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Growing New Ideas

Fall 2010 Edition

Farming Smarter $8.00

Official Publication of

Southern Applied Research Association

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Farming Smarter Fall 2010 Edition

Contents Chairman’s message . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Introducing Farming Smarter’s new website . . . . 4 Managing fusarium head blight focus of new project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 From the archives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Tied to the tracks — how we got there and why relief is in sight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Grains the new gold? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 SACA conference bullish on agriculture . . . . . . . 12 Farmer learning resource rises above soggy year . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Paying the way for agricultural research . . . . . . . 16 Applied research for the real world . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Galloping the Internet highway . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Crop yield monitors underused . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Family farm calls Chris Procyk back . . . . . . . . . . 24 Huddle up with an Early Adopter . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Looking back . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 Are the markets signaling opportunities for better margins? . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 More than one use for precision agriculture tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Manning comes to dialogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Managing the weather risks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Winter wheat project promises lots of answers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36 Newsbits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Farming Smarter is published bi-annually by the Southern Applied Research Association, RR8-36-11, Lethbridge, T1J 4P4 with the assistance of the Southern Alberta Conservation Association and support from the Agriculture Opportunities Fund and Alberta Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture program . Editorial Board: Corny Van Dasselaar, Editor: Claudette Lacombe

Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


Editorial » Ken Coles, SARA General Manager


hat a year! Challenging the spirit and fortitude of all those in production agriculture. The season started with snow storms and power outages. Followed by rain and more rain. While many fields were sown in two good weeks of weather in May, the planter wheels were turning for three long months, April, May, June and even some in July! Many fields were reseeded, some twice and, what is normally unheard of, some were not planted at all. We saw multiple weed flushes, significant nutrient losses, hail, disease and frost. Cool, moist conditions and variable crop maturity led to an extremely late harvest. Despite these challenges I’m always amazed at the true professionals out there when hearing comments such as “it could be worse,” “oh well, can’t control the weather,” “too much moisture is better than not enough” and of course the all too common “there’s always next year!” Good news stories included some respectable crop yields, higher wheat prices due to the Russian drought and very low prices for glyphosate. SARA’s endeavours faired reasonably well but also suffered from

excess moisture and significant weather related time crunches. Field scale studies were particularly challenging as cooperators struggled to complete the necessities in their operations. A tough year to study irrigation scheduling to manage fusarium head-blight when many folks barely got their pumps warmed up! Despite a slow first day, the Diagnostic School was a success bringing over 200 people through the site with positive reviews. An additional 400 people attended various crop walks including the Ag Tech seeding demo day and a good showing at our new Medicine Hat site. With good fall moisture we’re looking forward to some good results on our continued efforts with winter pulses and are also excited to partner with Brian Beres of AAFC in a major research effort focused on Winter Wheat agronomy. For information on our projects and events please refer to our new website and our umbrella organization site Enjoy the winter! Ken Coles Cutline text set in 8 pt. Univers Condensed. PHOTO CREDIT IF NEEDED M.Sc., B.Sc., P.Ag.

Introducing Farming Smarter’s new website By Ron Montgomery


ow farmers have applied research information at their fingertips always. The recent launch of is a hub of information for people who need answers now. It is the new site of Southern Applied Research Association (SARA), Southern Alberta Conservation Association (SACA) and their various partners/associates. Visit the site to find out about projects, recent news, upcoming events and an archive of this magazine. Even Tweets from the field. (Not to be confused with that famous cartooned yellow bird — Twitter is the latest in quick comments — check it out). Farming Smarter has a “flip” feature allowing one to virtually turn the pages creating the sensation of almost having a hardcopy in hand. You can also zoom in for larger print and so on. Simple to use and a great opportunity to stay informed on both past and present article topics. Still in the works is a registration feature for various events and conferences online. Currently, upcoming events are available for viewing, including agendas and so


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

on where applicable, but eventually the website will have direct online registration available. Videos are also available for viewing online; which is another popular feature in today’s ever advancing technology. There’s also a feature whereby interested readers can comment and discuss projects, issues and opportunities ensuring interactive participation among producers and others. Instant e-image posting from a remote site (eg pictures from the field) is yet another feature that will be incorporated into the website. Technology today allows near instant transmission from cellular phones with built-in camera capability. As you scroll about the site, you’ll note there’s a contacts link, plus a number of other informative pages. Even a careers site where job postings will be listed whenever applicable. So make a point of checking out www.farmingsmarter. com. And bookmark it so you can check back often to see what’s new. There’s even a Facebook page link. And of course those ever-exciting and continually updated Tweets.

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Date Revised: October 2010


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Managing fusarium head blight focus of new project SARA works with area farmers to plan strategies » By Helen McMenamin

Fusarium damage shows up at the early dough stage when the glumes of infected spikelets turn white and the rest of the head is green. The rachis (stalk) of the head shows brown lines as the fungus spreads into other parts of the plant. PHOTOS: H. MCMENAMIN


s fusarium graminearum infects more fields every year, farmers can no longer pretend it isn’t here. Everybody is forced to manage fusarium head bight — either to keep fields free of fusarium or to prevent fusarium in your fields from downgrading your grain and cutting into returns. Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) is working with nine farmers across southern Alberta to see how well fusarium head blight control strategies work in real life. SARA staff are taking grain and stubble samples from their fields to check the level of infection and the species of the fungus and linking that information to each farmer’s management strategies — rotations, cereal varieties, irrigation management and fungicide use. The project started with stubble samples last fall that showed seven of the nine farmers’ fields were infested with Fusarium graminearum. The never-ending rain and high humidity this year made it impossible to use irrigation management against fusarium — only one farmer in the project started up his pivot and only once, but perhaps the impact of fungicides and other strategies will show up in the grain samples. Fusarium overwinters in cereal crop residues or corn waste. In summer, spores are carried to flowers where they multiply and pre-


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

vent proper development of the grain and produce the toxin DON. SARA has a demonstration of fusarium at its Lethbridge site so you can see exactly what fusarium looks like in a real crop at various stages of development. Plant pathologists Kelly Turkington of Agriculture Canada and Ron Howard of Alberta Agriculture showed farmers and agronomists the signs of crop damage at a field day in August. “The late milk or early dough stages are the best time to see fusarium damage,” says Howard. “The fungus kills the glumes [the thin covers that protect the grain kernel] so they are white and stand out against the healthy heads that are still green. Later, the dead spikelets disappear in the mature heads. “After harvest, fusarium may discolor the first node above the ground, but you need lab analysis to confirm that the symptoms are from fusarium.” If you know you have fusarium damage in your crop, you can set the combine to blow out the lighter, fusarium-infected grains, so they don’t go into the tank. Keeping fusarium levels as low as possible in the grain you deliver is particularly important as the maximum FDK (fusarium damaged kernels) has been lowered — from 3 per cent to 2.5 per cent in No. 1 HRS for example, and by

Plant pathologists expect fusarium levels will be quite high in all cereals this year. sors will use the information to gauge the level of management they need to apply to wheat and other cereals. Solid information on the spread of fusarium head blight will be used in reviewing the fusarium regulations of Alberta’s Pest Act. Some people are suggesting the zero tolerance for fusarium in seed needs to be relaxed for southern Alberta. The Alberta Seed Growers have asked the province and municipalities to enforce the Pest Act or, if fusarium is too widespread, that those municipalities should be exempted from the fusarium regulations of the Pest Act. According to Seed Growers general manager, Lorena Pahl, the goal is “know your seed.” Whether you use your own seed or buy from a seed grower, you should have germination and vigor test information as well as test results for all diseases that are relevant in your area, including fusarium.  Ron Howard, (in red shirt) talks to farmers at SARA’s field day on fusarium and other diseases.

similar proportions for other grades. US standards have also been lowered. In part, the change is to allow grain companies to continue to blend grain to raise the value of as much grain as possible and still meet buyer specs in the face of increasing fusarium levels. Buyer specs are written with maximum levels of DON and a new strain of F. graminearum is spreading across the country from east to west. This new strain, the 3-A DON chemotype, produces much more DON than the older 15-A strain, about twice as much DON per damaged kernel. Last year, Canadian Grain Commission scientists found the 3-A chemotype in 7 per cent of Alberta samples and in about 60 per cent of Manitoba samples. Plant pathologists expect fusarium levels will be quite high in all cereals this year. Fusarium head blight was found in around 10 per cent of grain samples from the two most south-eastern crop districts last year. That suggests inoculum levels were quite high and the wet weather has provided ideal conditions for the spread of the disease. SARA is playing a major part in a survey led by Howard that aims to assess levels of fusarium inoculum across Alberta, with the most intensive sampling in southern Alberta. The fusarium survey began with SARA staff, ag fieldmen, other applied research groups, crop advisors and anybody else Howard could press into service walking W patterns through fields picking wheat heads and searching for signs of fusarium infection. They collected samples of infected heads for lab confirmation of the disease. Once crops are combined, the surveyors will take stubble samples. Howard hoped to have results by year-end, but it may be later as sample collection has been delayed so much. The survey will give farmers, specialists and others an idea of the fusarium levels in fields in various regions. Farmers and their crop advi-

