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Spring 2012 Edition

Growing New Ideas

Inter-row seeding may favour reduced seeding rates »12 Growing Knowledge

Together we are farming smarter »5 Growing Stewardship

Farming Smarter teams up with 4-H »37

Contents SPRING 2012 EDITION

Growing New Ideas:

Growing Knowledge:

Biofungicides show promise for control of white mould Results of field-scale trial . . . . . . . .8

Together we are Farming Smarter SARA and SACA join forces . . . . . .5

Introducing Farming Smarter And looking back at 2011 . . . . . . . .4

A hub of innovation information . . .6

Ethiopian Mustard expands oilseed-growing opportunities Looking to alternate sources . . . .10 Inter-row seeding may favour reduced seeding rates Benefits with GPS . . . . . . . . . . .12 Farming Smarter tackles fusarium management Decreases seen where irrigation avoided at flowering . . . . . . . . . .14

Storm’s a-coming, don’t ignore the signs How will you respond to social and economic change . . . . . . . . . . . .16

Two options for creating accurate soil maps

Technology is getting close . . . . .17

Winter pulses another way to spread the workload? Still limited to small areas . . . . . .20 Winter wheat knowledge growing

More farmers getting on board . . .22

Farming Smarter’s new website It takes a community to manage plant disease Eliminating the green bridge. . . . .24

Farming Smarter, for the long term Looking ahead 100 years . . . . . . .25 Berger sees opportunities in wheat board change Research investment may get a boost . . . . . . . . . . . . .26

Consultant forecasts mixed bag for 2012 Carefully consider your decisions for the coming year . . . . . . . . . . .28

Tom Droog and Spitz – a force of nature at work Building a business from the ground up . . . . . . . . . . .30

UFA on board as major sponsor Partnering with Farming Smarter .32 Precision agriculure: powered by people Can management keep up with the technology? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36

Growing Stewardship:

Oldman Watershed council champions watershed management Join a team of volunteers to make a differnce . . . . . . . . . . .33

Farming Smarter teams up with 4-H Local youth key part of conference. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37

Peas prove to be lowest energy-dependant crop Research project assesses dryland crop energy inputs . . . . . . . . . . .38

Visit us online for innovative agronomic and technical research information: Farming Smarter is published bi-annually by Farm Business Communications for Farming Smarter, #100, 5401 – 1st Ave. S., Lethbridge, AB T1J 4P4 with the support from the Agriculture Opportunities Fund Editorial Board: Ken Coles, Brent Nicol Editor: Sarah Sutton

FA R M I N G S M A RT E R / S P R I N G 2 012


Manager’s Report

Introducing Farming Smarter And looking back at 2011 /



arming Smarter is a newly formed organization representing agricultural producers in southern Alberta. It was formed in 2012 by the amalgamation of the Southern Applied Research Association (SARA, est. 1993) and the Southern Alberta Conservation Association (SACA, est. 1990). Working collaboratively with approximately 70 agricultural organizations, the Board of Directors and staff are dedicated to achieving their vision to “grow agriculture through leadership, innovation and collaboration." Three main programs administer the current mission to “support profitable, environmentally sound agriculture by creating innovative opportunities, adapting to emerging issues and disseminating unbiased information.” • G  rowing New Ideas: The objective is to support innovation progress by partnering with progressive farms, agriculture companies, grower groups and government to deliver unbiased information through small plot and field scale research. Examples: winter pulses, winter wheat, precision ag tools for on-farm research, interrow seeding, fusarium head blight management, Contans biofungicide to control sclerotinia. • Growing Knowledge: The objective is to improve competitiveness by facilitating information exchange, networking and dialogue through high quality, informative events and advanced, interactive communication media. E xamples:, Farming  Smarter  Magazine,  Farming Smarter Field School, Farming Smarter Conference, E-newsletter, Twitter network. • Growing Stewardship: The objective is to capitalize on stewardship opportunities by branding successes, increasing awareness, and promoting the adoption of practices that maintain or improve environmental assets in production agriculture.


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Examples: energy use in agricultural cropping systems, science-based environmental priorities in southern Alberta production agriculture, precision agriculture. Farming Smarter’s key resources include exceptional staff, cutting edge equipment and communication tools, and a collaborative network of the finest producers, agronomists and scientists in Alberta.

from 35 small plot research projects and demonstrations as well as three field scale research projects at over 20 locations. Reviews showed strong support for these events. Two issues of Farming Smarter magazine were published in 2011. Ad sales were good, as was the readership. There was also steady traffic to key areas of the website, giving support for our communication plan.

Looking back at 2011

Growing Partnerships AAFC proved to be a big new client tasking us with a number of winter wheat trials lead by Brian Beres (Lethbridge, AB) and Byron Irvine (Brandon, MB) and a new project on Brassica carinata and Sinapsis alba with Eric Johnson (Scott, SK). UFA became a platinum sponsor for all our events along with Alberta Canola Producers Commission and the Alberta Pulse Growers. A partnership with 4-H brought in young speakers to the Farming Smarter conference to give short presentations. The Food, Fun and 4-H Auction rose over $10,000 for local 4-H programs.

Growing Conditions Despite the inclement weather conditions this spring, it turned out to be an excellent year for plot research, field scale projects and extension events. All the spring crops were seeded into good moisture conditions just before the heavy precipitation brought on flood-like conditions across the Prairies at the end of May. Precipitation was 150 to 200 per cent above normal for May and June, with average temperatures 2 C to 3 C cooler than normal. Corn Heat Units were virtually non-existent until into July. Temperatures 2 C to 3 C warmer in August and September and lower than average rainfall meant it was a great fall harvest, but lead to difficulty establishing fall crops. Warm temperatures and high winds in the winter months even led to grassfires in southern Alberta in November and December. Growing Impact Between crop walks, tours, workshops, classroom sessions and conferences, Farming Smarter held a dozen events in 2011 with approximately 1,000 people in attendance overall. These events highlighted diseases, stewardship, technology and agronomic research in our area, presenting information

Growing Scope A partnership with Cypress County was a win-win for Farming Smarter and local producers. It brought valuable research and extension to southeastern Alberta while giving alternative climatic conditions (and soil zones) for research trials. This year the 2.5acre research and demonstration site had pea, chickpea and lentil RVT trials, winter wheat trials, Cruiser seed treatment trials, winter lentil demos, SeCan demos, a Fusarium Head Blight demo and numerous canola agronomy demos. 46 producers, agronomists and industry members attended the annual crop walk on July 21. 

Visit for more information about Farming Smarter’s current projects and past activities.


Growing Knowledge

Together we are Farming Smarter SARA and SACA join forces /

By Donna Trottier



he start of 2012 brought on new beginnings for the Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) and the Southern Alberta Conservation Association (SACA), which have now joined forces to become Farming Smarter. Ken Coles, general manager of Farming Smarter explains, “Operationally we have been working together for a few years. We got to a point where it made sense to amalgamate the two groups, focus our efforts, streamline operations and create a stronger organization by combining forces.” Together, Farming Smarter will have a solid stance in southern Alberta with an expanded suite of programs, such as field scale research trials, the Farming Smarter field school, a conference and the Farming Smarter magazine. “Groups are constantly evolving and they need to evolve in order to remain relevant in today’s rapidly changing world,” says Coles. “Combining the two groups gave us an opportunity to re-brand and build a new identity that is modern and will engage members.” The amalgamation of SARA and SACA lead to the merging of the Board of Directors from both associations. “The members of our board are volunteers and often times they are hard to come by,” comments Coles. “By combining the two boards into one, we are able to reduce the demands placed on our volunteer directors so that we don’t spread them too thin. It makes it easier to maintain an effective board.” This year Farming Smarter will have a “super-board” that retains members from both original boards. Once the dust settles, Farming Smarter is aiming to have a 12-member board. Three main programs administer the current Farming Smarter mission to “support profitable, environmentally sound southern Alberta agriculture by creating

= innovative opportunities, adapting to emerging issues and disseminating unbiased information.” The objective of the first program, Growing New Ideas, is to support innovation progress by partnering with progressive farms, agriculture companies, grower groups and government to deliver unbiased information through small plot and field scale research. Growing New Ideas includes projects such as plot work at the Farming Smarter research and development site just east of Lethbridge, winter pulse and winter wheat trials, demonstration trials, regional variety trials, precision ag tools for on-farm research, and fusarium head blight management.

“We got to a point where it made sense to amalgamate the two groups, focus our efforts, streamline operations and create a stronger organization by combining forces.” The second Farming Smarter objective, Growing Knowledge, aims to improve competitiveness by facilitating information exchange, networking and dialogue, through high quality, informative events and advanced, interactive communication media. Education has always been important to SARA and SACA and will continue with programs such as the Farming Smarter field school, Farming Smarter Conference, an e-newsletter, Farming Smarter magazine and the website, Coles explains, “In addition to the events and publications, Farming Smarter staff members


are available year round for farmers with questions or ideas. We work directly for farmers, and it is our main goal to be available to help farmers. We are particularly interested in innovation and progression and getting farmers to do work on their own farms. That will be the direction that we are taking this organization in the future.” The objective of the third program, Growing Stewardship, is to capitalize on stewardship opportunities by branding successes, increasing awareness and promoting the adoption of practices that maintain or improve environmental assets in production agriculture. Farming Smarter aims to expand and disseminate information on energy use in agricultural cropping systems, science-based environmental priorities in southern Alberta production agriculture, and precision agriculture. Farming Smarter, like its predecessors, will be funded from over 20 different sources with about 30 per cent of its funding coming from government programs, such as the Ag Opportunity Fund. Additional funding will come from private research contracts with companies and the federal government, and from revenue generated through Farming Smarter events, such as the annual field school. Farming Smarter now has a membership list made up of over 1,300 of the finest producers, agronomists, industry representations, scientists and government employees in Alberta. They are currently working with over 70 agricultural organizations in various capacities, as well as 30 producers directly involved in onfarm trials across southern Alberta. Coles says, “Farming Smarter brings these tremendous resources together, facilitating access to technical expertise, producer-cooperator knowledge, and local research data.”

