June 14th, 2024

New technologies sprouting in agriculture

By Lethbridge Herald on January 31, 2023.

Ry Clarke
Lethbridge Herald
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Lethbridge County continued with its three-day Nutrient Management Webinar Series on Monday to talk about technologies that are plowing the way toward innovation in the agricultural industry. 

Laio Silvia Sobrinho (Research Associate at Olds College of Agriculture and Technology) spoke about remote management and monitoring rotationally-grazed pastures, while Bob Hoffos (GIS Analyst and Technology Instructor with Werklund School of Agriculture and Technology) talked about drone technology and the application of mapping. 

Speakers shared the pros and cons of the technology they presented, with a list of applications on how producers could begin using the technology, along with personal tests with the devices and how they managed to help, or not. 

“Our three main areas of focus are improving animal health and welfare, increasing production efficiencies, and enhancing environmental sustainability. Any technology or practice related to improving grazing management fits within our three main areas of focus,” said Sobrinho. 

“Compared to conventional grazing, rotational grazing sequesters more carbon by allowing plants to have deeper roots. Having hydrological functioning in the soil and more productivity.”

Speaking to the pros and cons, Sobrinho notes the deeper roots, soil coverage, bio diversity, production, and tolerance needed to fair better in a dry season. 

“The reason why producers don’t adopt rotational grazing as much, is because it is so intensive in terms of how much labour it needs, also resources. If you are a producer who wants to implement rotational grazing you need to invest into water management, better fencing, time, and it is complicated to manage because you need to have some sort of grazing plan in place.”

Hoping to curb those complications, Sobrinho presented new emerging technologies that help towards these challenges, such as water level sensors, energizer sensors, ear tag monitoring, grazing meters, and virtual fencing. 

“To make it easier for producers to implement rotational grazing, there are certain ways that you can use technology to help you. For water management, for instance, you can use water level sensors, so that if you have your cows out in pasture for an extended period of time you don’t have to check on the water everyday,” said Sobrinho. “There are energizer sensors that you can use to remotely know whether your electric fence is working, whether it is in circuit or if there is an issue.”

Hoffos spoke on how drone technology is helping farmers with mapping, noting the various applications and uses achieved through 2D and 3D maps. 

“Just from farm flyovers and scouting, mapping your farm helps get an accurate picture of where everything is located, including your facilities and fence lines, everything you have going on out there, 3D maps as well help with topography. A big piece of drone work in pasture management would be monitoring of vegetation health and tracking, and even predicting the potential yield of a field in terms of tons-per-acre,” said Hoffos. “Drones help you see the variation, you can use it as a benchmark for the next season. Others will get a little more sophisticated and use drones to fly to specific GPS areas to understand trouble spots you might be having in your fields with water, crop development, or pasture development.”

Hoping to spur interest in the art of agriculture and drones, Hoffos notes the various applications and uses, but also the ease of drones for the everyday farmer. 

“Flying and making maps with drones is very simple. I think people would be surprised, even with a $400 drone, what you can do and the types of maps that you can make,” said Hoffos. 

“It’s about setting up a zone and the mission software will come up with a suggested overlap of flights, and you basically press a button and your drone takes off and does its mission.”

Helping farmers and producers acquire new skills and new insights, the Nutrient Management Webinar Series will conclude on Feb. 6 with its last session at 10 a.m. online, and will be focused on alternatives to spreading manure on snow and minimizing environmental impact when there is no other alternative, and the NRCB process for winter manure spreading. 

Registration is available on Lethbridge County’s website (lethcounty.ca) under upcoming events.

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