Weapons to fight fusarium SARA is working to find the most effective ways to deal with fusarium, to see how well each strategy works on a farm scale. So far, these are the tools you can use to fight fusarium. Rotation: Fusarium can’t live free in the soil, it needs a susceptible crop or its residue. Generally, it takes two years for residue to disappear, so you need a two-year break from cereals to eliminate inoculum from an infected crop. Back to back cereals alternating with two broadleaf crops should keep fusarium levels low. Crop type, variety: Corn almost always carries fusarium, wheat is very susceptible, barley slightly less and oats least susceptible. Among wheats, durum is the most susceptible, and some varieties have some resistance. Seed: If you don’t have any fusarium in your field, have seed tested for fusarium before cleaning or before using it. This strategy is no help if there is fusarium in the field already. Fungicides: Spraying fungicide early in the flowering period, at 10 per cent open flowers, can protect the crop for about a week Irrigation management: Fusarium can spread on wind but it needs moisture. Top up the soil moisture before flowering and don’t irrigate cereals again until flowering is finished. Harvest management: Set combine to blow fusariumdamaged kernels over the sieves. Don’t forget this strategy spreads inoculum that you need to manage next year.

Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


From the archives “Report of the Superintendent” from the Dominion Experimental Station in Swift Current, Sask. Printed in 1929

“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” Aristotle


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


Tied to the tracks — how we got there and why relief is in sight! Researcher says wild oats and kochia building up resistance in Alberta » By Wendy Holm, P.Ag.


f you sat around the Sunday supper table at most farms thirty years ago, you’d likely have more fun and less indigestion that you’d get today. The 1970’s was — in this Agrologist’s mind, at least — the golden age of Canadian agriculture. Thanks to then-Federal Agriculture minister Eugene Whelan, who held Ottawa accountable for their treatment of the farm sector. If they strayed, Gene pulled them up short or the farmers pulled him up short. As a result, the feds gave the sector the policy respect it deserved. Solid income stabilization programs, supply management for milk, eggs, chicken, turkey and hatching eggs, the Canadian Wheat Board, the Crow’s Nest Pass rates — but a few examples of the good public policy crafted and implemented by Ottawa to ensure the sustainability of Canada’s farm sector. In the mid 1980’s, everything changed dramatically. In the interests of more liberalized trade, bureaucrats convening in Uruguay in 1986 rewrote sections of the GATT (now WTO) that began to restrict the way that sovereign governments could design domestic farm policy. The Dunkel Draft, tabled by then-GATT director general Arthur Dunkel in 1991 in an attempt to broker agreement on agriculture, proposed new rules — green box, amber box and red box — for farm support programs. With Gene Whelan gone from the caucus table, Ottawa seemed to forget Canada’s farmers. Subsequent international trade agreements further eroded Canadian sovereignty and abandoned solid public policy support for primary agriculture. Armed with the rusty swords of Adam Smith (whose economic theories were based on market conditions existing in Europe in 1776) and cheered on by right-wing think tanks and globalization gurus, Ottawa slashed farm support programs and gutted Canada’s Competition Act. After driving out the independents, concentrated industry players captured margins needed to sustain the farm. Today, farmers carry more debt and make less money than ever before. Off-farm work pays the bills. The average age of Canadian farmers gets older. Many third and fourth generation farms will not pass on to the next. Farmers are being treated like dirt and commodity politics prevent farmers from speaking with one voice… the sustainability of rural communities and the cities they feed is at risk. Grim, yes… but in typical “darkest-before-the-dawn” fashion, the recent sea change in consumer awareness of — indeed preoccupation with — food offers new hope for Canada’s farmers. All one has to do is open a paper, turn on the news, or go to a farmers market to see the changes unfolding with respect to the connection Canadians feel with their food.


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

Jaws of the crocodile… Farm reciepts, expenses, net income and debt, Canada, 1971 – 2008 (millions of dollars, adjusted for inflation by Farm Product Price Index)

Cutline text set in 8 pt. Univers Condensed. PHOTO CREDIT IF NEEDED

Over the past decade, widespread publicity of issues such as melamine added to milk powder, listeriosis in meat and salmonella in spinach and peanuts have made food safety a consumer priority. As boomers succumb to diabetes, heart attacks and strokes — all connected to nutrition — Canadians are taking a new look at the food they eat. Today, terms such as food security, food sovereignty, food miles (ecological footprint) and food sustainability are part of the public lexicon, and urban agriculture is central to urban planning decisions. As Canadians re-connect with their food, farm organizations can take important steps to help the public “connect-the-dots” and send a strong message to politicians of all stripes that a) policy respect for Canada’s farmers is about respect for national security, rural economies and the future of our cities, and b) that they expect no less from those who purport to govern.  Wendy Holm, P.Ag. is a speaker at the 2010 SACA conference. To learn more about her, visit To learn more about the conference, visit

Grains the new gold?


peculators are exerting more and more of an influence on grain markets. Financial funds have been in commodity markets for the last few years, but their influence has increased lately. Market commentaries use “outside purchases” as a code for funds and the term is becoming quite a regular in their reports. Kim Anderson of Oklahoma State University wonders why The Index funds and Managed funds control about 210,000 long wheat contracts (1.05 billion bushels). Fund managers could be betting on reduced production in Canada, Argentina, and Australia, or that the value of the U.S. dollar will drop further and wheat exports increase, or tight corn stocks will boost the corn market and cut into soybean and wheat production, or a combination of these events? Whatever the thinking of fund managers, the most obvious result is greater volatility in grain markets and prices that are less closely linked to the fundamentals of supply and demand. It is confounding grain market experts. More than one ag economist is saying the Chicago Board of Trade is no longer a valid price discovery mechanism. Wheat is currently figured to be about a dollar above its “true” value. The International Grain Council expects world cereal production in 2010 to be the third highest on record at 644 million tons, even with yield losses from wildfires in the Black Sea region, drought in Australia and floods in the prairies, “availability is more than ample.” In the past, acreage reports, crop prospects, big orders and shipping availability drove grain markets. Today, emotion, long a driver

in the stock market, seems to have become a significant influence in grain markets as in the stock markets. The jittery state of the stock market may be the reason behind the funds’ sudden interest in humanity’s most vital resources. Fear, caused by the possibility of a much bigger drop in the stock market than that of 2007 has driven gold, the traditional hedge against catastrophic losses, to record highs. But, record highs can lead to big losses, and fund managers are looking for a safe haven for the huge amounts of money they control. They’ve settled on grains and to some extent farming-related companies, driving prices well above the prices carefully calculated from supply and demand numbers. High prices are great for farmers, if you can get them. But, it’s good to know what’s behind shifts in pricing. Prices that change from day to day and minute by minute at the whim of speculators can be very volatile. They rise or fall as fast as the greed and fear balance among big speculators changes. For grain buyers, especially poor people, food prices have climbed to their highest level in two years, sparking concerns of a repeat of the 2007-08 food shortage. In Mozambique, riots broke out over a 30 per cent rise in bread prices, killing seven people and wounding another 288. According to the FAO, the cost of staple foods is “stubbornly high,” with prices for all the main food types except sugar up from levels of a year ago. Economic recovery in many developing countries is described as robust, reviving demand for food but “straining the ability of the poor to cope.” 