Farming Smarter / spring 2012


Growing Knowledge

Farming Smarter launches new website A hub of innovative agronomic and technical research /

By Brent Nicol


arming Smarter, known for its advancements in agriculture and agriculture research, is now launching a new look for its website: will continue to be the information hub you have grown to expect, but it will also feature some restructuring, new features and an overall professional look, which will add more to your website experience. The website has been re-structured to focus on the three pillars of the Farming Smarter organization: Growing New Ideas, Growing Knowledge and Growing Stewardship. Growing New Ideas will feature all the projects that Farming Smarter leads and partners with. Growing Knowledge is the biggest section of the new website. It features information on Farming Smarter events, updated news feed, the Farming Smarter Magazine, the e-newsletter, photo galleries and the new video library. Growing Stewardship is the newest pillar of the Farming Smarter organization, focusing on stewardship and preserving our environment. The new Farming Smarter video library is a feature that will bring the field right to your desktop, PC, tablet or smartphone. With every event being digitally recorded and uploaded to the website, event attendees can go back and watch talks and presentations they found interesting. For those who were unable to attend, they can now watch the events anywhere, anytime. Videos will include the Farming Smarter Field School, Farming Smarter Conference, Irrigated Agronomy Updates, Farming Smarter Crop Walks and various workshops. Farming Smarter will continue its innovative agronomic and technical research in agriculture for years to come. The new website is designed to share our work and give back to the farmers and producers in our industry. Be sure to check out www.farmingsmarter. com for details about our organization, to check out our projects, view past events and learn how to get involved.


Farming Smarter / spring 2012


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Growing New Ideas

Biofungicides show promise for control of white mould Field-scale trial compares Contans and Serenade /


arming Smarter has concluded a biofungicide field-scale trial, testing two biofungicides, Contans WG and Serenade MAX/ ASO, for efficacy in controlling Sclerotinia in canola and white mould in dry beans. This three-year field-scale trial involved 10 producers located from Nobleford east to Bow Island and as far north as Enchant. Positive yield results have been noted despite challenging growing conditions observed during the past three seasons. Best results over the three years were seen with a combination of Contans and Lance applications, with bean yields 40400 lbs./ac. higher than Lance-only treatments in eight out of nine fields. An economic analysis was done for all three years, and from 2010 to 2011, in two out of three cases, a net positive benefit was received from applications of Contans at each of the rates when used in conjunction with Lance. Net positive benefits ranged from $20 to $65 per acre. Contans WG, from Prophyta (, is a preventative, multi-year waterdispersed granular product directly applied

By Kristina Halma

to the soil before planting, or to treat infected residue after harvest. In order to be effective, Contans must be incorporated into the soil by tillage or moisture where it attacks the Sclerotinia fungus in the soil before it has a chance to harm the crop. The trial tested the efficacy of Contans at the full rate found in the blue book (0.8 kg/ac.) and at a double rate (1.6 kg/ac.). Contans treatments showed the most substantial increases in yield in the second and third years, which was expected due to the multi-year approach of the product. Over the course of the project, each bean field showed yield increases of 60-400 lbs./ac. when comparing Contans-only treatments to untreated checks, underscoring the importance of controlling the disease. Serenade, from AgraQuest Inc. (, is a foliar fungicide effective in controlling many bacterial and fungal diseases. The fungicide was applied during flowering of bean crops to determine its ability to control white mould. It comes in two forms: Serenade Max, a wettable powder, and Serenade ASO, an aqueous suspension.

Serenade was tested for efficacy in beans with treatments of 3L/ac. or 2 x 2.5L/ac. These treatments yielded more than untreated checks by up to 280 lbs./ac. When Serenade treatments were compared to treatments of Lance alone, Serenade had higher yields in two out of three fields. Serenade also out-yielded Lance one out of three times when each treatment was applied on a Contans treated field. Variability in these field-scale trials may have played a factor in these results. To complement the trial, there were demo plots at the Farming Smarter research site in Lethbridge to display various Contans treatments and incorporation methods. These plots provided an opportunity to discuss the project at crop walks and the annual Diagnostic Field School. The Pest Management Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada funded this biofungicide project. Contans and Serenade are distributed by United Agri Products. For more information about the project, please contact Ken Coles or Kristina Halma at the Farming Smarter office at (403) 381-5118. î ¨

Contans and Serenade disease crop walk. photo: Farming Smarter


Farming Smarter / spring 2012


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Growing New Ideas

Ethiopian Mustard expands oilseed-growing opportunities Saskatchewan researchers look to alternative sources /

By Donna Trottier


ith oilseed consumption expected to increase 25 per cent from current levels by the year 2015, researchers in Saskatchewan are setting their sights on an alternative oilseed crop, Brassica carinata, also known as Ethiopian mustard. Increased consumption and the subsequent demand for oilseeds are due in part to the increased demand for biofuels. The federal government announcement that two per cent of petroleum diesel must be replaced with biodiesel by 2012 will in itself require one million tonnes of additional oilseed production in Canada. This increased demand for oilseed can be met by either increasing yields or by increasing the area in which oilseeds can successfully be grown. Therefore, researchers are working on expanding the area in which oilseeds can be grown beyond traditional canola growing areas (northern soil zones of the Canadian Prairies) through the development of Brassica carinata. This oilseed crop is commonly referred to as Ethiopian mustard as it grows in the highland areas of Ethiopia where locals use the seeds for edible oils. In Canada, Carinata is being developed as a feedstock for energy. The high erucic acid content of the Carinata seed yields high quality oil suited for production of biofuel, lubricants, biopesticides and other value added industrial products. “It was decided to try to develop a crop specifically for industrial applications rather than as a food crop,” explains Eric Johnson, weed biologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). “The main market focus for Brassica carinata will be renewable oil for biodiesel and biojet fuel.” While Brassica carinata was originally thought to be too late-maturing for production in Western Canada, early maturing lines have been developed at the Saskatoon Research Centre over the past decade by Kevin Falk, senior scientist at AAFC Saskatoon. “Carinata is still later maturing than canola


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Eric Johnson in a Brassica carinata field. photo: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

but early enough to be grown in the southern Prairies, with the crop most suited to the semiarid conditions of the brown and dark brown soil zones,” says Johnson. He explains that the suitability of Carinata to non-traditional canola growing areas helps with the foodversus-fuel debate. Carinata can be grown for biofuel production on land that is not suitable for canola production and therefore production of energy feedstock will not be displacing food crops. Brassica carinata tolerates drought and heat, and has shown resistance to blackleg, aphids and flea beetles, and some lines have high levels of resistance to alternaria black spot. It is a vigorous crop with adaptable, highly branching growth and a large seed size. Carinata also has excellent harvest-ability with good lodging and shatter resistance. “Growing Carinata is similar to growing canola, but the advantage it has over canola is that it can be successfully straight-combined,” says Johnson. Agronomic research conducted by Johnson indicates that Brassica carinata’s maturity is hastened by up to seven days when seeding rates increased. For optimum yield and maturity, Johnson suggests that growers should target plant densities of 80 to 170 plants per square metre when planting Carinata. These numbers translate to an optimum seeding rate of eight to 16 kilograms per hectare. Research to determine optimum nitrogen requirements for the crop reveals that Brassica carinata

Brassica carinata is also known as Ethiopian mustard. Photo: Agrisoma Biosciences

achieves maximum yield with 108 to 135 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare. Since Brassica carinata is an oilseed mustard, a full suite of Brassica species pest control options could be readily accessible to growers. Minor use registrations targeting seed treatments, selective broadleaf and grass control herbicides are underway. Preliminary screening indicates that Brassica carinata tolerates Muster, and has some tolerance to Lontrel, Accord and low rates of Dicamba. Herbicide screening work in Brassica carinata will continue with funding from Growing Forward through the Innovate Mustards Program. Johnson indicates that Farming Smarter will be testing the herbicide Authority on Brassica carinata to determine if the crop will tolerate the product and what level of control will be achieved with the product. Agrisoma Biosciences Inc., in partnership with Mustard 21 (an Innovate Mustards project) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is pioneering activities to commercialize seven elite lines of Carinata for 2012. There will, however, be limited commercial production of Carinata in 2012, with less than 10,000 acres to be grown commercially. 


