July 23rd, 2024

Get smart: field day exhibits the results of ag research

By Cal Braid - Southern Alberta Newspapers Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on June 28, 2024.

Southern Alberta Newspapers photo - Participants in a field class listen to Executive Director Ken Coles and Research Manager Mike Gretzinger speak about the factors that can influence a water-chemical mix during Farming Smarter's annual Field Days event this week at its Lethbridge site.

Farming Smarter on Wednesday and Thursday invited local growers to its Lethbridge site for their annual Field Days. The event was a timeout and a learning opportunity for farmers who are busy making hay while the sun shines.

Farming Smarter specializes in agronomic research and experimental field trials in which it uses an acquired body of knowledge as the groundwork for innovation. Their research station on the jail road is home to a compound and several surrounding fields where different crop management strategies are tried and tested for effectiveness.

On Wednesday, dozens of farmers arrived at the compound, piled onto two trailers lined with bench seats, and were hauled out into the fields where members of the Farming Smarter research team gave in-situ workshops on different topics.

In the morning, Brian Beres, an agronomy research scientist with Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, hosted a talk on ‘ultra-early seeding systems and management intensity,’ and moved from plot to plot and showing the results of the different methods applied to each one.

Each small plot was roughly five by 16 feet and was planted at different soil temperatures. Several varieties of wheat were planted and labelled as they grew in individual plot stands.

For example, a Stronghold variety was planted at 7.5 centimetres deep in dormant soil, and then planted in successive plots at 2.5 centimeters deep in soil that was zero to three, five, seven point five and 10 degrees celsius. The seeds went into the ground as it warmed and reached each temperature point.

Beres spoke about the benefits and varying effects of seeding early, using high seeding rates, and using dual treatments on the seeds. Each stand of wheat plants was in a different stage of growth, from the grassy leaf stage to the flowering stage when the grains emerge on the head of the plant. Beres identified one of the advantages of earlier seeding as earlier flowering, which means the grain can mature without incurring damage in the blistering July heat.

The benefit of such a field day is that farmers who attend can stand on-site and directly observe the results of the various strategies that the Farming Smarter researchers have applied to each plot.

In the afternoon, another workshop called ‘adding clarity to your spray water’ examined how various properties in water can interfere in a mixed solution with pesticides and other chemical applications. Farming Smarter Executive Director Ken Coles and Research Manager Mike Gretzinger identified four factors that can inhibit the effectiveness of a chemical solution: pH, soft or hard water, turbidity and sediment, and water temperature.

The two men gave a simple lesson in basic chemistry and acids and bases, but also used water samples from Coles’ sump pump to demonstrate turbidity and how chemical strip tests work. The takeaway was that water and chemical molecules can bind together in ways that may alter the fluidity and incorporated mixture that is sent through a sprayer and onto the plants. Problems with a mixed solution can lead to ineffective pest control and clogging in equipment lines.

Some of the other sessions during the field days were integrated weed management, nurturing your nitrogen, making the most of every drop, cover crops, and soil and plant health in managing potato production. As a bonus, no one went hungry. Outside catering brought in Wednesday’s lunch of ribs, baked potatoes, veggies, salads, and pie.

While farmers plow away at making a go of it each growing season, the folks at Farming Smarter have the time and space for experimentation and it all seems to be done in a calculated fashion, often yielding practical and useful results.

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