Farming Smarter / Fall 2010



Wheat is currently figured to be about a dollar above its “true” value » By Helen McMenamin

SACA conference bullish on agriculture


he SARA/SACA conference organizers bring together speakers and presentations based on topics farmers ask about at other events during the year. Built around a theme “Farming Today: Are You Ready?” the conference is Nov.30 - Dec. 1 at the Cypress Centre at the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede Grounds. Opening day conference speakers include Preston Manning, founder of the Reform Party, the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance and federal government opposition leader from 1997 to 2000. Manning will make the point that Prairie farmers have a number of handy, everyday tools they can use to bring about change in agricultural policy. Also, Brian McConkey, a soil and water conservation specialist with Agriculture Canada at the Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre (SPARC) in Swift Current, will describe some of the consumer demands and retail trends that drive environmental policies that affect producers. Wendy Holm, a resource economist, agrologist and journalist based on Bowen Island, B.C., will describe why producers should be optimistic about the future of agriculture. Art Froehlich, a Saskatchewan farm boy who became a founder of AdFarm, one of North America’s largest agricultural marketing communications agencies, will give an eye opening talk on where Canada fits in the global picture of food supply. Merle Good, a well known tax specialist with Alberta Agriculture, will lead a panel discussion on how farmers can partner — work together to share ideas and resources — to their mutual benefit. Lee Melville, a marketing specialist with Alberta Agriculture, will talk about the Russian roulette aspect of market forecasts, showing how unforeseen influences can come out of almost nowhere to change a market situation. Among production topics during the conference will be a panel dis-


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

cussion giving an update and strategies for dealing with fusarium head blight. Day two of the program, Manitoba consultant Brent VanKoughnet will kick off a two-part session on how to improve profitability with GPS technology that will include a panel discussion with producers, crop advisors and other specialists. Alberta Agriculture soil fertility specialist, Ross McKenzie will encourage farmers to apply critical thinking when it comes to using crop inputs offering an important checklist called “Ten questions to ask your agronomist.” Entomologist Scott Meers will discuss crop insects farmers need to monitor. Rick Istead with the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission will provide an overview of producer-supported crop development research; Ron Walker of the Canadian Wheat Board will provide a grain delivery update; Agrium will provide a fertilizer market update; Harold Steppuhn, with SPARC in Swift Current will give an update on the latest soil salinity research; and Rhonda Busch with the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) will talk about land owner rights when it comes to dealing with oil and gas development activity. To wrap up the program, Don Wentz, agronomist and well known soil conservation specialist, will talk about his love for farming and the solid opportunities he sees for the future of the agriculture industry. The conference planning also features an extensive industry tradeshow, and following the Tuesday night banquet, musician and satirist Todd Butler, born and raised on an Alberta farm, but now a B.C. resident, will entertain with a special blend of music and humor. Cost for full registration to the conference is $175 per person, or $110 for just one day, and extra banquet tickets are $50. For more information or to register call 403-381-5118 or visit the conference website at: 


The 2010 SACA conference is a signature event you won’t want to miss » By Lee Hart

Š 2010 Meridian Manufacturing Group. Registered Trademarks Used Under License.

Farmer learning resource rises above soggy year Research information freely available to Alberta farmers » By C. Lacombe


o southern Alberta farmer need struggle with any crop production question alone. Each year, Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) answers pressing agricultural questions through its research and shares the information freely. SARA makes it easy to learn and attend its Diagnostic Field School (DFS) by holding the same sessions three days in a row at a time of season where most crop production is in its stride. Well, except this year because it wouldn’t stop raining! “Usually, we try to time it so that spraying is done and people can have the time to come for a day. I think that was the biggest drawback this year. It was such a busy year for folks trying to keep caught up with the stuff that had to get done on their farm before they could go off gallivanting,” says Ken Coles SARA general manager. He adds that some producers had to seed up to three times and many acres went unseeded this year. The weather also affected the crops at the DFS site, but didn’t diminish the potential for learning for the participants that did make it to the event. Farmers accounted for 47 per cent of the participants

with the rest being research scientists, agricultural service industry and government representatives. Of course, one of the benefits of these other attendants is that they talk to a lot of farmers in the course of their work making the learning from the DFS cover many acres under production. The DFS evaluation sheets show that 98.6 per cent of the people who attend the DFS find the information useful and pass it on to friends, colleagues and neighbours. Most of them are also convinced that the information and learning will create a financial benefit for those who integrate the learning into their operations. “I think a learning opportunity is always there regardless of the fact that crops are behind what we would have liked them to have been,” Coles says. Coles explains that there’s always a few sessions that really captivate participants and this year those were a nutrient module, an inter-row seeding demonstration and an energy demonstration. “The big finding or the big thing that we show is how positive pulses, like a pea crop is on the overall energy consumption of the

DFS participants get up close during modules and have lots of opportunity to ask questions. PHOTOS: SARA

Cutline text set in 8 pt. Univers Condensed. PHOTO CREDIT IF NEEDED


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

crop because of the fact that it fixes nitrogen and the nitrogen fertilizer is probably the biggest hog of fossil energy in crop production,” explains Coles. He also enjoyed the combine module because he learned something from it too. “I would say if I’m learning something, it’s got to be technically advanced and that’s the ultimate goal — to be cutting edge,” Coles says. Another telling factor that the DFS meets farmers needs and that they trust the information coming from this event is that they continue to suggest/request topics to cover next year and at least one new comer became a dedicated fan. “The one fellow said that it was just fantastic and he learned so much in that one day that he’d never miss it again,” Coles beamed. 

Participants also get time to share their own learning and experience over lunch or while walking between modules.

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Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


Paying the way for agricultural research Are producers contributing their fair share to research? » by Donna Trottier


esearch and innovation are key sustainability pillars in farming today, but many questions arise regarding agricultural research. How do we encourage more research? How do we determine to what extent the research is public or private? Who pays for the research? Who will benefit from the research? Are these questions answered differently if we consider agriculture as essential to human life and feeding the world? Are producers contributing their fair share to research? Historically, public institutions carried out the majority of agricultural research in Canada, either at federal government research farms or publicly funded university research farms. For the most part, research funds came primarily from the federal government. Products of research such as new varieties of seeds, were considered “public good” and given freely to producers. Government spending cuts means a decline in publically funded research and in recent years, the leverage ratio for government investment in agricultural research has also been declining. Ken Coles, General Manager of the Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) explains, “The leverage ratio of matched research dollars used to be 20 to one. So every dollar the commission or association invested into a research project attracted an additional $20 in partner funding. But research dollars are increasingly hard to secure with a leverage ratio now around four to one. With the government aiming for a one to one leverage ratio, producers are challenged to take ownership and contribute to research more than they have ever had to in the past.” An alternative to producer investment in research is allowing private industry to take over. With the creation of Intellectual Property Rights, private innovators now have the ability to exclude others from using, reproducing or selling the new technologies or products created from research. Though industry investment in agricultural research is advancing agriculture, it also means that producers will have more cost when using the goods from the research. One of the best scenarios transpires when industry, government, non-government organizations and producers pull together on a project to advance agriculture. The winter wheat Developing Innovative Agri-Products (DIAP) project exemplifies such a collaboration with investment from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, three prairie winter wheat commissions, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Agrium, Canadian Wheat Board, Agrotain International L.L.C., going towards the advancement of winter wheat production on the prairies. One way in which farmers are contributing to research is through commodity commissions such as the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission (AWWPC) with the check-off dollar system. In Alberta, check-off dollars are deducted from producers’ crop payments for barley, pulse crops, winter wheat, canola or soft wheat at the point of sale and submitted to commodity commissions to support programming in research and market development. Check-off dol-


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

MP Rick Casson announces $1.25 million federal funding towards winter wheat research through the DIAP program. PHOTO: AlbERTA WINTER WHEAT PRODUCERs COMMIssION (RICk IsTEAD)

Cutline text set in 8 pt. Univers Condensed. PHOTO CREDIT IF NEEDED

lars allow commissions to leverage government and industry funding to support their programs. Rick Istead, Executive Director of the AWWPC explains the AWWPC research program, “The check-off dollars leverage against existing programs such as the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund, Agri-Food Industry Development Fund, and Developing Innovative Agri-Products (DIAP) program. Many projects also receive support from private sources, including crop protection companies and seed companies.” The check-off dollars and accompanying leveraged funds help develop and improve crop varieties with strong disease and pest resistance packages, to increase protein levels in wheat, and to improve and refine agronomic practices such as proper seeding depth, timing, rates, fertility, insect and disease management. Istead states that producers are supportive of the check-off program and see it as a small price to pay for eventually decreasing their input costs of production through advances from research. Coles finds that, though beneficial, the investment through check-off dollars is so disconnected from any one producer that they don’t have a sense of ownership in the research. He would like to see more producers participating directly for an obvious realization of the benefits of research. One of the best ways for producers to participate directly in agricultural research is to become involved in local applied research associations such as SARA. Producers who are plugged in to local research will be at the forefront of innovation and will be leaders in the agricultural community. By becoming an innovator and contributing research information, producers will foster the advancement of agriculture on their farms and in their communities. Innovation is an agricultural mainstay and all industry levels need to sponsor continued research. 