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Growing New Ideas

Inter-row seeding may favour reduced seeding rates Benefits can even be achieved with conventional GPS /

By Lee Hart


nter-row seeding may have more value in helping farmers reduce seeding rates of certain crops, as opposed to boosting yield of crops planted at more standard seeding rates, and the “inter-row” aspect can be achieved with most GPS guidance systems. Those two key points are emerging from the second year of a southern Alberta study looking at the potential of inter-row seeding, carried out by Farming Smarter. “It needs to be evaluated further,” says Ken Coles, Farming Smarter General Manager. “There appears to be a value of inter-row seeding, although it may not be exactly what many people first thought, and it may be accomplished just as well with conventional GPS guidance systems, as opposed to more expensive RTK technology.” Coles first looked at inter-row seeding — seeding a new crop between the stubble rows of last year’s crop — at two separate locations in 2010. In the 2011 project, he seeded canola on nine-inch row spacing on replicated plots at Wrentham, south of Lethridge. He used two types of openers and compared the practice of seeding canola directly on last year’s stubble row, seeding between rows or inter-row seeding, and a check plot, which made no attempt to align seeding with stubble. Basic findings were that the type of opener didn’t make a difference, there was no difference in soil temperature between the stubble row and soil between the rows, weed counts were the same, and there was no significant or statistical difference in yield between the various treatments. “What was interesting or noticeably different is the plant count comparing plots where canola seeded was directly on top of last year’s stubble and where it was seeded inter-row or between stubble rows,” says Coles. The 2011 project showed on average there was a 10 per cent reduction in plant count when crops were seeded on-row or at random. Plant counts in the inter-row seeding


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Farming Smarter inter-row seeding plot, Wrentham, AB. Photo: farming smarter


Peas between barley stubble in Regional Variety Trials. Photo:

were higher, “but that didn’t translate into higher yield,” says Coles. “So what this project is showing is perhaps farmers can reduce their seeding rate with inter-row seeding and yet maintain yields,” he says. “Given the high cost of canola seed, in particular, if producers can cut the seeding rate in half, for example, with inter-row seeding and achieve the same yield, that is a notable benefit. And it can be done with standard GPS technology.” In the 2010 inter-row seeding study, Coles used both canola and winter wheat, and he also compared on-row seeding, inter-row seeding and cross-row seeding. Generally, there were no significant differences in plant counts or yield among any of those treatments. However, he did notice that while trying to seed on-row, 75 to 80 per cent of plants ended up more or less by accident growing between stubble rows. That information led him to suspect that perhaps the more expensive guidance system wasn’t necessary. In the 2011 study, Coles eliminated winter wheat and the cross-row seeding plots —

farming smarter

stayed just with canola, and compared on-row seeding, inter-row seeding and the random seeding check. At the Wrentham site he used Pillar laser disc-hoe openers as well as Stealth paired-row openers. The research seeding equipment was guided by a New Holland OmniSTAR HP guidance system, which isn’t as expensive or quite as accurate as RTK (real-time kinematic network), but is more accurate than the WAAS network, which is commonly used by conventional GPS technology. During the seeding operation, a researcher also walked beside the drill during on-row and inter-row seeding to ensure seed was being placed where intended, and adjustments were made as necessary. As noted, there was no difference in several aspects of the various treatments, including no yield difference, however the on-row seeding plots had a plant count 13 per cent lower than inter-row seeding plant counts, and the random seeding check plots had plant counts nine per cent lower than inter-row seeding. “Some of the suggested benefits of using the more expensive RTK technology for

“So what this project is showing is perhaps farmers can reduce their seeding rate with interrow seeding and yet maintain yields.” inter-row seeding included improved emergence due to better seed-to-soil contact, and improved depth control for seed placement,” says Coles. “And we may be seeing that in our trials, but we are also seeing it without using RTK technology.” Coles plans to continue the research for two more years. In the upcoming 2012 growing season, he plans to seed only canola again, and use only one type of opener. Plots will include on-row, inter-row and check (random) seeding treatments, comparing a standard five kilogram/hectare seeding rate with a half 2.5 kilogram/hectare seeding rate. 

Farming Smarter / spring 2012


Growing New Ideas

Farming Smarter tackles fusarium management Decreases in damaged kernels observed where irrigation was avoided at flowering /

By Kristina Halma


arming Smarter is adding to the arsenal against Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) with a field-scale project looking at on-farm methods for managing this emerging disease in irrigated wheat. Nine producers from the counties of Forty Mile, Lethbridge, Newell and Vulcan have participated in the trial with one field each. Despite a wet start to 2011, three fields received irrigation treatments to compare FHB levels during flowering in irrigated versus non-irrigated areas. Six fields received a fungicide treatment, and were then compared with an untreated check strip, with fungicides for Fusarium suppression chosen by each producer to fit their situation. Two producers also chose to include a variety comparison in addition to the other treatments. FHB is characterized by premature bleaching of part or all of the head and shrivelled white kernels. The disease not only reduces yield, but also can be the cause of downgrading, since the most aggressive Fusarium species, Fusarium graminearum, produces mycotoxins that render the grain unsuitable for consumption by humans or animals, even at low levels. This fungal disease can be spread in the soil, through infected seed or residues, and in the air. The study evaluated an integrated approach to irrigation timing, chemical fungicides and cropping systems to minimize the impact of this disease, which is caused by several Fusarium species. In 2010, a 3.9 per cent decrease in Fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) was seen in one field where irrigation was avoided at flowering. This helps reduce the impact of the disease since the disease develops best in humid conditions. As well, researchers observed a decrease of up to 4.1 per cent FDK when comparing fungicide treatments with untreated areas. Initial results from 2011 appear to follow the same trend, but analysis to determine Fusarium species present in the grain samples and DON (a mycotoxin) levels are in progress to deter-


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Farmers scout for FHB symptoms at Farming Smarter crop walk. Photo: farming smarter

mine the exact impact of the disease on grain quality. Key results from the project will be posted on the Farming Smarter website: www. Besides the field trials, a 25-field survey of dryland and irrigated fields was conducted in which head and stubble samples and information on cropping practices were collected to examine how those practices impact development of FHB. Furthermore, demonstration plots were established in 2009 on the Farming Smarter research site as a talking point for several events, including annual disease crop walks and the Diagnostic Field Schools. A proposal to continue this project for a third year (funded by the Pest Management Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) has been submitted. For more information about the project, visit www.farmingsmarter. com or contact Ken Coles or Kristina Halma at (403) 381-5118. î ¨

Fusarium damaged wheat head. Photo: farming smarter


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Growing New Ideas

Storm‘s a-coming, don’t ignore the signs Will you respond to social and economic change? /


conomic and social change develops like a summer dry-lightning storm in cattle country, and cattle country folks deal with approaching storms in different ways. One prairie rancher, spotting massive dark clouds looming on the horizon late in a sweat-sucking hot afternoon, chooses to head for town for supplies and barley sandwiches. His neighbour, spotting these same clouds, cancels his trip to town, and hightails it for home to top up the water truck and ready his outfit for fighting grass fires. Today, dry-lightning clouds of social and economic change are building across the horizon for Canada’s farmers. When those clouds coalesce, there may well be a firestorm of painful change for those choosing to ignore the warning signals. What are those clouds that signal change? Nationally, we see a powerful consumer push for food that is safe, local and organic. Whereas the young boomers of the ’80s were banning everything from chickens to clotheslines from their suburban Utopias, their children and grandchildren are raising chickens in their backyards and growing their own vegetables in co-operative urban vegetable gardens. Canadians are enthusiastically buying into the locavore movement. Architects are incorporating food production surfaces into new building design. Urban farming is gaining traction across the country. Driven by the explosion of social media, North American consumers are using their buying power to support their personal values, and when consumers vote with their wallets, business listens. McDonald’s became a powerful change agent in animal welfare when they responded to growing consumer concerns. Yet current events in China overshadow these changes. In an alliance as improbable as Steven Harper running off with Elizabeth May to join Cirque du Soleil, Wal-Mart and the Chinese government are working in tan-


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

By Les Brost

dem to turn China into world leaders in the production of safe, environmentally-sustainable, organic food. In a brilliant, must-read piece in December 2011’s Atlantic Monthly, Orville Schell tells of Wal-Mart’s key role in the Chinese food-production revolution. In China, Wal-Mart’s sales of organic produce, meat, eggs and oils have grown by almost 20 per cent annually. Like young urban consumers in North America and Europe, Chinese consumers are ramping up demands for safe, organic food, and Chinese farmers are going full-speed ahead to meet the emerging demands.

Today, dry-lightning clouds of social and economic change are building across the horizon for Canada’s farmers. Wal-Mart and the Chinese government have teamed up to source much of this food from the Direct Farm Program. To gain market power and sell directly to the large chains like Wal-Mart, Chinese farmers formed a new national network of regional co-operatives. Using the Direct Farm Program, retailers and farmers can establish and implement the stringent food standards now mandated by the Chinese government. Wal-Mart is creating a bold new food-production strategy in China. Meanwhile, Chinese interests are buying millions of acres of farmland in Africa and South America. Will the emerging co-operative Chinese farm network template be transferable to these new holdings? If it is, traditional North American bulk-commodity agriculture could be facing a perfect economic storm. That brings us back to those who currently lead Canada’s primary agriculture industry and the farmers who elect and direct them.

How are they responding to the economic and social storm signals? Let’s start with the state of unity among our farm commodity groups. The current state of unity between these groups wavers between Slim and None, and Slim just left town on a fast horse. Recently, a prominent representative for one commodity group publicly blamed the marketing policies and practices of other commodity groups for its’ own market problems. Meanwhile, we see limited direct, twoway communication between farmers and consumers. The result is an erosion of the historic public support for much of the agriculture industry. Canadian farmers might well consider the history of the Swiss watch industry. Switzerland had been the bedrock of the timekeeping industry since the beginning of the 16th century. Over the centuries, Swiss dominance increased as Swiss craftsmen set the bar for watch-making excellence. Then came the Quartz Revolution in the 1970s and early 1980s. Despite inventing the quartz watch, Switzerland’s watch-making industry leaders chose to remain focused on traditional mechanical watches. We all know the result of that choice. The majority of world watch production shifted to Asian companies embracing the new technology. Who best survives rapid social and economic change? Like fighting grass fires, those that react the quickest and best tools survive. They recognize the signs of oncoming change and choose to adapt to survive and thrive with that change. With clouds looming on the horizon, what choices will Canada’s farmers make, and when will they make them? When we choose to not make changes, we’ve acted. Will it be beer and business as usual, or will farmers make the changes necessary to meet the challenges? The flashing numbers on the digital timepiece tell us that time is running down. 


