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Working smarter, not harder: local agricultural research team invites guests to join them in the field

Posted on July 26, 2022 by Sunny South News

By Cal Braid
Sunny South News

Away from the hustle and bustle of our cities and towns, Alberta farmers forge ahead. Far from the spotlight and often in obscurity, they battle all kinds of adversity. According to a 2020 Statistics Canada report, “Farms in Alberta reported $22.2 billion in farm operating revenues. This was more than any other province and accounted for over a quarter (25.5%) of Canada’s $87.0 billion in total farm revenues.” More than a third of that is produced in southern Alberta. That’s another way of saying that whether you notice them or not, farmers are collectively doing more for our economy than most of us —and feeding millions, to boot.

Farming Smarter (FS) is a non-profit research organization specializing in agronomy, the science of soil management and crop production. Its headquarters are on the outskirts of Lethbridge just east of the Research Centre, and it is celebrating 10 years of contributing to its field. It has hubs in Lethbridge, Bow Island and Brooks, and “ten locations in southern Alberta that represent the various growing regions plus dryland and irrigated plots,” according to Claudette Lacombe, communications manager. This is significant because it allows them to experiment in differing micro-climates.

On July 21, the team at Farming Smarter hosted a ‘plot hop’, which was a tour of different small plots on their Lethbridge land. The group creates and then manipulates research plots using a variety of techniques and controls. From there it studies the reactions and differences in the health and growth response of the crop in the plot. The plot hop was an opportunity for farmers, scientists, and ag industry professionals to get an on-site introduction and explanation of how and why each plot was designed as it was. Over the course of the day, an FS team member explained the observations and interpretations at each plot and invited the opportunity for interaction and the exchange of ideas.

Ken Coles, executive director, gave a morning presentation on maximizing irrigated durum wheat, which he described in his session summary as “attempting to break yield boundaries in irrigated durum production. (The) trials assessed the effect of seeder type, seeding rate, fertilization rates, plant growth regulator, and fungicide applications on growth and yield of wheat crop.”

One of the conclusions that Coles reported was that “We observed an additive effect of treatments on yield such that when durum was precision planted at a higher seeding rate and received maximum fertilization, growth regulator and fungicide application, there was approximately a 15 per cent increase in durum yield on average.”

Carlo Van Herk, a research technician who has stayed on with FS after two years as a summer student said, “We do three years at three locations to gather a total of nine site years’ worth of data. It gives us a fair bit of statistical confidence.” The three year/three location system allows them to experiment with non-negotiable site factors like regional weather fluctuations while applying uniform inputs and planting techniques at each plot. The use of this method enables them to obtain scientifically valid data.

The plot hop was a one-day event and the other presentation topics were strip-tilling for corn and canola, deep seeded canola, intercropping wide-row corn, and the emergence of treatment resistant kochia.

In terms having a wide outreach potential to southern Alberta’s ag producers and researchers, Lacombe said, “We use MailChimp to send out e-news and use social media to keep current. Our website is an information hub where we store over a decade of information from our projects. Our events put us in direct contact with the farming community and we have a well populated YouTube channel.

We foster relationships with people like you (media) in the hope that they will help us tell our story. It’s difficult to put a number on how many people look to us for information. Our email list is just over 2,000, our Twitter followers number over 5,000. Web and social analytics show that people as far away as Australia and India check out our work.”

Lacombe said that Farming Smarter is proud to have done ground-breaking work in hemp agronomy, hail recovery, zero till and pulse crop adoption. Their funding comes from “crop commissions, Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), the Western Grain Research Association, and others,” she said. “We make small amounts from our events, subscriptions, and partner program. We also do some contract research for the ag industry that allows us to meet our monetary requirements for project applications.”

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