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Applied research for the real world An effective means for finding solutions to practical agricultural issues » By Donna Trottier


gricultural practices and production processes now encompass a wide scope to include sustainability, environmental demands, non-food agricultural production, biodiversity and conservation issues. To accommodate these needs there is an increasing demand for research directed to resolving these “real-world” problems. Applied research is an effective avenue for finding solutions to practical agricultural issues. The two main types of agricultural research are “basic” and “applied.” Basic research is fundamental, theoretical or experimental investigation to advance scientific knowledge. Applied research expands on basic research findings to uncover and demonstrate practical ways that the new knowledge, technologies and practices can be advanced or adapted to fit the real world. Ken Coles, General Manager of the Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) explains, “Applied research takes what people have learned in basic research and tests it to see if it works in the real world.” Ken Coles suggests, “With the reduction in basic research and the

government being less and less involved in all types of research, there is an increasing need for more applied research.” Basic research provides general results under a specific set of conditions and may not produce the same results when outside of the site-specific environment of basic research. Producers have to determine when using basic research data, whether it matches their on-farm circumstances. When using applied research data from research carried out in their own area, producers know the data is applicable to their environment. Associated members of the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) have been the major players in Alberta’s applied research activities for many years. ARECA’s applied research associations set up applied research plots, demonstration sites and variety trials, showcasing everything from new varieties to beneficial agronomic practices. Producers can look at the local trials and see how varieties or technologies perform in their neck of the woods or prairie and can then quickly incorporate them on their farms. Fred Young, Agriculture Opportunity Fund (AOF) Program Advi-

SARA has demonstration plots each year in its home fields and partners with farmers to do field scale research. PHOTO BY C. LACOMBE


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

sor with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development states, “Applied research organizations are important to advancing agriculture in Alberta. They provide the linkage between the researchers and the producers through targeted extension programming.” Young indicated that the AOF program advisors are very happy with the research that the ARECA associations provide and suggests producers join the local applied research association. Coles encourages producers to conduct their own applied research. He points out that the average farm size in Southern Alberta is 3,000 to 4,000 acres with assets ranging from two to 10 million dollars. Most companies in other industries with that magnitude of assets direct money toward conducting their own research to assist them in making management decisions. Coles asks, “Why don’t farmers? If you are running a business, why wouldn’t you want to gather some data to use in conducting your business more effectively?” Though it adds a level of complexity to a management system, good information is one of the most important tools needed in running a successful farm business. Yield monitors enable producers to conduct their own applied research. PHOTO BY SARA

Coles points out, “Producers can easily conduct applied research to gain practical production data that is micro-tuned to their farm. A combine can collect yield data that is geo-referenced using GPS technology. With this technology, a field can be virtually split up into hundreds of plots. Data can be collected from the same area of the same field and then compared from year to year.” In the past it was somewhat cumbersome for an individual to gather this information using weigh wagons and stopping frequently during harvest to collect the information. With current technologies, this information can be gathered by simply turning on your yield monitor and GPS system. Coles comments, “The ability to have this information is there, however producers rarely utilize the tool. An estimated 70 per cent of producers have yield monitors yet less than one per cent link their monitors to a GPS to gather the valuable, readily available data.” To demonstrate the benefit of collecting site-specific yield data, Coles discusses a fertilizer trial that SARA conducted with a local producer. “The results of the yield mapping trials indicated that there was no economic response to the applied fertilizer beyond 50 per cent of the producer’s normal fertilizer rate. Results indicated that fertilizer rates could be cut in half because the crop was not responding beyond that. Of course it would be essential to conduct the same trial for a few years to consider possible variables. After a few years of data collection, and with the potential reduced fertilizer costs, you have results that you can take to the bank.” For more information on applied research visit and 

Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


Galloping the internet highway Farmers are no strangers to the power of technology » By Les Brost


nternet technology is like a powerful green-broke horse. It has the potential to take you for the ride of your life, or it can leave you lying flat-out and hurting. With it, we can open ourselves to the joy of global discovery, or we can wall ourselves off from that reality and live in a distorted world of dark fantasy. Like riding that green-broke horse, the outcome usually depends on our approach. Farmers are no strangers to the power of technology. Quick adapters to new technologies, they use machinery juiced with immense computing capacity enabling them to do more and do it quicker and more accurately. Paradoxically, the ability to work faster and more accurately has not lessened the workload’s intensity and the demands on farmers’ time. The immediate needs of the production side of the farm business gobble time like a hungry hound. Farmers lack time to track down customers or more distant members of their value chains. Time for off-farm training in the management skills vital to farm business success is scarce. Little time remains to build the bridges to grassroots support in urban Canada vital to continued political support. There is little doubt that the time pressure ramps up farmers’ isolation. All too often, they feel trapped in the status quo, wading across a sea of molasses wearing snowshoes. Could they use social media and Internet technology to break out of that isolation and enhance the management sides of their business? Might farmers adapt streaming video and podcasting technology to create new marketing opportunities? Could they and their team acquire new management skills without leaving the farm? Could the same technology transforming the mechanical side of their operation reshape the way farmers see the world, and the way the world sees them? It’s already happening. The pioneers in farm-direct selling have already caught on to the power of telling their story to their customers. Using direct consumer feedback gathered through social networking technology like Facebook and Twitter, they refine existing products and develop new lines meeting customer demands. Innovative training firms offer training programs using social networking technology to replicate the classroom experience, allowing at-home participants to learn people management skills like conflict management and customer service training. The same firms are searching for folks with skills in specialized food production as online educators. Networking opportunities abound. LinkedIn, one of the pre-eminent networking sites, is a great way to hook up with value chain partners in the field or on the floor in the breweries, processing plants or supermarkets around the corner or around the world. The United States Department of Agriculture has launched a website to carry on a national conversation about the value of local food and the need to support regional economies. It’s part of an economic development strategy to keep wealth in local communities called the


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative. It links the agricultural community to urban markets, bringing new understanding of the importance of healthy eating and enhanced access to fresh foods. This strategy has huge implications for Canadian producers. They can use the international trade dispute resolution process to grieve unfair trade practices, but what do they do when Americans vote for their values with their wallets? Can Canadian farmers dodge the power and sophistication of the new social media deployed in such a manner? Simply put; they can’t. Welcome to 21st century agriculture; where food represents both nutrition and our social values. The opportunities for Canadian agriculture are boundless. Internet technology, particularly video streaming and social networking, can put Canadian farmers, their products, and their skill sets, on the world’s i-phones. Farmers and farmland owners can leverage their own resources and intellectual capacity to create new value streams. You might be selling food, recreation, electricity, or sharing your skills as a crackerjack cheesemaker with eager students around the world. How you respond to the Internet bronc is your call. Are you ready to work on your own broadband utilization plan? Perhaps you’re not up to the challenge, for change is never easy. On the other hand, you could be missing out on the ride of your life. Cowboy up — or not? It’s up to you. 