Growing New Ideas

Two options for creating accurate soil maps Is there a way to eliminate extensive soil sampling when developing field maps? Technology is getting close /

By Lyndsey Smith

Veris 3100 uses electro-conductivity to map variability within a field. photo: Veris Technologies


uilding an accurate, detailed soil variability map typically requires hours of tedious grid-based soil sampling of each field. The extra time and effort is certainly worth it as the true value of a field map depends on the accuracy of its information, especially when that map becomes the basis for variable rate field management zones. The growing interest in variable rate applications has prompted some agronomists to seek out an easier, faster way to accurately map field variability. Curt Walker recently started using a very

specific piece of machinery as the base layer for developing field maps and setting variable rate management zones. Walker, agronomic consultant and owner of AgViser Crop Management, uses a Veris 3100, a coulter-based system that uses electro-conductivity to map variability within a field. The company claims the unit will ultimately create a soil texture map, however the technology isn’t quite there yet. The Veris generates a range of values for a field. However, these readings correlate to the field at that moisture level for that year

and can’t be extrapolated to other fields or to other years. For example, a reading of 2.3 will correlate to other soil types or conditions in the same field with the same reading, but may not mean it’s the same as a 2.3 reading a month later in a different field. It’s still up to agronomists or farmers to get out in the field and physically see or test what that 2.3 reading means in regards to soil texture or composition of that particular field. “I’ve used satellite imagery (for NDVI readings) and yield maps for planning management zones,” Walker says, “but I’ve been Continues on page 18


Farming Smarter / spring 2012


Continued from page 17

really impressed with the accuracy and the kind of information I get from using the Veris.” Walker says he’s found evidence of old fence lines, paddocks and pipelines from the Veris readings that had previously been unnoticed. He’s also found low levels of salinity that would have been missed if it weren’t for this level of soil mapping. “Now I use the Veris map as the base map, then I layer the yield maps and the satellite imaging maps over top. The (Veris) data just adds another layer of confidence to developing management zones,” he says. Because the Veris is RTK equipped, it can plan soil testing sites with absolute accuracy, says Walker. He knows — to the inch — where to soil sample to “ground truth” and verify what the Veris readings are telling him. He can also develop topography maps from the same one-time mapping of a field, a real value in wet years and in varying fertilizer rates for hilltops. Veris Technologies does offer an organic matter (OM) sensor as well as a pH sensor option, however, Walker feels the cost may not be worth it at this time. Between mapping the soil variability and a vigorous soil-testing regimen, Walker feels he can track and map soil OM and pH accurately with the set up he has now. Still, if the OM and pH readings were in fact that accurate, it would certainly be a benefit for those who don’t already have a soil sampling routine in place. Where Walker would like to see more work done is on the compilation side. He’s quite confident in the soil variability readings and accuracy the Veris provides, however he’d like to see some research on how to best blend these maps with others, such as yield maps, to more easily correlate what the readings really mean. The EM38 Veris is not the only soil mapping company or equipment in the game. Nor is the idea of soil mapping equipment all that new. In fact,


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Shelley Woods, a soil and water scientist with the provincial government, has been using the EM38 for more than 20 years. Canadian-designed and built, the EM38 is much different than the Veris in that it uses an electromagnetic pulse to measure changes in the soil makeup without actually making contact with the soil. This set up, Woods says, has its advantages and disadvantages.

“What we’ve found after years of working with the EM38 is that it’s incredibly good at detecting even very low levels of soil salinity,” Because the EM38 remains on the surface of the soil, its readings are not impacted by rocks or other debris that could pop coulters out of the soil. What’s more, the EM38 measures variability on both soil salinity and soil moisture. Woods does note, however, that the instrument is very sensitive to metal, because it works off of an electromagnetic pulse. “When calibrating (the EM38), you have to remove anything metal that is close to the meter, like your watch or metal-rimmed glasses, because even something that small can change the reading. When we built the sled to pull it over the fields, we had to get creative with using wood, fibreglass and glue — we couldn’t use any metal at all. “It takes a bit of training, certainly, but once you have a decent set up for coupling the EM38 with GPS and attaching the system to a quad, it’s really very fast and easy to create soil maps,” she says. Held either horizontally or vertically, the EM38 can map either to a depth of 75 cm or 150 cm. “It’s a great way to map only the sur-

face or deep into the rooting zone, depending on the information you’re looking for,” Woods says. “What we’ve found after years of working with the EM38 is that it’s incredibly good at detecting even very low levels of soil salinity,” she says. Saline seeps can go undetected for quite some time, depending on the crop grown or the level of monitoring a farmer does. “Some crops, such as beans, are greatly impacted by even very low levels of salinity. We found that we could very closely correlate lower bean yield zones in a field with salinity (using the EM38),” Woods says. Yield losses of up to 40 per cent were recorded even at low levels of salinity, she says. The EM38, while easy to use and very effective for mapping salinity, does have its limitations. Beyond detecting salinity, there’s not much else it can do. Woods also says that verifying the data still requires soil sampling, so there’s no way around that job entirely. A closer look There is some real potential for the Veris and the EM38 in developing solid base maps for field management in a way that circumvents the time- and labour-intensive grid soil sampling method currently used. But there are still questions as to how effective each of these products is for the various applications. Farming Smarter is looking at starting a research trial of the technologies in 2012, with plans to set up a solid research case for the opportunities and limits of using this equipment for developing variable rate maps. Watch for more on soil mapping later this year. 

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Growing New Ideas

Winter pulses another way to spread the workload? Still limited to small area though /

By Helen McMenamin


inter pulses could be a great way to spread the workload, introduce another winter crop into rotations and perhaps increase yields and nitrogen fixation. Maybe that’s the way the crop will work out, but it is still a crop to try only on a small area. Mark Olson, pulse crops specialist for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, figures that the province is probably about where winter wheat was 20 years ago. It’s not a crop for everybody. But it is a promising crop for southern Alberta. Surprisingly, buyers that Olson consulted with graded good winter pea and lentil samples as No. 1, despite their smaller size. But there are challenges. Olson has abandoned winter pulse trials at Edmonton and Lacombe because of poor winter survival. He is continuing trials with colleagues in southern Alberta, with sites at Bow Island, Brooks, High River and Lethbridge. Last year, winter peas and lentil plots at Lethbridge looked spectacular in spite of the long, cold winter. The plots finished flowering by early July and yielded well. The winter pulses have higher biomass than spring varieties and can outyield them, so nitrogen fixation should be higher than for spring varieties. Also, harvest is usually about two weeks before spring peas. This year though, Ross McKenzie, the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development agronomy research scientist who has been growing winter pulses for several years, is uncertain whether the crops will survive the winter. “It will be interesting to see how the plots fared this year,” he says. ”The warm, dry fall and early winter, along with the sudden shock of very cold weather in mid-January, may have been too stressful for the plants.” From his work to date, Olson has developed a decision support system (DSS), a set of questions to answer before seeding winter lentil or winter peas. (Olson has tried winter faba beans, but they don’t have enough winter hardiness, even in southern Alberta.) He


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Winter pulses are a promising crop for Southern Alberta, if you order seed on time and get it in the ground at the right time. Photo: farming smarter

doesn’t advise winter pulses anywhere north of Highway 1. “You need fairly good moisture,” says McKenzie. “The winter types are smaller seeded than spring varieties, but it’s still a fairly big seed. It needs to imbibe quite a bit of water to germinate. You can seed deeper to put the seed in moist soil but no more than two and a half to three inches. The other essential is that you get them in the ground the first two weeks of September.” The biggest challenge to growing winter pulses is getting the seed from the United States. In theory, you can bring seed across the border for your own use, but in practice, it’s not easy. Last fall, McKenzie brought in enough winter lentil and pea seed to put in about five acres for seed production. The seed didn’t arrive until mid-September, so it went in the ground a little later than he hoped, but he may get some seed for on-farm trials. If you want to import seed for yourself to try this fall, he suggests you start the import process now.

One American winter pulse breeder, Kevin McPhee, is now working out of North Dakota State University, so his newer material may be more suited to prairie conditions than the lines in Alberta trials, which were developed in Washington. He also has some newer lines that outyield the early varieties. Giving the crop the strongest agronomic package possible gives it the best possible chance of success — particularly important for a new crop. To give the crop a better chance to overcome winter annual weeds, Olson likes to use higher seeding rates than for spring pulses, aiming for plant populations of 1.5 and two times the normal rates of seven to eight pea plants per square foot, and 10 or 11 plants per square foot for lentil. The seed size is a little smaller than spring varieties, so the seeding cost for higher plant populations is about the same. In Washington, farmers usually tank-mix Pursuit with their pre-seeding glyphosate burn-off to get some residual control of winter annuals. Farming Smarter has been testing some other herbicide strategies. 


