming Smarter enables this to happen. Farming Smarter provides a link between the scientists at AAFC and progressive farmers and agronomists who can put the research into practice. Collaborative field studies as well as field schools, conferences and crop walks are all ways that the two organizations work together. Farming Smarter also performs some of the studies and provides test plots to AAFC scientists who need locations for their research. Additionally, Farming Smarter and AAFC frequently exchange ideas and expertise. “We tend to work with them very closely; collaborating with them on research projects, as a source of expertise in designing our own trials and we also help build a stage for their knowledge through our extension events,” Farming Smarter’s General Manager, Ken Coles said. “I think it’s a good partnership.” One of many scientists from AAFC who has collaborated with Farming Smarter is Héctor Cárcamo, a research scientist who specializes in insect pest management. He has worked with Farming Smarter on several plot research projects, including an ongoing test on flea beetles. “We try to expand the site replication that we do,” Cárcamo said. “Without collaborators like him, it would be really hard to have so many different trials in different sites.” Another AAFC scientist currently working with Farming Smarter is Brian Beres, a research scientist in agronomy. Beres spoke to the importance of Farming Smarter’s ability to conduct research that is relevant and industry led. “Farming Smarter has an additional capacity of being able to conduct fairly complex field experiments, collect the data and get it back to us so we can compile it,” Beres said. It’s important to get the word out on the results of research projects. Farming Smarter appreciates the opportunity to call on scientists like Beres and Cárcamo to share their knowledge with producers and industry members at crop walks, field days and conferences. “The big value in collaborating and teaming up with Farming Smarter, in my mind, is they’ve done an excellent job of engaging with the producer and producer organizations that


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

Héctor Cárcamo taking questions from participants at Farming Smarter’s plot hop June 9, 2016. photos: farming smarter

have a stake in the agronomy research that I do,” Beres said. Cárcamo is also keen to accept any invitations to speak at Farming Smarter events. “They’re well attended usually and they get some of the very innovative growers at their meetings. We can pass on some of our research results and hopefully make them available and they can be adopted,” Cárcamo said. “The insect world is a very interesting one for farmers, so we’ve used (Cárcamo) repeatedly for crop walks and field schools and conferences,” said Coles. “Promoting economic thresholds and protecting beneficial insects is one of his passions and I think we’ve done a good job of getting his message out on that.” This communication relationship goes even deeper. Cárcamo works with Farming Smarter’s Communication Manager, Claudette Lacombe on a Bug of the Month feature in Farming Smarter’s newsletter. “Insects can be interesting, somewhat mysterious, fascinating, and complicated,” Cárcamo said. “We try to find information that is timely and relevant to the audience.” In a unique twist on the partnership, Farming Smarter now employs Dr. Bob Blackshaw, a retired AAFC scientist. “Dr. Bob Blackshaw was an Ag Canada scientist, and was very supportive of us,” Coles said. “He’s retired now, and he’s working with us half time. We’d love to create a home for all these retiring scientists that still want to contribute. It becomes a great mentorship opportunity for us.”

Dr. Beres addressing participants of a Farming Smarter plot hop June 9, 2016.

Farming Smarter looks forward to continuing and expanding their partnership with AAFC. “All of the scientists that we work with have been wonderful. They’re usually more than happy to help us with an extension event or shed some insight through their knowledge or collaborations,” said Coles. h


Book Review

What might news be worth? review by c. lacombe

Mass Disruption – 30 Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution by John Stackhouse


think everyone should read this book. Seriously. If you want to understand how we got to Fake News, Food Babe and mistrust of journalists and journalism, read this book. In the spring 2016 Farming Smarter magazine, I talked about how the internet was as disruptive a technology as the printing press. John Stackhouse, a life-long journalist that rose to editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail, confirms all my suspicions in this book. As always, it’s about the money. Many people don’t realize that advertising dollars have always paid for news. In their heyday, newspapers (and later TV) had the only way advertisers could reach buyers. This meant that ad revenue was good and journalism was unfettered. It spawned some excellent newspapers, journals and TV programs over the decades. All that changed with the advent of the internet. Stackhouse explains the ongoing struggle real journalists faced through this revolution. News outlets bled money, cut staff, changed styles and jumped through hoops, but just couldn’t get out in front of the upstarts such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. He explains some of the things that initially held back established news sources and allowed start-ups to get out ahead of the pack. The challenge of course is that most of these new platforms didn’t produce journalism,

but they did attract advertising dollars away from the people who did. This prompted the Columbia Journalism Review to say, “As content marketers grow more sophisticated, they will continue to adopt the trappings of journalism if not the journalistic mission, creating a world in which more and more content looks and feels the same, but in fact isn’t.” We now have a large portion of our population that wants its information in ultra short, flashy bits on a phone and a small portion that want more, but they want it free. They get it too from Google and Facebook (shudder) and a few others. Google and Facebook are the only ones

