By: Taren Hager, OWC's Office Manager
On the very cold, deep freeze-like morning of Dec 6th, I headed to off to “gas city” - Medicine Hat - after dropping my 1 year old son off at his Grandma's. The Farming Smarter Conference and Tradeshow 2016 was on my agenda for the next 2 days. This was my first time attending a conference that was hosted by Farming Smarter. The OWC was thrilled to have our own tradeshow table at the conference, generously donated to them by Dwayne Rogness of Lethbridge County, one of the many sponsors of the event.
There were many interesting farming and research related topics being discussed at the event, including 2 keynote speakers (Greg Johnson of Tornado Hunters & Errol Anderson of ProMarket Wire), a banquet speaker (Sheldon Smithers of the Canadian Pickers TV show) and a 4-H live auction and silent auction. As much as I would love to share with you ALL the information I learned, I figured it would better to narrow it down to a few key things.
So, here are the 5 things that made me “smarter”:
1) The agriculture community needs to continue to grow their strong voices and promote advocacy and education to the urban community about agriculture and why it is important to them! The urban/rural gap is still very much real. The urban community is becoming more and more aware of where their food is coming from, how it is being produced, and how it affects them. Education is more important than ever to keep that awareness going and to showcase those in the agriculture community being stewards of the land and water, and promoting sustainable agriculture in Alberta.
2) There is lots of farming-related research being done! Of course, there is always room for improvements with anything, and farming practices have come a LONG way in the past 30 years. People in the industry are still finding new, innovative ways to be more efficient and effective with their farming practices. It not only benefits them (with their yields and economic inputs) but, also benefits the landscape (soil and water). The folks at Farming Smarter have been working on some really interesting research lately. Some projects that involve drip irrigating entire fields of canola; hail simulators and testing crops' ability to recover during different times throughout the growing season; testing optimum row spacing when planting corn to get the better yields; use of direct seeders vs. air seeders and optimizing seed placement when planting different crops...and much more! You can find more information about their projects at: http://www.farmingsmarter.com/
3) FLAX FACTS! I now know way more than I ever thought I would about flax. Here are some quick facts about flax.. BUT FIRST I need you to say “flax facts” as fast as you can 5 times. Ok, ok... here are your flax facts:
• Flax stubble on the field after harvest leaves a bounty of nutrients in the soil for the next year’s crop, meaning it is highly beneficial to have flax in your crop rotations!
• There are 2 types of flax: 1) Fibre Flax which is mainly grown in Europe and 2) Linseed Flax which is mainly grown in AB.
• Flax is extremely healthy for you - so eat LOTS of it!
• Flax is mainly a southern prairie crop – but interestingly, there is some flax grown in the Peace country of northern AB.
• Flax is highly sensitive to the herbicide Glyphosate, therefore, you have be conscious of your crop rotations when growing flax.
• The percentage of Flax acres grown in Alberta dropped by 44% from 2015 to 2016, this was due the increased market demand for lentils.
To find out more about flax visit: http://flaxcouncil.ca/
4) The 4-H youth are pros when it comes to public speaking! I was seriously impressed with the presentations by the 4H youth – they were very well educated in their topics and quite hilarious at times! The Farming Smarter conference also had a silent auction and live auction that fundraised $10,000 for the 4-H programs in southern AB. Way to go! If you haven’t already heard, in 2017, 4-H is celebrating its 100 years of operation! What a success this youth program has been in providing programs to the ag youth of Canada! There will be many events and other initiatives taking place over their 100th year - so stay tuned for that. Here is a little video about how 4-H came to be over the past 100 years and some the events you can attend to help them celebrate!
5) No-till farming practices were adopted in the early 1980s in southern Alberta. Ike Lanier of Neveridle Farms just south of Lethbridge settled in Alberta in 1909. He was one of the first to demonstrate and adopt no-till practices. He has worked very close with the research and extension community and was very involved with the agriculture industry participating with many ag-related organizations. At the conference, Ike was presented the Orville Yanke Award for his leadership in advancing soil conservation in Southern Alberta. For those of you who do not know about no-till practices and their benefits, here is some info.
A no-till system (or zero tillage) avoids disturbing the soil by mechanical means like cultivators, disks, and plows.
Advantages of no-till:
• Reduces fuel, labor, and equipment costs.
• Improved soil structure.
• Potential for erosion can be reduced by leaving more residue on the surface in the months when there are no crops growing.
• Residue allows for rainwater and snow melt to infiltrate the soil rather than causing surface run off that will carry away topsoil and nutrients.
• Reduces soil compaction.
Disadvantages of no-till:
• The ability to mechanically control weeds through tillage.
• Risk of carrying over plant diseases when crop residue is not incorporated into the soil after harvest.
• Time to see the benefits of no-till.
Overall it was a successful couple of days. I made a lot of new connections with landowners, had some good discussions about the watershed and caught up with others I haven't seen in awhile! I would suggest that if you are interested agriculture and farming in Southern Alberta that you make sure to attend this event next year. Thanks again to Farming Smarter for hosting a great conference. Hope to see you there next year!