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Farming Smarter / spring 2012


Growing New Ideas

Winter wheat knowledge growing More tools to enable more farmers to get on board /

By Helen McMenamin


t’s only been long enough to grow one crop of winter wheat and seed the next, but already Brian Beres has been able to draw some conclusions about successful winter wheat in areas or situations where the crop doesn’t have much of a history. The Agriculture Canada research scientist is working with colleagues across the Prairies so he can answer questions and develop tools to enable more farmers to grow winter wheat. “Winter wheat is a natural fit for a lot more farmers than currently grow it,” says Beres. Winter wheat can produce higher returns, spread the workload and take advantage of early spring moisture. Because it starts growing earlier in the year than spring-seeded crops, summer annual weeds are rarely a problem and its early growth can help it escape diseases like fusarium head blight and insects, such as wheat stem sawfly. “And, because the crop is undisturbed in spring, it provides safe nesting habitat for birds, particularly upland waterfowl such as northern pintail,” says Beres. Beres is leader of a Prairies-wide project on winter wheat agronomy. Even though he only has data from one year, he has combined information gathered from studies replicated in as many as eight sites in different environments from Brandon and Melfort to Lethbridge to draw some solid conclusions and see some issues that can be addressed. For many farmers, it’s not always possible to get canola combined early enough to seed winter wheat on time. But, seeding any kind of wheat into barley stubble is counterintuitive. Beres is trying it for winter wheat. Volunteer barley, often cited as a reason not to grow winter wheat on barley stubble, was not a problem for CDC Buteo winter wheat. But, barley’s heavy trash may tie up nitrogen, leaving the crop nitrogen-deficient despite generous fertilizer applications. Beres is testing that theory in southern Alberta, northern Alberta and at Brandon. He’s also testing the performance of winter


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Is seed treatment worthwile for winter wheat? Photo: farming smarter

wheat in a wide range of other crop residues. A new study is looking at a new herbicide, pyroxylsulfone, for which BASF has registration as Zidua, pending for this year. It controls wild oats and cleavers and may be a better option for winter annuals in winter wheat than Group 2 or Group 4 chemicals. Seed Protection Another study aims to find whether fungicide and insecticide seed treatment is worthwhile for winter wheat. At all the sites, seed protection resulted in better plant growth and vigour, which translated to significantly higher grain yield over the control with no seed treatment. The study included fall-applied Proline foliar fungicide (prothioconozole). Beres was skeptical that fall-applied foliar fungicide would provide any benefit, but the application significantly improved grain yield at sites that had confirmed stripe rust (Lethbridge, AB, Scott, SK, and Melfort, SK). Beres speculates that the fungicide may have prevented spores of stripe rust overwintering in the crop or provided longer than anticipated systemic activity in plants because of the cold conditions last winter.

In a refinement of the seed treatment study, Beres used large and small seeds, generally a predictor of seedling vigour, seeded with and without a combination seed treatment at a seeding density of either 200 or 400 seeds per square metre. “These treatments represent a range of weak to strong agronomic systems,” says Beres. “A weak system with low vigour seed, plant populations on the low side and no seed protection responded strongly to seed treatments. Strong agronomic systems, also benefited but not to nearly the same extent.” Seed treatment seems to be a good insurance policy. And, so far, it seems the increase in grain yield more than covers the cost of seed treatment chemical and its application. Cereal leaf beetle is an emerging threat to winter wheat as well as spring cereals. Although it has a parasitoid that controls populations by laying its eggs in beetle eggs, winter wheat may be attacked more severely because it’s a relatively abundant food source that’s available early in spring, when hungry beetle larvae first emerge. Beres has been working with entomologist, Hector Carcamo to assess whether Botanigard, a fungus used to kill insects in greenhouses, can be effective in the field. Beres is also working to find the fertilizer nitrogen regimes that produce the highest yield and protein concentration in milling wheat varieties and highest yields in the general purpose varieties. That work will also be used to develop software for tools such as Greenseeker that measure the greenness and density of crops to assess the optimum level of nitrogen for that crop. The federal DIAP program (Developing Innovative Agri-Products) matched funding from Ducks Unlimited Canada, the three Prairie winter wheat commissions and others. Beres is working with scientists and technicians in a wide range of disciplines so they can look into many different aspects of winter wheat. 


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Farming Smarter / spring 2012


Growing Knowledge

It takes a community to manage plant disease Reduce spread by eliminating the green bridge /

By Sarah Sutton

Above: Diagnostic lab staff assess a stripe-rust infected field of Genou winter wheat near Great Falls, MT, last June. Right: Get out of your truck and look out for stripe rust. photos: Mary Burrows


hen it comes to managing community plant diseases, co-operation is key, says one pathologist. “Farmers are the independent and competitive sort, but that mindset doesn’t necessarily work with diseases,” says Mary Burrows, extension plant pathologist at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. Burrows offered disease management tips based on her experience in Montana at the Farming Smarter conference in December in Lethbridge. She said one of the most effective ways to reduce disease spread is to eliminate the “green bridge.” That is, the growth of weed, crop volunteers and pasture both before and during the growing season that enables disease to move from one crop to the another (for example, late-maturing spring wheat to early-maturing winter wheat). In fact, eliminating the green bridge is the only way to control Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus (WSMV). This virus is highly associated with cheatgrass, a winter annual weed that emerges year-round, creating a reservoir for the disease. Furthermore, WSMV is transmitted by the wheat curl mite, which wraps itself up into the leaves, making insecticides ineffective.


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Still, everyone needs to be on board in order for green bridge elimination to work on a community level. “We know what to do, but how do we get our neighbours to pay attention?” says Burrows. In addition to eliminating the green bridge, producers can work with resistance variety and spraying time to help control disease. Last year, there was widespread fall infection of stripe rust in Montana; it was also a banner year for stripe rust in Washington. Producers planted Genou, a stripe rust susceptible winter wheat variety, because the other option, Yellowstone, is susceptible to sawfly. Genou, however, is susceptible to stripe rust — so it’s basically pick your pest, says Burrows. Still, variety resistance is very effective as reducing yield losses, she says. “If you see resistance, don’t spray. However, you often won’t see resistance kick in until a certain temperature. Any time we sprayed on a resistant variety, we didn’t see any difference in yields,” says Burrows. She is certain that stripe rust will be an issue in Alberta next year. “If you are growing a susceptible variety, get out of your truck and look at the fields. If you see something ask

some questions, if resistant, then there are no worries.” Burrows encourages producers to talk about disease in coffee shops and on social media networks, as well as sending in samples and talking to crop consultants. In Montana, disease information is available through an agriculture alert system, where producers can sign up to have disease updates sent to them via email or fax. “Think about disease management globally,” says Burrows. “We can help each other to succeed.” 


Growing Knowledge

Farming Smarter, for the long term Look ahead 100 years to determine if you’re going in the right direction / By Helen McMenamin


eeting Dwayne Beck has been described as being a lot like receiving a 2x4 to the side of the head. It’s changed farmers’ approach to problems. He’s the source of the name, Farming Smarter. Beck looks at farming from an ecological and a totally practical viewpoint, looking at the way the native prairie ecosystem functions and figuring out ways to replicate those functions and produce something to sell. He doesn’t test answers for problems and tell you the best one. He gives us ways to look at the natural systems so we can work out what imbalance causes the symptom we see as a problem. We may still need to use chemicals, but recognize them as an effect of annual cropping. Beck’s thinking has helped many farmers ease into more profitable rotations. The South Dakota State University professor also manages the non-profit Dakota Lakes Research Farm at Pierre, SD, where the native short-grass prairie is very much like southern Alberta, with slightly more precipitation compensating for higher summer temperatures and a slightly longer season. The farm has been in low-disturbance zero till since 1984, with much of Beck’s research focused on finding good rotations. Crop sequences that use moisture from differing depths and 2 + 2 rotations, two broadleaf crops then two cereals, are among the most profitable. Two full seasons out of each crop type reduces weeds and diseases. A good rotation involves matching the whole rotation to the moisture available. Individual crops are sequenced so that each takes advantage of the conditions created by its predecessor and develops good conditions for the next. He looks at crops and the whole rotation in terms of intensity (total water use), plant type (warm or cool season, grass or broadleaf), and time of seeding. Beck’s demonstrations and figures have persuaded farmers in his region to change their farming systems to grow more varied crops with zero-till, instead of tillage and summerfal-

low. He also publishes his solutions to real problems like “how do I seed in mud?” As a result, the 200- by 300-mile area with a good deal of marginal land has seen farm income grow by $1.7 billion in the last 20 years. Irrigated acres dropped as farmers realized they could make more money with zero-till, using rain and snow more effectively, than by irrigating at high cost. These efforts led to Beck’s induction into South Dakota’s Hall of Fame. Sustainable farms Today, Beck is looking at the sustainability of our farming systems. Soil health is one measure, but he dislikes the term because no one can really define it. “We get looking at details too much,” he says. “Never mind what we should or should not do. We need to look at where we want to be in 100, 300, 600 years?” Obviously, we won’t be around for that. But, Beck suggests looking at where you want your farm to be in 100 years to determine whether you’re going in the right direction. “Look at where you are now — the people involved, your resource base (land, customers, vendors, advisors) and money (stable internal funding or external). Then define your goals — the lifestyle you want, production levels, ask how much is enough, and the future resource base. Your farming system must not degrade the resource if it’s to be sustainable.” Then, he advises looking for the weaknesses in your potential direction to see if they treat a symptom or address the cause of problems. Will a particular action cause people problems, as with subsidized transport? Does it address the weakest point of the organism or are you creating an opportunity for nature to cause you a problem? Is money used for infrastructure a once-only expense, consumptive, like engine fuel, or addictive, like fertilizer herbicides and tillage? To make his farm sustainable, Beck looks at Mother Nature. “She been managing ecosystems better and longer than anyone,” he says.