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Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


Crop yield monitors underused The many benefits of devices outlined in ARECA brochure » By Ron Montgomery


rop Yield Monitoring devices are standard fare now on most new combines. But much to the concern of agrologists and others in similar vocations, the majority of producers still don’t use them. The Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) produced a brochure and summary report for its GPS Crop Yield Monitoring program of industrial sites. Borrowing apt descriptions from these documents, the term “precision agriculture” in this case “uses a combination of technologies on a combine, a global positioning system (GPS) receiver, and a crop yield monitoring system. The yield monitor on the combine tracks and stores the geographic locations determined by a GPS receiver. The yield monitor also keeps track of the grain weight, flow rate, travel speed and harvest area. GPS is used by the yield monitor to produce georeferenced yield maps. Crop yield data are collected every second with a latitude and longitude over the area determined by the width of the crop as it is harvested and the distance traveled by the combine. The data generated by the GPS receiver and crop yield monitor are imported into GIS (global information system) software. A crop yield map is produced and its purpose is to illustrate how crop yield varies throughout the field.” The benefits of using yield monitoring devices are many and Ken Coles, Agronomist and Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) General Manager would like to see more (preferably all) producers taking advantage of the potential uses these multi-data

collectors offer. And although he readily realizes the reluctance to adopt this technology is likely due to a number of factors, one can only hope that recognition of the accrued benefits will eventually outweigh the negatives. One factor is likely the need to purchase additional equipment (GPS receiver and appropriate software) in order to collect and analyze the data. Costs can vary from $2,000 up to $8,000 or more depending on the level of instrumentation capability. Another factor might be the time commitment to both calibrate the monitoring device and to then download and analyze the data on your home computer. Perhaps the producer feels he or she simply can’t dedicate that time when there’s already a relatively short window of opportunity for harvest season. If the calibration procedure isn’t done properly, then the accuracy of the output data will in turn be negatively affected. It may appear to be a lot of hassle to an already stressed individual. There’s also the issue of education to properly use the entire system package. Even though most producers today are well versed in computer knowledge and usage, this system poses yet another challenge to the average producer. Some examples of commonly used yield monitoring equipment include the John Deere Greenstar/Apex system (shown below), Case IH AFS system, Ag Leader or Trimble. Picking from one of the above simply for illustrative purposes, the Western Tractor ATI — John Deere Agriculture Technology



Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

The benefits of using these systems are far reaching…

and Information website offers a substantial amount of information, which Rob Woolf, ATI Manager based out of Lethbridge encourages interested parties to visit at http://www. westerntrac Some positives attributed to using the collected data from this system is on the website: • Make appropriate management decisions • Enhance and maximize crop productivity • Minimize input costs • Optimize soil nutrient levels • Compare hybrid/variety productivity • Compare and analyze harvest data for multiple years • Visualize field trends across multiple years • Identify and control field drainage issues • Identify, analyze, and control pest infestations • Create accurate and adaptable prescriptions • Appropriately plan input purchases There are a tremendous number of websites chock full of information on crop yield monitoring systems available for viewing. They cover virtually everything and anything to do with these data collectors and of course like everything else technology-related these days, improvements are ever evolving. The benefits of using these systems are far reaching. Compared to the cost of farm equipment and overall producer operational expenses this is a relatively small and no doubt wise investment of both money and time. For further information on this topic contact Ken Coles at SARA, e-mail or telephone 403-381-5118. 

Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


Family farm calls Chris Procyk back Saskatchewan native returns home to pursue his dream » By Lee Hart


hy is a smart young guy like Chris Procyk leaving an important ag applied research and extension job in Alberta to go farming in Saskatchewan? He’s following a dream and a renewed belief there is opportunity ahead in the agriculture industry. Procyck, who spent the past six years involved with the southern Alberta agriculture industry most recently as manager of the Southern Alberta Conservation Association (SACA), heads back to the family farm at Fillmore, Sask. later in 2011. He left the homestead, 100 km southeast of Regina, about 10 years ago to pursue a plan to develop a career around law enforcement. He enrolled in criminal justice studies at Lethbridge College, but after graduation wasn’t sure if that was the direction he wanted to take. “I did college, but kept thinking about farming,” says Procyk, 27. “It was one of those situations where you don’t really know what you miss until after you leave it. So I guess I always had this feeling that one day I would like to go back to the farm.” Procyk so far hasn’t pursed any type of police work. After college he worked as a technician on short term contracts with Agriculture Canada in Lethbridge, checked out the construction industry for a while in Calgary, but he and his wife Rochelle decided that construction and life in the big city really didn’t work for them. He was working back in Lethbridge when a friend Ken Coles, who he had met during field work with Ag Canada, took over as manager of the Southern Applied Research Association (SARA). “Budgets were tight so there wasn’t a full time position at SARA, but Ken hired me to work with SARA on a short term basis.” A short time later when the part time position as manager of SACA became available, a salary-sharing plan was developed with Procyk dividing his time between to the two organizations. He started work with SARA in 2007 and took over as manager of SACA in January 2008. The experience has been great, but it also reminded him the farm roots were calling. “It has been a great opportunity, but my work with SARA and SACA has just rekindled the drive to go back to the family farm,” says Procyk. “My wife grew up on a family farm at Spring Coulee (south of Lethbridge) and after talking about it quite a bit, we both feel the city life isn’t for us, and the farm is the best place to raise a family. They have a one-year-old child. SACA and SARA have taught him an important message about the agriculture industry and he’ll be heading home to an environment where he can apply the lesson. “My work with these organizations has taught me never to be afraid to ask questions,” says Procyk. “You always have to be learning. You need to be asking is this the best way to do something or is there a better way? There is no one way to do something and you always have to be looking at new ideas. “And my dad and I have a great working relationship. He’s a laid back kind of guy, a former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool delegate back in the


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

“It has been a great opportunity, but my work with SARA and SACA has just rekindled the drive to go back to the family farm.” Chris Procyk

day, who is always open to new ideas and never gets mad if someone challenges his ideas. He’s always willing to discuss it and try something new.” Procyk isn’t heading home with a master plan to take over the 4,000 acre grain and oilseed operation. “I’m going back to start the process to see where I fit in,” he says. “Dad says there is enough work there now, between farming and custom work of hauling grain and field spraying, for three people. But it will be a process. I have three sisters as well, so they have to be considered in future plans of the farm business. We’ll start next fall working with dad and develop our plans from there. But we are excited about heading back.” And the senior Procyk is excited about the prospect too. “There is probably some mixed emotion about Chris coming home,” says Rick Procyk. “We’re excited and looking forward to having them here, but at the same time there is a lot of risk in the business and a lot of frustration at times. We had seven inches of rain in August, so you run into situations that cause delays and frustration, but you also have to remind yourself there is no point in worrying about things you have no control over.” Is it a good time to go farming? “I think it is,” he says. “I am optimistic about the future of agriculture. I don’t know if there ever is a really good time or a bad time. If it is something you want to do, you just jump in and get at it. You really can’t predict what’s ahead.” Fillmore’s gain will be SACA’s loss says Ron Noga, president of SACA who farms at Seven Persons east of Lethbridge. “We will be sorry to see him leave,” says Noga in a night time interview from the combine cab. “He has been very diligent and certainly has held everything together for our organization. His farming background has been a real asset in managing our affairs. SACA doesn’t have a big budget and he has done a great job with the resources available. And he’s a really good guy, too.” Noga says he is always pleased to see a young person head into the agriculture industry. “There is always a challenge in agriculture, but I am always optimistic,” he says. “I always say 50 percent of the success in agriculture involves research and 50 per cent involves marketing. Chris has the skills to do well.” 

SARA — Fieldwork

3005 - 18th Ave. North, Lethbridg 3005 - 18th Ave. North, Lethbridge, Alberta

3005 - 18th Ave. North, Lethbridge, Alberta

3005 - 18th Ave. North, Lethbridge, Alberta

Dr. Ron Howard (ARD, Brooks) right, explains the signs/symptoms of clubroot in canola to clubroot survey staff.

3005 - 18th Ave. North, Lethbridge, Alberta

3005 - 18th Ave. North, Lethbridge, Alberta

3005 - 18th Ave. North, Leth

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Huddle up with an Early Adopter Find someone who picks up on innovation and applies it right away » C. Lacombe


f you want to get the most out of innovation, find an Early Adopter and watch them for their successes. It will be fairly easy to get information out of them because they enjoy sharing the learning with anyone who will listen. “They’ll work with moving an idea into the majority of the population,” says Dr. D. Michele Jacobsen (PhD, MSc, BEd, BA) of University of Calgary. She explains that innovators tend to be inventors and out on the cutting edge all the time. Once an innovator creates something, they’re on to the next project. The Early Adopter on the other hand, picks up the innovation or invention and fits it into daily use and then tells everyone how it works. “The Early Adopters are the ones that are really enthusiastic and want to tell their friends and colleagues how this is working well for them,” Jacobsen says. She adds that they don’t just get excited about any and all innovations or new technologies. There are certain prerequisites an innovation must meet for an Early Adopter to become enthusiastic about it and want to share. Jacobsen explains, “One of the things that helps any adopter make a decision to adopt is whether or not the innovation offers them a relative advantage over what they’re doing now. It’s got to be a significant enough improvement for them to take the time to learn the new way or take the time to learn the new technology. It’s got to offer some kind of a relative advantage.” She goes on that it must be easy to try the new innovation or technology too. If it requires a large cash investment, a steep learning curve or a long time commitment, it may never attract the attention beyond the two or three percent of the population that are innovators. Another must is that an Early Adopter wants to see improvement of some kind for the trouble. “Early Adopters aren’t going to be convinced by enthusiastic claims they have to see that this innovation is worth the time to adopt,” assures Jacobsen. “So it can’t just be enthusiasm, there’s got to be some steak with the sizzle.” She also mentioned that the innovation can’t be too far removed from current common practice. If the idea or technology is way out there; that’s likely where it will stay — way out there. Finally, there is a correlation between simplicity/complexity and advantage/disadvantage. The more complex an innovation is the higher it needs to score on the advantage to adopt scale. “People will put up with a lot of complexity if they can see that it scores high,” Jacobsen says. She characterizes Early Adopters as people who are willing to try these new things that meet these criteria and then spread the word through their social network. She also saw some willingness in her studies of Early Adopters to go teach peers, but they needed someone to cover some of their responsibility to free up their time.