making money, but they don’t produce content. At one point, Stackhouse says we need, “… most critically a renewed vow between journalists, readers and advertisers to restore value in the creation and integrity of news.” Amen. He does offer some hope for clear, objective, honest news produced under new models. There is a foundation in Texas providing news under a public broadcasting service model. Also, there are business interests seeing value in supporting real news without wanting to shape it to their purposes, but the revolution isn’t over yet. I hope Stackhouse updates us in five years because it’s very hard to see where this going. However, he does say there is evidence that people are getting tired of not knowing what’s really going on. The fact may be that if we want real information, we’re going to have to pay real money for it. The scary thing about that is many people can’t afford to pay for it and where does that leave them? This is a new media world that will be shaped by a generation raised on smart phones. Let’s hope they’re smarter than they sometimes look to us old farts. h Relative Links Globe & Mail www.theglobeandmail.com Quartz qz.com Buzzfeed www.buzzfeed.com Huffington Post www.huffingtonpost.ca Upworthy www.upworthy.com

Farming Smarter hosted its first Open Farm Day Aug. 21, 2016 where over 100 urban residents came to see agricultural research plots and equipment close up. Plan to attend Farming Smarter’s Open Farm Day this year Aug. 20.


Farming Smarter / spring 2017



Raising the bar for on-farm research by Lewis Baarda


armers are an inquisitive group. Perhaps this is why the appetite for on-farm research is growing. Precision agriculture has made it possible to easily conduct on-farm trials, and producers have been taking advantage. What better way to evaluate whether a new product or technology will work for you than testing it in your own field? The appetite for on-farm research is not just growing among producers. Agricultural companies want to see field validation of products to foster a move from development to marketing. Research scientists need to apply their findings in a field setting. On-farm trials can build a link between performance at a small-plot level and adoption by producers on a farm level. However, the principles relied upon in a laboratory or small-plot setting are not strictly applicable to on-farm research. Out on the farm, variability in the elements such as soil, elevation or weather can confound results of even a well designed trial. There is little that can be done to manage these factors, but we can work to better understand them. The confluence of GPS technology, soil sensors and computational advances make it much easier to understand and characterize field variability, so the advances ought to improve the quality of on-farm research. Many on-farm trials rely on weigh wagons and aggregate data, stretching the small-plot

A flag shows the accuracy of RTK GPS guided seeding.

template to fit a field scale environment. Doing so is missing out on an opportunity to really capitalize on the benefits on-farm research offers. Digging into the irregularity in both the field and the crop trial can help to better understand research observations and results. Understanding how a crop responds to a treatment under a range of conditions across a field tells us something about how we can expect a crop to behave, providing context for the generated data. Farmers are such an inquisitive group

because good information, which is paramount to effective decision making, is hard to come by. Used correctly, on-farm research can be a valuable source of unbiased and reliable information for producers. So as we conduct more field-scale research, why not use all the tools at our disposal to improve the quality of the data we collect. Let’s raise the bar for on-farm research. If you’re interested in working with Farming Smarter on a field scale research project, contact Lewis Baarda, On Farm Research, Lewis@ farmingsmarter.com. h

Grant to protect Alberta’s water resources Environment and Parks approved a multi-year grant totalling $925,000 to Land Stewardship Centre to help protect Alberta’s water resources, now and into the future. The grant is for $250,000/year, for each year 2017-20. This funding will allow the centre to support the development of long-term planning and community-based projects. “Land Stewardship Centre is an important partner in Alberta’s efforts to promote healthy aquatic ecosystems. Programs funded by these grants will result in reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy and safe, secure drinking water that will benefit all Albertans,” said Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks. This commitment builds on previous provincial support for Land Stewardship Centre’s Watershed Stewardship Grant Program, that supports local stewardship projects across


Farming Smarter / Spring 2017

the province. This program recently expanded to support projects benefitting the government’s wetland policy implementation. In addition to grant funding provided to the centre, a total of $3.2 million in provincial grants were allocated to Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils this year to promote the health and sustainability of Alberta’s water resources. On average, the total amount of government funding is leveraged 230 per cent by the councils through in-kind and cash contributions from other partners and government programs. Land Stewardship Centre is a not-for-profit, charitable organization working to facilitate land and environmental stewardship by improving understanding of healthy ecosystems, supporting community stewardship and strengthening policies that affect resource use.


Hotdog’s Hotdog’s



June 27th, 2017 | Lacombe, AB


It’s a day that brings the best research and agronomy extension experts from across the country into one field in Alberta, for a day of interactive, hands on, in-field learning where you move through learning stations and demos at your own pace. There’s also a big top tent, movies, games, a dunk tank and of course food trucks to round out this learning and networking extravaganza!

Connect with Alberta Canola: Your Local Directors

Brian Hildebrand, Foremost

Kevin Serfas, Turin


Southern Alberta Canola Council Agronomist (Covering Autumn Barnes parental leave)

Profile for Farm Business Communications

Farming smarter spring 2017  

Farming smarter spring 2017