Dwayne Beck speaks at Farming Smarter’s annual conference. photo: Farming Smarter

“She harvests the maximum sunlight and leaks very few nutrients, including carbon dioxide.” After looking hard at natural systems, Beck has decided to add livestock to his farm operation to match and augment the natural animals. Cattle use crop residues, perennials and cover crops such as turnips, distribute organic waste which returns to the soil organic matter and boost future yields. “There’s competition for crop residues, for livestock feed, fuel or building materials, but those uses return a small percentage of the waste to the field,” he says. “The cow is the most efficient biodigester. Cows keep the waste on the fields and distribute it at no cost, and we can modify the distribution pattern with bale grazing, grazing cells, a perennial phase in crop rotations or swath grazing.” Beck sees high grain prices as an opportunity to add beef grazing cover crops or perennials to crop rotations. “But, it’s key that we leave residues on the field and not force the cattle to clean up. We can do this, we control the animals,” he says. Beck has also taken on a new goal: to have the Dakota Lakes farm carbon neutral by 2026. He’s cold pressing canola to produce his own biodiesel and producing 300 liters per acre. By integrating cover crops and livestock into his cropping rotations, Beck has achieved over 200 bushes per acre of irrigated corn in a wheat-wheat-corn-corn rotation using only 36 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, and respectable yields without any added nitrogen. “Inputs are not an essential part of farming,” says Beck. “I am a farmer. I take sunlight, water and carbon dioxide and turn them into products I can sell. Eighty percent of total input costs in agriculture can be traced back to energy.” If you have a chance to visit the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, don’t miss it. It may be the best thing you ever do for your farm. 

Farming Smarter / spring 2012


Growing Knowledge

Berger sees opportunities in wheat board change Research investment may get a boost /

By Sarah Sutton


ith the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on the horizon, Evan Berger, Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, anticipates a busy year ahead. The Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act takes effect on August 1, 2012. This gives wheat and barley producers a dual marketing system wherein they can choose to sell their grain to a reorganized voluntary wheat board or find their own buyer(s) on the open market. “There are opportunities for investment and increased research funding with the changes in the wheat board status,” says Berger, responding to a question about how the wheat board ruling will affect research. “One of things that is coming across loud and clear from meetings is that Medicine Hat and Lethbridge are both very clear choices for investment in research.” Both government and industry will be looking at ways to invest in grain research in order to enhance production, says Berger. He expects the dual marketing system to be one of the major issues for 2012, in addition to increasing the profile of Alberta agriculture at home and abroad, and land-use planning. Part of raising the profile of agriculture at


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

“…Lethbridge and Medicine Hat are both clear choices for investment in research.”

Evan Berger, Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. SUBMITTED PHOTO

home is getting youth involved in agriculture. “The average age in Alberta is 51 years old. Attracting youth to agriculture is one of our biggest challenges right now but in order to do that, we need to show that agriculture is profitable and predictable,” says Berger. It helps when there are announcements

already this year about South Korea opening its border to Canada beef, and Alberta committing to providing high-speed Internet in unserviced, rural areas. As this is his first full year as agriculture minister, Berger, who was appointed to the position on October 11, 2011, admits he doesn’t have all the answers. “However, I am willing to get out and talk to people about the issues. I recently attended the University of Alberta’s Farm Fair and had my eyes opened to the incredible new products and uses that university and college students are developing. Those are opportunities to be embraced.” Berger is a Nanton-area rancher and MLA for Livingstone-Macleod. Prior to serving with the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, he served as a member of council in the municipal district of Willow Creek, nine years of which were spent as reeve and six as chair of the Municipal Planning Commission and the Agricultural Service Board. 


Farming Smarter / spring 2012


Growing Knowledge

Consultant forecasts mixed bag for 2012 Carefully consider your cropping and marketing decisions for the coming year /

By Lee Hart


ew marketing opportunities lay ahead, crop prices may drop in 2012, and seeding conditions could be drier this spring than in 2011. Those are just some of the points farmers need to be thinking about over the coming weeks, says a Saskatchewan agricultural consultant. With changes in federal legislation bringing about marketing freedom for Canadian wheat and barley, Western Canadian producers will have more marketing flexibility, says Kevin Hursh, an agricultural consultant, journalist and farmer himself, based in Saskatoon. That freedom to lock in prices in the future can provide producers with marketing choices they haven’t had under the single desk system, he says. “There are still a number of questions to be answered,” says Hursh in an early 2012 interview. “But I think now rather than producers discussing whether this a good or bad thing, they are saying, ‘the change has happened, and what does it mean.’” First of all, the change will give producers more marketing flexibility to lock in new crop prices and know what the price will be. It will give them a better opportunity to better compare returns from wheat and barley, with canola and other special crops.” Hursh, who along with his wife, Marlene, own Hursh Consulting and Communications Inc., says he still supports the long standing marketing advice to look ahead for opportunities to lock in at least a portion of your crop at a profitable price. “Of course to do that producers need to know their true cost of production,” he says. “But if you know your cost of production, look at the marketing options you have, and lock in at least a portion of the coming crop at a profit. There is always a tendency to hold off and sell everything at the peak price, but time and again we see that strategy doesn’t work as well as hoped.” In reviewing a presentation he gave in December 2011 at the Farming Smarter con-


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Kevin Hursh encourages Western Canadian producers to consider new cropping opportunities. photo: Farming Smarter

ference in Lethbridge, Hursh says there are a number of opportunities and challenges ahead for producers in 2012 that can all affect cropping and marketing decisions for the coming year. Along with marketing freedom, here are other points to consider. • Several market analysts are forecasting declining markets ahead for agricultural commodities. Prices aren’t in a free fall, but with a number of issues in the world economy, they are expected to tighten up. Canola at $9/bushel isn’t bad in historical terms, but not as good as $11 or $12/bushel prices over the past year. • W hile it is generally thought farmers can save money by pre-buying fertilizer in the fall, that doesn’t always hold true. As retail prices catch up with world prices, fertilizer prices this spring may be lower than they were last fall. If they haven’t bought already, farmers need to look at where prices are headed as seeding season approaches. • W hile too much moisture was certainly an issue in many parts of the prairies in 2011, that may not be the case for 2012. Soil moisture maps for many areas show moisture levels well below normal in early win-

ter. That can always change by April, but it could also stay dry. • Consider new cropping opportunities. Hursh, who operates a farm at Cabri, SK, northwest of Swift Current, challenges Alberta producers to include more pulse crops, such as lentils, in rotation. Saskatchewan is a major producer of lentils with about 2.46 million acres compared to Alberta with only about 110,000 acres in 2011. He says while lentils do have certain geographic limitations, there is an opportunity to grow more of the crop in Alberta. He says there may also be opportunity to grow smaller market crops such as canary seed. While there are many aspects of management that producers need to be aware of, Hursh says statistics often point out some interesting points to consider. “If you look at statistics, $250,000 of gross farm revenue seems to be the tipping point for off-farm income,” he says. “Farms earning less than $250,000 in agricultural revenue have more off-farm income, than farms earning $250,000 or more in agricultural revenue.” So what does it take to earn $250,000 in


gross agricultural revenue? On the grains side, Hursh says it takes about 1,300 acres of wheat, averaging 32 bushels per acre at $6 per bushel to reach that level. And with $9/bushel canola, with an average yield of 32 bushels/acre, it takes between 900 and 1,000 acres. On the beef side, with calves averaging 550 pounds and prices at $1.60 per pound, it takes about 284 calves, which would require a cowherd of about 300 head. While Alberta and Saskatchewan are higher than the national average of about 50 head per beef operation, there still aren’t that many operations with 300 or more head of beef. “Statistics just show the differences in the two sectors,” says Hursh. “Realistically, if you have 300 or more head of cows, you probably get to wear a pretty big hat at the coffee shop, where as the guy with 1,000 acre grain farm probably isn’t on the speed dial list of too many input suppliers, yet at these prices and production estimates, that’s what it takes

“Producers need to look at their profitability, …And my advice is, it is best to focus their efforts either on one sector or the other.”

to reach that $250,000 gross agricultural revenue level. “Producers need to look at their profitability,” he says. “And my advice is it is best to focus their efforts either on one sector or the other, and not try to manage mixed farming operations.” Hursh also cautioned that investing in land doesn’t always provide a guaranteed rate of return. Land prices in both Alberta and Saskatchewan have been increasing in recent years. However, history shows prices did fall in the 1980s. “I just think we need to keep in mind that land prices aren’t always a guarantee,” he says. “Prices may not begin to fall, but they may not always increase at the same pace. Saskatchewan has the lowest land prices of any jurisdiction in North America, but there is also a lot of speculation in the market as well.” And on the communications side of farm management, he urges farm families to talk

about and develop farm succession plans. “It is not always an easy topic, but sometimes it is just a matter of someone taking the initiative to call the whole family together at the kitchen table to talk about it,” he says. Rather than avoid the issue, he urges families to sit down and sort out a succession plan that recognizes both farming and non-farming family members, so it unfolds in an orderly matter, rather than something that has to be sorted out by the courts or that creates hard feelings. 