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

A large group of Early Adopters discuss agricultural issues and solutions at the SARA DFS. PHOTO: SARA

So, if you know someone who is an early adopter, it might be a good idea to offer them a hand where you can work side by side and learn as you go. If you don’t know an Early Adopter, come to the next Diagnostic Field School with SARA and meet one. Almost 99 per cent of the attendees at that event fit the description Jacobsen gave of an Early Adopter. “I think sometimes it’s just really a practical issue that they’re time poor and that they’re running as hard as they can especially when they’re adopting an innovation,” she says. 

Looking back A page from one boy’s fond farm memories » Ron Montgomery


ay back when the odd lonely dinosaur could still be heard bellowing in the back forty, I was born into a mixed farm setting in southeastern Saskatchewan. It was an idyllic life for a youngster. Freedom to roam about in the predominately poplar and willow land tracts that dominated much of that landscape before massive land clearing became vogue. This was truly a mixed farm operation. We had every type of winged and hoofed critter imaginable. You name it — ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens, pigs, sheep, cattle, horses and even a few domestic rabbits. The turkeys of course figured they ruled the barnyard with their gosh awful ugly purple-hued heads. Those arrogant strutting toms were always trying to hang a licking on one of us youngsters. I once nailed one of the strutters in the head with a softball and it took him two full Cutline text set in 8 pt. Univers Condensed. PHOTO CREDIT IF NEEDED days to quit staggering around like a drunken sop Young Ron getting his farming feet wet. PHOTO R. MONTGOMERY from an old movie. Of course along with all these critters came the often necessary to consume a baker’s dozen of Mom’s oatmeal cookies need to manage their waste. We had numerous barns plus a couple of just to get my strength back. sheds for the various fowl. Needless to say “eau de manure” was wafting We always had a massive garden back then. Our potato patch was a merrily on any breeze in the immediate vicinity and even more so when big staple. Wood for heating and cooking was also a huge responsibilbarn cleaning time came; which seemed to be a never-ending task. ity. I remember vividly heading out to the poplar stands and chopping Dad prided himself immensely on his home built manure boat. The trees for loading on the sleigh, then stacking at home to eventually be name always mystified me, since it certainly wasn’t intended as a raft, sawed up when a number of neighbours would get together for “sawing nor was it even likely to float. Aside from the nautical confusion though bees” at their respective places. We had one neighbour that always had it did serve well as a mini freight conveyor transporting a generally a dilly of an excuse as to why he’d arrive at 11:30 a.m., which was coinhighly toxic smelling cargo. cidentally the time they usually broke to enjoy Mom’s scrumptious and It was mostly horse powered and in addition to simply hauling off bountiful sit down noon lunch at the house. loads to a manure pile strategically located a ways out in the pasture, we No power, so coal oil lamps. No running water, so no plumbing faalso made trips to the various fields. This is where one quickly learned cilities either. But we did have a sociably friendly outdoor biff y. I say to try mightily for claiming the side where forking this precious cargo this because it was set up to ultimately accommodate three people. Oh was down wind. sure you’d be cheek to cheek. But there was a lowered section for the Our hay gathering was primarily confined to the edges of the many wee folks. Funny thing though I never remember seeing a social gathermarshes on our little farm. Or if it was a dry year, then you might even ing there. It was generally a solitary excursion. Just you and an expired get slough hay almost to the centre of the wetland. Dad would generEaton’s catalogue with progressively missing pages. ally operate the mower from a tractor. But often he’d have one us boys It was a good life, but leisure time was few and far between. No mounted on the steel seat to assist. This was considered a must in raking doubt a tremendous responsibility for Mom and Dad raising six of us time. Gosh that task was hard on the butt. kids under those circumstances. Next issue, we’ll delve into more detail Those slough edges and bottoms were a mecca of bumps and lumps. on farm life back then. Many of us that had to endure bouncing about I’d be bouncing around on that steel seat trying to coincide the raising on those incredibly hard steel seats still walk gingerly and can often be of the tines with the previous dump and inevitably have either too big found stocking up on small tubes of a soothing gel from a certain isle in or too small a load to make a neat row. And you had to push that tine the pharmacy. But my memories are mostly fond ones, even that punlever to full extent or risk dragging along a whole whack of hay. Being a gent “eau de manure.”  relatively small youngster back then this was quite the workout. It was

Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


Are the markets signaling opportunities for better margins? Stick with rotations that make good agronomic sense » By Helen McMenamin


s prices go higher and higher it seems there must be demand for a lot more grain and perhaps it would be smart to change your plans and grow crops the market shows are in the biggest demand. Most communities have somebody around who paid off a lot of bills by growing the right crop the right year. Alberta’s outstanding young farmer for this year, Ryan Mercer, of Lethbridge, doesn’t believe that’s the way to decide what to grow. “Predicting markets is impossible,” he says. “The best you’re going to do is be right half the time. But, if you follow your rotations, you’ll do okay. Over time, say five years, I’m convinced your profitability is better if you stick with rotations that make good agronomic sense and do the best you can at getting decent yields rather than chasing the markets.” Chasing high prices might or might not give you a higher return in the short term, but Mercer is convinced that pushing your rotations eventually has long-term consequences. “It may work for a while,” he says. “But sooner or later, some disease or insect will always come up and bite you. ” Winter wheat is one of Mercer’s most dependable crops. He always assigns around 20 per cent of his land base to it. “Winter wheat uses early spring moisture — that’s really important for this area,” he says. “It spreads the workload, and it’s off before anything else is ready, before the elevators are busy. We have marketing opportunities during harvest that give us some early cash flow. The Wheat Board has a 50 per cent call on winter wheat right now and the elevators are shipping whole trains of it. This year, we’ve sold half our crop off the combine, so we have some empty bins.” Mercer grows field peas on another 20 per cent of his land, gaining nitrogen even if the price isn’t great, and wheat on another 20 per cent. The rest of his land is divided among camelina, mustard, lentils and flax — a crop he sees as having a very bright future. Within each part of his rotation, Mercer looks for the best market opportunities. This year, he chose durum for his spring wheat, but other years he might choose hard red — both do well under his conditions. Mercer is very glad he seeded only a small part of his land to lentils this year, last spring the returns they promised got a lot of people excited and seedings across Alberta are up considerably, perhaps a seven- to 10-fold increase in acres. The cool, wet sum-


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

mer has not been kind to them, though. Lentils need hot, dry conditions to mature. “Lentils are a high-risk crop here,” Mercer says. “I wouldn’t want to have half the farm in lentils and have had them freeze before they matured. But, with most of the farm in dependable crops, we can lose a crop and still carry on.” Mercer sees alternate crops and secondary markets as more dependable ways to increase income from his land than prices that suddenly spike up. He grows camelina for biodiesel and if he has enough crop residue, say on winter wheat land, he’ll sell straw. He’s quite excited about the potential for spring-baled flax fiber to be used in biocomposites for interior body panels in airplanes and vehicles.

“You can’t abandon your rotations or you’ll lose money to disease, especially this year.” Lee Melvill — Brooks Marketing Advisor

No matter how exciting a new opportunity seems, Mercer still maintains the most important thing is good agronomics. “You have to manage your rotations for moisture use, to control weeds and prevent herbicide resistance insects or disease building up to become a problem,” he says. “Stick to good agronomy and farm for good yields.” Brooks marketing advisor, Lee Melvill agrees. Despite his training as an ag economist, his first comment on crop choices is: “You can’t abandon your rotations or you’ll lose money to disease, especially this year.” Melvill does advise looking for the crop with the best return for each part of your rotation. This spring, for example, he strongly recommended seeding a cereal other than durum, as they promised better returns. “Use all the information you have to choose crops that maximize your returns,” he says. “That includes agronomic information, like the benefits of good rotations. I don’t mean you should never change your rotation, but you need to maximize your returns from rotations as well as from marketing.” 

