Sunday, 30 June 2013

Visit with Agri Trend in Wheatland County, Alberta

The first day out in the fields of Canada, was very kindly hosted by Agri-Trend. Agri-Trend was established by Robert Saik in 1997 with the aim to help farmers grow better crops and be more profitable. We headed out to Langdon, in Wheatland county to meet up with Warren Bills, President of Agr-Trend Geo Solutions, and then went to Matt Goslings, house to discuss Agri-Trend. Matt is a self employed agrologist (Agronomist) with his own company Premium Ag, but has the benefit of the Agri-Trend network.
Check out their websites below:

Warren Bills, Me, Matt Gosling and Jake Freestone

Having discussed the various different theories behind what Agri-Trend do we headed out to see some crops in the fields. The first stop was a field of Liberty Canola (Oilseed Rape), liberty means that it can be sprayed with the chemical Liberty (Glufosinate Ammonium) from Bayer, this is an example of GMO technology and shows that the UK are getting left behind and put at a disadvantage to Canadian farmers. Land in Alberta is classified by the olds system with group 1 being the best, 3% of the land in the Wheatland county is classified as group 1, and 1/3rd of it was on the farm we visited. This was clear to see when Matt took a core of soil 3ft deep and only just got to any sort of subsoil. The field had been scanned using a Versis scanner, to measure the electrical conductivity of the soil which can be translated into a soil type map. The soil type zone map is then used to build variable rate application nutrition maps. The majority of the crops nutrition is applied when the crop is planted, as the season (100days) is too short to have time to apply in crop nutrition, although there is a trend to apply small amounts of foliar feed along with the pesticide applications. Matt told us that there was more foliar nutrition applied this year than the previous 9 years combined.

Versis Electrical Conductivity Scanner
Agri-Trend are also applying fungicide to Canola crops using an On/Off prescription map, Warren explained the 20/20 rule to decide if a variable rate application was worthwhile. If 20% or more of the field is untreated and the chemical cost is more than $20/ac it is economic to spray the crop variably. The process to get the map is quite expensive, involving aerial images from a plane, hence the uptake is low, and not very suitable to UK conditions.
We also saw some spring wheat and barley. The wheat grown is now mostly utility wheats, for Biscuit grade, rather than the hard red spring wheats. The wheat we saw was about a week of flag leaf emergence, and had only been planted 7 weeks ago. The barley is grown as a forage crop and used to feed cattle in the beef feed lot on the farm.
 Wholecrop Spring Barley
 Feed lot Beef Cattle
The feed lot had about 10,000 cattle in when we visited, but was only half full, due to the high cost of raising beef, and the high commodity price for grain. It is no longer the best economic option to walk the grain of the farm. The cattle are all bought in from elsewhere in Canada at 6-7 mths old, and then stay outside in the feedlot until they are ready to be slaughtered. Many of the cattle will be trucked to the US to be slaughtered, and then the beef will be sent back to Canada, which doesn't seem very sustainable to me. This may change as more country of origin regulation plans are enforced. Throughout the year between 20,000 and 25,000 cattle will pass through the feedlot.

Matt Gosling, Jake, Me and Rob Saik
We ended the day with a meal of Alberta Beef ribs cooked by Matts wife Marissa, before heading north for our next stop. A great first day.

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