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Growing Knowledge

Tom Droog and Spitz – a force of nature at work Building southern Alberta business from the ground up /

By Helen McMenamin


arming conferences often include a speaker who has achieved spectacular success in agriculture or a related field. Sometimes, the organizers suggest the presentation might inspire others to similar success. Tom Droog, founder of Spitz, who spoke at the Farming Smarter conference in December, is a tough act to follow. Droog emigrated to Canada in 1972 and worked a summer in southern Alberta before he married his Dutch-born wife, Emmy, in Ontario and persuaded her the future was brighter in Alberta. Then, Droog faced an obstacle that would have stopped or deflected most people. At that time, Alberta had loans available for young farmers, but according to the local agent, the land Droog wanted didn’t qualify because the house was too big a proportion of the farm value, and his signature was required on the application. Droog was not deterred. He phoned until he reached then-Premier Lougheed and persuaded him to allow his loan application to go directly to Edmonton. Droog bought the land he wanted. He still lives on the farm near Bow Island. Growing flax, sugar beets and wheat, Droog soon ran afoul of the CWB for over-delivery. He switched his cropping system to corn and sunflowers, but still chafed under government regulations on corn delivered to distillers. He focused on sunflowers, which he grew under contract until a lady called asking for sunflower seed for bird feeders. At the time, Droog says, “I told her, ma’am, we shoot the birds.” But, she told him she was paying 30 cents a pound for sunflower seed, compared to 10 cents he was getting and a business began. With his wife as business partner, Droog started Alberta Sunflower Seeds in 1982. At every turn, Droog says, he went with his gut. He calls it the Creator talking to him. In the early ’80s, he needed a plant and stressed out the bank manager as he bulled past the bank’s normal procedures and credit limits. Droog and Emmy started Spitz in 1988, af-


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Tom Droog, the driving force behind Spitz. Photo: farming smarter

“The bankers said we were growing too fast, but I told them, ‘You do the studying, I’m going for the action.’” ter he’d seen how popular roasted sunflowers were as a snack in Spain. From the start, when they filled freezer bags by hand using a pop bottle as a scoop, they recognized the need for a resealable bag. Spitz sales grew so fast, and even Droog was scared at the cost of expansion to meet the need. But, he says, “We provided value for money. The resealable bag was not without hurdles, but the ziplock bag did it.” “The bankers said we were growing too fast, but I told them, ‘You do the studying, I’m going for the action.’” Major retailers tried to force Droog into making special deals with them. To bring 7/11 into line, he had all his salesmen go into the stores, buy a pop and ask for Spitz. Within two weeks, they accepted his terms. He took on Walmart, prepared for their techniques to intimidate salespeople. He went

in person, demanded coffee in a real cup with cream and sugar and told them he had 20 minutes. When the buyer tried to negotiate, he closed his book and went to leave. He sold product to them on his terms. Spitz grew three- and four-fold year after year to annual sales of $30 million, with the product distributed through 60,000 stores in Canada and half as many in the US. Droog became known as one of Alberta’s most successful entrepreneurs. But, he and Emmy had figured they’d sell the business at some point, “when business was good, but still had room for improvement.” When PepsiCo wanted to buy the company, they saw that a sale would mean, “the Spitz name is forever.” Even in negotiating the sale of the company he and his wife built from nothing, Droog was no pushover. During a conference call with all PepsiCo’s most senior people, a lawyer Droog calls “a yahoo from New York,” asked about Spitz’ suppliers. On hearing that they were local farmers and credit checks were not necessary, the lawyer said, “Farmers!” in a less than respectful tone. Droog threatened to pull out of the talks. After a private talk with the company chairman, talks resumed without the lawyer. Emmy died soon after the sale, but Droog is happy with the sale. He still works for the company. “Spitz fits better in PepsiCo’s organization than we thought and it’s more profitable than we thought. Spitz was bought by an awesome company and, unlike most companies the corporation buys, there were no skeletons in the closet.” Droog has some advice that fits any business: “You’ve got to have honesty and integrity in business. And, when people treat you fairly and honestly, stick with them. We still work with the same people that we started with for electrical, mechanical, freight and construction back in the ‘80s. Don’t nickel and dime those people–they’re there for you when you need them.” 


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Farming Smarter / spring 2012


Growing Knowledge

UFA on board as major Farming Smarter sponsor Partnership provides more educational opportunities for farmers /

By Helen McMenamin


FA and Farming Smarter have signed an agreement making the farm supplies cooperative a major sponsor for all Farming Smarter events, a $25,000 a year commitment. Farming Smarter, formerly SARA and SACA, sees huge benefits from such an endorsement, especially as the Alberta government’s Agriculture Opportunity Fund matches industry funds at 3:1. That grows the UFA funding commitment to $100,000 a year for research and extension work. “It’s very gratifying to have such an endorsement from an organization with the strength and wide reach of UFA,” says Farming Smarter manager, Ken Coles. “And, we’re excited that UFA will be bringing staff and customers to participate in all our major events, crop walks, the diagnostic field school in the summer, our annual conference in December, and the precision agriculture conference in Calgary in Febru-

“It’s very gratifying to have such an endorsement from an organization with the strength and wide reach of UFA.” ary. That will raise our profile, bringing new members to our events and distributing our magazine.” “The funding from UFA will help us build capacity and retain skilled staff to meet the tremendous increase in requests for our help in various projects, especially as federal and

UFA is now Farming Smarter’s premier sponsor. photo: Farming Smarter


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

provincial governments are cutting back,” says Coles. “We hope it will help us put on top-notch events and react to new issues quickly and effectively. Maybe we’ll even be able to hire someone at the PhD level.” Coles also expressed his group’s appreciation for the sense of partnership that came with the UFA sponsorship. UFA donated merchandise for the silent auction to benefit 4-H groups in southern Alberta. The silent auction raised funds, and at the same time provided an enjoyable, social mixer for Farming Smarter’s annual conference in Lethbridge. Doug Brodoway, UFA’s agronomist for southeast Alberta, describes the sponsorship as a win-win-win situation: UFA, Farming Smarter and farmers will all benefit. “UFA is in the business of serving farmers, providing them with the products and technology to help them reach their goals,” he says. “I see a real need among our customers for more information on new products and new technology, the best way to handle a problem or scout for insects and diseases. That’s exactly what Farming Smarter offers and as governments are pulling out of agriculture and working with farmers, it’s just about the only group doing that.” “But it seems very few farmers are aware of this organization. UFA, with its coverage of Alberta, can help Farming Smarter reach farmers,” says Brodoway. By sponsoring Farming Smarter activities, UFA aims to encourage farmers to attend educational events and to lessen their worries about the cost of education. The co-operative also sees Farming Smarter’s research farm east of the Lethbridge agriculture centre as a very worthwhile investment. “The world’s population is increasing and people need to eat,” says Brodoway. “If farmers are going to feed the world, we have to help them, and we have to do that if UFA is going to be around to supply their needs. This sponsorship is a good way to do that.” 


Growing Stewardship

Oldman Watershed Council champions watershed management Join a team of volunteers to make a difference / BY JAMIE PUCHINGER

Above: Belly River near Waterton. Right: Oldman Watershed map. PHOTO: FARMING SMARTER


nder Alberta’s Water for Life strategy, Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) have been established for each of Alberta’s major watershed basins (currently, there are 11 WPAC’s in the province). These councils are multi-stakeholder, nonprofit organizations that bring public and private sector stakeholders and individuals in a watershed together to assess the conditions of their watershed, and to develop a plan and activities to address watershed issues. The Oldman Watershed Council (OWC) is the WPAC that formed to address issues in the Oldman River Watershed. The Oldman River Watershed is located in the southwest corner of Southern Alberta. Its boundaries reach west along the border of British Columbia, north of High River, stretching east of Taber, and reaching across the 49th parallel into Montana, U.S.A. The size of the watershed is approximately 25,000

square kilometres and covers high alpine landscapes, rolling foothills, lush native grasslands, and productive agricultural land. Lethbridge is the only city within the watershed, along with several towns and hamlets that are home to approximately 200,000 people. The Oldman Watershed Council (OWC) is made up of southern Albertans who strive to manage the watershed responsibly in the face of a growing population and a vibrant economy. By partnering with stakeholders,

the OWC is working to plan for our watershed's future. The OWC is working towards a healthy, resilient watershed where people, wildlife and habitat thrive. Its five long-term overarching goals are: • We understand our watershed. • Residents are well informed and actively engaged. • Basin stakeholders have defined the desired outcomes for the Oldman Watershed that will form the basis for the Continues on page 34




Continued from page 33

Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP). • The Oldman Watershed Council and stakeholders put into action the capacity and commitment to achieve defined outcomes. • Practices that are beneficial to the health and function of the watershed are adopted. The OWC takes pride in the number of partnerships created with various companies, individuals and organizations. And as a notfor-profit, charitable organization, the OWC greatly values its members’ donated time and energy in helping to get projects completed and information out to the public. More than 50 volunteers are part of the OWC’s teams, working closely with the OWC staff to implement projects and ideas. • The Watershed Science Team facilitates discussion among agencies involved with research and monitoring on the aquatic environment (water quality, water quantity) and related land-use activities in the basin. Host


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

an annual watershed science tour to learn about the watershed and show examples of water management issues and solutions at numerous sites around Lethbridge. • The Urban Team promotes good practices for the home and yard by participating in community programs to promote awareness of water conservation and education on disposal of toxic elements into our water system. The main activities of this group are the prairie urban garden tour, the Lethbridge home and garden show, and the yellow fish road program. • The Integrated Watershed Management Plan Team provides watershed residents with a set of qualitative outcomes guiding

future activity and planning in the watershed. • The Rural Team works directly with rural stakeholders in the Oldman Watershed by providing support to existing rural initiatives and building capacity among rural residents through team meetings and forums throughout the watershed. The team provides financial support to rural watershed and landowner groups within the watershed through their Watershed Legacy Program. This program aims to provide the tools necessary for watershed stewardship groups and landowner cooperatives to take the next steps towards sustainable management of land, operations and watersheds. 