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More than one use for precision agriculture tools Farmers are very interested in new technologies — but need proof of their worth  Shauna Fankhauser


recision agriculture is a new and exciting technique for producers. However, there are more opportunities presented by the technologies involved than just precision input application. Farmers can also use these tools to test new products and techniques on their farms. Farmers are very interested in these new technologies, but want to know how effective they will be before investing time and energy in implementing the techniques. SARA is part of a new project that is trying to help producers research precision agriculture themselves. One of the main aims of the study is to find ways to use global positioning systems (GPS) and geographical information systems (GIS) technology for conducting on-farm, field scale research. The methods will be relatively easy to implement so that farmers can use them on their land to do their own research. Yield mapping is an essential tool for this research. Yield mapping technology is a combination of yield monitoring and GPS. The yield monitor measures the rate of flow for the grain while harvesting. This provides data on the amount of grain harvested. The GPS takes readings from the flow meter at set intervals and links them to the point in the field when it was harvested. The end result is a map of the field where each point in the field is linked to the amount of grain harvested at that point. The equipment usually processes maps so that different colours represent different yield ranges, which provides a map of yield zones. This clearly depicts areas of the field that are more productive or


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

less productive. This technique is far better than many old methods of assessment, especially visual ones. Many times producers will assume colour correlates to production, but that is not always the case. This can lead to poor decisions based on incomplete information, and cause unnecessary financial losses. The study is broken into two parts. One is a trial to measure canola responses to nitrogen fertilizers. The other is testing field pea responses to different inoculants. Field scale plots are located across the province providing information from a wide variety of soils, climates, and farming systems. The yield maps will provide an accurate picture of the difference between treatments. It will allow farmers to get a clear picture of how fertilizer and inoculants affected their crop production. Once reliable methods are developed, producers will be able to conduct their own research trials. This will help producers to make better decisions about new products and techniques, which will increase their profitability. One of the most shocking results from the first year of the study came from the canola fields. The canola trials consisted of strips with 50 per cent, 100 per cent, and 150 per cent of the recommended amount of nitrogen based on a soil sample. Results from this trial showed little to no increased yield over 50 per cent of the recommended rate. This was surprising, and if this result continues in the following years of the trial, it will warrant more research into nitrogen fertilizer need. î ¨

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Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


Manning comes to dialogue Supports creating a coalition to advance the interests of farmers and ranchers » By C. Lacombe


reston Manning hopes to participate in a dialogue with farmers at the Southern Applied Conservation Association (SACA) conference Nov. 30 in Medicine Hat. “The idea is to have a discussion,” Manning says. He says he’s “more than happy to listen” to anyone who wants to raise an agricultural issue they want to address. He has tools he can suggest to help them get a campaign started. Manning believes that no one is better qualified to advance the interests of farmers and ranchers than farmers and ranchers. He advocates choosing a role for yourself and stepping up to get involved if you want to see change. “No one else is going to advance the interest of agriculture either economically or environmentally as well as people that are in agriculture itself,” he assures. He adds that it’s okay to be critical of an existing state of affairs, but have solutions to offer and take a constructive position to move forward. Manning supports creating coalitions among people who can agree on some points they want to raise in profile for the public, government and industry. “Get together a bunch of people, who may disagree on a hundred things, but agreed on five or six and who are willing to work together to advance it,” he says. He adds that the process of creating, building and managing the coalition provides an excellent education for all involved about how to grab some attention. He illustrates by telling the story of his early political years when a group of contrasting people all agreed on one thing — governments needed to balance budgets and stop running deficits. They were “people who disagreed on a whole bunch of other things but agreed on that one point — government should control spending, balance budgets, reduce debts and reduce taxes.” He says think-tanks got behind the idea and produced the facts the coalition needed for ammunition. Advocacy groups formed such as the Canadian Tax Payers Federation and groups such as the Chamber of Commerce got involved. “This great big, informal coalition just worked together on that issue — get budget balancing higher on the agenda, so that when the party pollsters went out more and more they came back saying you know 15, 25, 30 per cent of the public say they want balanced budgets,” Manning explained. It took 10 years, but every level of government committed to balanced budgets. “The farmer and the rancher are often rugged individualists who are ‘as independent as pigs on ice’ as my father used to say. It’s sometimes hard for us to work together in groups, but I think that is something that has to be overcome,” Manning says. He points to the Land Use Framework as one area where farmers and ranchers can take an active role to develop land zoning to protect agricultural lands.


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

Cutline text set in 8 pt. Univers Condensed. PHOTO CREDIT IF NEEDED

He suggests that positioning agriculturalists as conservationists could reach out to the young urban activists and get them working with farmers and ranchers toward a common goal to protect Alberta’s landscape. “We’re getting more and more urban people who don’t understand food production at all, but polls show that a lot of young urban people are very concerned about environmental conservation and not just conservation of the cities but conservation of resources outside cities.” With a relationship in place, other topics and issues become easier to talk about and, perhaps, work together to address. “Start where you’ve got the best prospect of building a relationship and lead into all of the other things that you want to say.” 

Preston Manning is keynote speaker Nov. 30 at the annual SACA conference in Medicine Hat. To join the conference, visit or call (403) 381-5118

Farming Smarter / Fall 2010


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Managing the weather risks Successful farmers use a variety of management tools » By Donna Trottier

Flooding in Southern Alberta, summer 2010.



othing ever remains the same in agriculture, especially in regard to the weather. Seasonal variations are a fact of farming life, making it quite impossible to plan specifically for a wet year. The long range forecast that Environment Canada published in the early spring of 2010 suggested that Western Canada’s spring and summer was going to be warmer and drier than average. If we went about planning the crop year based solely on Environment Canada’s forecast we just might be up the creek. The most successful producers are the ones that plan for unforeseen circumstances by using a selection of management tools. Dr. Ross McKenzie, research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development recommends that the best way to be prepared for atypical weather circumstances is to be as diverse as possible. When developing crop rotation plans, producers should include four to six different crops, incorporating cereals, oilseeds and pulses, both spring and winter crops and choosing crops that perform well in opposite conditions. Diversity will increase the opportunity to capitalize on at least some of the crops that are grown. Problems associated with a wet year may include lodging, higher incidence of disease, delayed maturity and reduced nutrient availability. Carefully selecting early maturing seed varieties with lodging resistance and disease resistance will help manage what Mother Nature has in store. Crop rotations can help break the disease cycle, however timely scouting and proper identification of diseases is always essential. Herbicide and fungicide applications may be delayed due to wet conditions, therefore


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

producers may need to consider fungicides and herbicides registered for aerial application. Producers can manage reduced nutrient availability through soil testing and well-timed fertilizer applications. McKenzie suggests if producers plan for a potential wet year, they could consider applying part of their fertilizer as Environmentally Smart Nitrogen (ESN), coated fertilizer that releases nutrients much slower. Since the ESN is released later, it may prevent some losses and preserve the nitrogen for later in the growing season when the crop needs it. Harry Brook, crop specialist at Alberta Agriculture’s Ag-Info Centre suggests, “In a wet harvest, weigh your options and focus your efforts on the crops that will give you the most return. There’s no sense wasting precious time harvesting a sprouted, wrinkled lentil crop if you could be harvesting a good quality canola crop that will give you better return. Having a flexible plan helps. As an example, if the crop is behind and it doesn’t look like it will mature in time, look at taking the crop off early as green feed rather than barley to give you a leg up against other guys who tried to wait for the crop to mature.” In preparation for a wet harvest, Brook suggests producers have aeration and grain dryers ready and be fully aware of the moisture levels and temperatures for safe grain storage. He also recommends exploring and establishing alternate market options such as feedlots and feed mills to market seed that has been compromised due to poor harvest conditions and frost.

2010 Summer floods near Lethbridge.

With the likelihood of a seed shortage in the spring following a late, wet harvest, Brook encourages producers to book their seed early. Brook cautions producers, “If you plan on using the crop from a wet, late harvest for seed the next spring, it becomes critical to check germination. Crops that are late or slow to mature are often unable to physiologically mature, reducing germination percentages.” One of the most important management tools that should be included in every farm operation is a financial plan with contingency strategies. If a farm was expecting No.1 canola selling at $9 per bushel and they end up with sample canola selling for $2 or less per bushel there will be a significant shortfall in income. Fostering an open and honest relationship with lenders provides the option of rearranging finances to help recover from drastic drops in income. An additional safety net to include in your planning toolbox is crop insurance. Insurance will not prevent the unfavorable weather, but it can be used as a management tool to brace for unexpected events and to soften the impact. Farming is no doubt a risky business however planning, diversifying and exploring a selection of tools will help producers successfully manage the risks of the weather. 

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Winter wheat project promises lots of answers First trial plots show interesting results » By Helen McMenamin


new project on winter wheat that aims to find ways around issues that limit the crop across the prairies has been backed with serious money — $1.7 million. Brian Beres of Agriculture Canada, Lethbridge, will head the project and SARA will do a significant amount of the southern Alberta plot work for the Lethbridge experiments. The first trial plots are already in the ground and showing signs of interesting results. The money is mainly from the federal government’s Growing Canadian Agri-Innovations Program; which put in almost $1.3 million, with contributions from the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission, the Saskatchewan and Manitoba winter wheat groups and Ducks Unlimited Canada. The big funding award is great news for fans of winter wheat, but it also signals a new direction for government, it is the first major support for agronomy in a long time. Ducks Unlimited played a major role in coordinating the application and writing the proposal. It sees huge environmental benefits in winter wheat as it allows waterfowl and other birds to nest and raise their young in farm fields undisturbed by spring work. Agronomists see huge advantages in winter wheat — higher yields, taking advantage of early spring moisture, less need for herbicides, and escaping insect and disease pressure by maturing earlier in the year as well as spreading workloads. The project has two major parts: overcoming barriers to greater adoption of winter wheat as a major crop, and improving management of the crop for better, more consistent yields. For short-season areas, Beres will try to find ways winter wheat could follow barley or other crops. Barley is usually off early and its stubble would provide good snow-trapping and protection for winter wheat, but volunteer barley, seedling diseases, difficulty seeding through heavy crop residues and nutrient management cause problems. The short window for seeding winter wheat is also an issue for many farmers, especially those who are not familiar with the crop’s many virtues. Increasing yields of winter wheat across the prairies involves every aspect of crop management from looking into the impact of seed treatments on emergence and winter survival to fertilizer management and controlling weeds. “It’s a huge project that’s very exciting,” says Beres. “It will involve scientists in different fields from across the prairies, Lacombe, Scott, Indian Head and Melfort, Sask., and Brandon as well as Lethbridge. We have a multidisciplinary strategy for all our experiments so we’ll be able to develop integrated management plans for winter wheat.” To understand overwinter survival, the scientists will look at the influence of preceding crops, seed treatments, seed size, the interactions between varieties and seeding rates, competition from weeds. They’ll also look at ways to get a better return on fertilizer on winter wheat. Agrotain that protects nitrogen from breakdown and loss and ESN (coated urea) that releases its nitrogen over time increase nutri-


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

Rick Istead, Executive Director of the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission, helps SARA Crop Walk participants identify signs of fusarium in a wheat crop.

ent costs, but may pay off, maybe in mixtures, or if they raise protein levels. Japanese brome and downy brome have become problems in winter wheat but might be controlled with newer chemistry. The project will look at the effectiveness of the herbicides and the best timing for them. Controlling volunteer barley will be another challenge. The only aspects of winter wheat production they won’t work on will be breeding and marketing, although they will work to increase protein content of the grain. “Most of the work will be developing ways farmers across western Canada can establish winter wheat,” says Beres. “Successful establishment is the key to success with winter wheat.” The challenges facing Beres and his coworkers in this project seem quite daunting, but by working together the scientists believe they will find some answers relatively quickly. They’ll have nine locations across three provinces, so results they find should be applicable to a wide variety of environments. Industry, environmentalists at DU and scientists working together in a streamlined, logical project played a big part in getting the funding, says Beres. “Ducks Unlimted played a huge role in taking the lead, coordinating the application and getting the proposal together,” he says. “And, for farmers contributing check-off funds through their organizations, this project really stretches their dollars — $25,000 goes a long way when it’s part of a big program with government matching our funds at four to one.” 

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Newsbits Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame 2010 Inductees Three more Albertans were inducted into the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame. Each inductee demonstrated a strong commitment to Alberta’s rural communities and agriculture industry. This year’s inductees are Howard Haney, Philip Thomas and Dr. Ian Morrison (posthumously). As director of Fletcher’s Fine Foods Ltd., Howard Haney contributed directly to the successful transfer of shares from the Alberta Pork Producers’ Development Corporation to individual producers during a time of great turbulence in the pork processing industry. Phil Thomas is a combination educator, extension worker, radio commentator, supervisor, author, researcher, consultant, advisor, and life-long learner. A prolific author, his works include the Canola Growers Manual and the landmark Alberta Rapeseed Home Study Course. Dr. Ian Morrison, who passed away in 2006, was a tireless steward of the land, whose work on herbicide resistant weeds resulted in considerable savings in herbicide and application costs. He was Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics at the University of Alberta. ··············································································

Grants support capturing market opportunities

The Growing Forward Business Opportunity program can help transform existing operations or pursue new ventures to capitalize on changes in the marketplace and consumer demands. The grant program contributes to a more competitive and sustainable agriculture industry by helping producers access expertise to make informed and calculated business decisions to achieve strategic new directions. Examples of eligible expenses include market research, opportunity assess-


Farming Smarter / Fall 2010

ments and business and marketing plans for new endeavours. Business Opportunity projects are supported on a cost-shared basis. Grants cover 75 per cent of eligible expenses for approved activities and applicants cover 25 per cent; with grants awarded up to a maximum of $30,000 per applicant. Producer groups may apply to have their project cost-shared at 90 per cent of eligible expenses for approved activities and the producer groups cover 10 per cent on projects that demonstrate a sector-wide benefit and project results are shared with industry. Business Opportunity grants are issued on a first-come, first-served basis, as per program terms and conditions and limited funding. For more information on Growing Forward and the Business Opportunity program, visit or call the Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

right on the website. Postings are reviewed by Alberta Agriculture and usually posted live to the website the next day.” Information can also be posted to the web by calling the Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276). Items are categorized according to wanted or for sale, grouped into commodities, and also arranged by area of the province. However, buyers and sellers must make their own arrangements in terms of the sale or lease. ··············································································

Alberta Agriculture Showcased At International Conference

MLA Len Mitzel showcased Alberta’s expertise in agriculture south of the border this September at the 13th Annual Ports-toPlains (PTP) Alliance Conference in South Dakota. Mitzel, Alberta’s representative to the PTP Alliance, PHOTO traveled Rapid City, Cutline text set in 8 pt. Univers Condensed. CREDITto IF NEEDED ·············································································· South Dakota to speak about agricultural Alberta Agriculture’s transportation. The theme of this year’s General Store event, Bringing Visionaries Together, saw alliance members discussing best practices in Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s agriculture, trade, infrastructure, education, website features a General Store where farmtourism and energy. ers can list things they want to sell or source. In May 2009, Alberta became the first Ca“You won’t find garage sales, or rooms for nadian member of the PTP Alliance. Other rent in Alberta Agriculture’s classifieds, but members include jurisdictions in Colorado, you could find bales of hay for sale, pasture Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North for rent, or a new home for a few head of Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, purebred cattle,” says Betty Birch, communiand Wyoming. Together, these states make cations co-ordinator, Alberta Agriculture and up North America’s energy and agricultural Rural Development. heartland. The website,, The Ports-to-Plains region is comprised has several tabs to help users navigate the site of six of the top 10 U.S. farm states and quickly and easily. Under the General Store produces $44.3 billion of agricultural goods, tab, visitors can find the list of directories or 22.1 per cent of the U.S. total. It generwith various items and commodities wanted ates $166.7 billion in trade with Canada and or for sale. Mexico, nearly 20 per cent of total U.S.-NAF“Farmers can post a listing by clicking the TA trade.  on-line form and completing the requested information,” says Birch. “Guidelines about what can be offered for sale or requested, and the information required, are available

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Farming Smarter - Growing New Ideas,Fall 2010 Edition  

Don't miss the learning event of the year! SACA/SARA Conference Nov. 30 - Dec. 1, 2010

Farming Smarter - Growing New Ideas,Fall 2010 Edition  

Don't miss the learning event of the year! SACA/SARA Conference Nov. 30 - Dec. 1, 2010