For more information or to apply for funding, visit the OWC website,, or contact Shannon Frank, Executive Director, at (403) 382-4239 or

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Growing Knowledge

Precision agriculture: powered by people Can management keep up to the technology? /

By Donna Trottier


here is no doubt that precision technology, capability and dependability have made some remarkable advancements over the years. Have our management systems, decision making processes and personnel strategies kept up? Brent VanKoughnet, owner and manager of Agri Skills Inc., addresses this topic at the Precision Ag 2.0 conference held in Calgary on February 22 and 23. Many producers are compelled to buy GPS guidance systems because of the potential savings on time, fuel, fertilizer and crop protection products. With the equipment becoming more and more affordable, precision farming tools are now very common on Canadian farms. Because of the increased use of these evolving technologies, producers believe they are making advances in the way that they farm. However, to effectively advance to the next level, producers need to focus on developing their management capabilities to the same level as the technologies. “We need to understand how we can manage this technology on our farms, turn data into decisions and inputs into income,” suggests VanKoughnet. “The precision farming tools should be about better management, not just about collecting data or having the coolest, latest, techno-nerdy stuff. When purchasing precision ag tools, determine the vision for the data and equipment. Consider why you want the equipment, if you will use it to its potential and if you will utilize the data that you collect to make more informed decisions on the farm. If we can remember to keep the focus of the tools on helping us make farm management decisions, then we will maximize our benefits from the technology,” says VanKoughnet. Most farms do not have an accountability system, such as quarterly reviews, built into their management system, like other corporations and businesses. Farm managers need to be more proactive and take the opportunity to not just gather the crop but to gather what happened in the crop and compare the different


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

Research needs to keep up with mainstream agriculture. photo: ken coles, farming smarter

management strategies. VanKoughnet refers to this as “harvesting intelligence.” Precision agriculture tools can be used to answer questions producers have about management decisions and to give the farm that accountability system with checks and balances. It provides the producer with more confidence in their decisions. The yield monitor is one of the first precision agriculture tools that comes to mind. If used properly, the yield monitor can be a valuable and cost-effective tool to help producers make critical decisions. VanKoughnet describes the yield monitor as his best tool to measure the money-end of the farm business because it helps verify whether the right decision was made and whether the same choice should be made next year. “If you don’t collect the data, it becomes difficult to substantiate your results,” he says. “With slim margins, we really need to get the most value out of the crop that we can. Measuring our yields helps us select the most profitable option.” VanKoughnet also discusses the importance of aligning the value placed on the precision agriculture program across all of those involved in the farming operation. When considering the benefits of precision tools, farm managers need to be sure that everyone involved in the farming operation recognizes the value of the information.

GPS guidance in research spray truck.

He suggests that these values should also be considered when hiring employees. Do the potential employees have the patience and understanding to follow through with the precision program and do they see the value in the work? The program will be more successful if a producer hires employees who are committed to the program and who understand the value in the data. Technology by itself cannot run the farm. Humans are required to interpret the data, analyze results and make decisions. The technology is essential in a precision agriculture operation but in the end, commitment, human capacity and management skills become more important than technology. 


Growing Stewardship

Farming Smarter teams up with 4-H Local youth a key part of conference /



outh are the future of agriculture, either as producers or consumers, and their involvement in the industry is paramount to its success. Recognizing this, Farming Smarter and the Southern Alberta 4-H Region entered into a partnership this year that promotes youth involvement in agriculture. “Farming Smarter is a forward-moving kind of group, and I can’t see them going anywhere where but up,” says Ginny Smith, Alberta’s Southern 4-H Regional Coordinator. “Being involved with this organization is a great opportunity for 4-H kids.” 4-H youth took to the stage at Farming Smarter’s annual conference in December in Lethbridge, delivering lively, engaging speeches to attendees about everything from trick riding to vertical farming. Ken Coles, general manager of Farming Smarter, rallied to include 4-H speakers at the conference after judging a 4-H public speaking competition himself earlier this year. “I was really impressed by the passion and enthusiasm of these youth in agriculture, and their ability to deliver a talk,” says Coles. “I even found myself, briefly, wanting to try trick riding — the talk was that convincing!” All of the youth who spoke at the conference were public speaker winners in their age categories in 4-H competitions across southern Alberta. Smith says that public speaking is one of 4-H’s most noteworthy

achievements, as it “inspires self-awareness and confidence, and really shows what 4-H is doing for these kids.” The Southern 4-H Region has 1,108 members, which is more than last year. Smith says that funding for programs and competitions is always an issue. “We had just lost a sponsor for our regional judging competition when Ken suggested a silent auction at the Farming Smarter conference — the timing was perfect,” says Smith. No one expected the Farming Smarter Fun, Food and 4-H Auction to raise $10,000, but that’s exactly what it did. Keynote speaker Tom Droog of Spitz Sunflower Seeds also donated his speaker fees. “The goal was to cover the cost of the 4-H judging competition expenses and increase Farming Smarter’s recognition,” says Smith. “Now we have enough funds for three years worth of judging competitions.” Coles says he was astounded by the response to the silent auction, and anticipates more involvement with 4-H at Farming Smarter’s conferences in the future. 

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Shelby Pierson delivers a riveting speech about trick riding.





Growing Stewardship

Peas prove to be lowest energy-dependant crop Research project assesses dryland crop energy inputs /


he results are in from a Farming Smarter project calculating fossil energy efficiencies required to produce some common dryland crops, with peas leading the pack. Fossil energy inputs included diesel fuel and the energy required to manufacture fertilizers, herbicides and machinery in zero-till and conventional seeding systems. The energy efficiency was calculated using total energy input per kilogram of crop produced (MJ/Kg crop). The results show: • Pea crops had the lowest energy inputs in the trial. • Barley yields were high increasing energy efficiency. • Canola production was relatively energy intensive. • Zero-tillage systems use less fuel, but the main energy benefit came from higher yields. • No-till peas had the best energy efficiency (MJ/Kg). The trial showed that two factors have the largest effect on energy efficiency: inorganic fertilizer and yield. Inorganic fertilizer contributes to approximately 75 per cent of energy inputs for most crops, except in pulses. Yield was the only energy output for the trial, and was higher in the zero-tillage systems. Figure 1 shows energy inputs, yields and overall energy efficiency calculated in this study, while Figure 2 shows the energy efficiency. Understanding energy inputs in crop production may help producers with cropping decisions. With increasing oil prices, producers might choose to include pulses in their rotation and adopt zero-tillage practices. It may also help producers react to market-driven environmental demands by giving them tools to measure and brand their operations and products.


Farming Smarter / spring 2012

By Mike Gretzinger



Energy Input (MI/ac.)

Yield (Kg/ha)

Energy Efficiency (MJ/Kg)









































Figure 1: Energy inputs, yields and efficiencies for southern Alberta crops in conventional and zero tillage systems.

Figure 2: Energy (MJ) to produce 1 Kg of southern Alberta crops in conventional and zero-tillage systems.

Producers who grow crops with a lower environmental footprint might be able to obtain more business from eco-minded consumers by calculating their energy consumptions and promoting their good energy efficiency. Manufacturing inorganic

nitrogren is highly energy intensive, so crops that do not require high nitrogen rates for good yield will save on input costs. Producers who consider energy inputs when planning crop rotations could also be better prepared to changes in market conditions. 


Alpine: the Best Delivery Vehicle for Micronutrients

Correcting micronutrient deficiencies and focusing on balanced crop nutrition can greatly impact yields, says Gerald Anderson, P.Ag.

Balanced Nutrition Drives Yields Nitrogen is often the first nutrient farmers think of when they want to push yields higher. However, the most effective solution to a healthier, more productive crop often lies in addressing crop nutrition imbalances, says Professional Agrologist Gerald Anderson. “Instead of focusing only on N, farmers need to balance their macronutrients – P, K, and S – and then deal with any micronutrient deficiencies,” says Anderson. “That will have a greater impact on yields and often costs less.” Micronutrient deficiencies can severely impact crop health and yields, says Anderson. He points out there are five key micronutrients often lacking in Western Canadian soils. • Boron is critical for promoting better fertility and larger head growth. • Zinc deficiency results in slow root growth and delayed emergence. • Copper is pivotal in pollen fertility and disease control. • Manganese helps prevent lodging by enhancing cell wall strength.

• Molybdenum is essential for nodulation in pulse crops. “Generally speaking, you’ll almost always see a deficiency in one or more of these micronutrients in Prairie soil samples,” says Anderson. He says the best delivery vehicle for feeding micronutrients to the plant is Alpine liquid starter. While the main ingredient in Alpine is orthophosphate – the most plant-available form of phosphate for early root growth – it also contains 30 per cent polyphosphate.

The fact that Alpine is safe to apply with the seed or as a foliar offers valuable flexibility, says Anderson. “Plants have different demands at different stages of growth. If we want to keep pushing yields, we have to feed crops the right nutrition at the right time, and replace the nutrients we remove each year. It’s all about balanced nutrition.”

Consistent Blend; Even Distribution “Unlike ortho, which is a single molecule, poly has multiple molecules that give the micronutrients something to hook onto. This ensures a consistent blend when additional micronutrients are added, distributing them evenly in the seed row,” explains Anderson. He adds dry phosphate doesn’t provide the same advantage “because you get a phosphate granule every few inches, leaving the seeds in between with no access to the nutrients.”

Alpine liquid fertilizer (seen here in the blue tube) is the best delivery vehicle formicronutrients – ensuring a consistent blend and evendistribution in the seed row.

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Farming Smarter Spring 2012  

Growing new ideas: Inter-row seeding may favour reduced seeding rates Growing knowledge: Together we are farming smarter Growing stewardship...

Farming Smarter Spring 2012  

Growing new ideas: Inter-row seeding may favour reduced seeding rates Growing knowledge: Together we are farming smarter Growing stewardship...