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.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Welcome to Canada

My Nuffield journey has begun, first country visited is Canada, and what a country it is. Having arrived in Calgary with my fellow "Nuffy", Jake freestone, and picked up our hire car, just a small little runaround.
We headed off to find our first host, Ryan Bonnett, 2012 Canadian Nuffield Scholar, where we were made very welcome and enjoyed some great hospitality. One of the great things about Nuffield is the ability to turn up a relative strangers doorstep and be made to feel at home.

As we had no visits booked up for the day we headed off into the Rocky Mountains. After leaving the sprawling city of  Calgary behind, the countryside began to open up into vast tracts of  farmland with the Rocky Mountains looming on the Horizon. As the scenery started to change from farmland to forest and the mountains got bigger, we spotted some Elk grazing on the side of the highway. The highway is all fenced off from the forest and there are purpose built overpasses to allow wildlife to cross safely .We had a quick stop in Banff, before heading to Lake Louise.

Lake Louise
Lake Louise is a large glacial Lake surrounded by high peaks and forest, with the Victoria Glacier (named after Queen Victoria) high up in the mountains at the far end of the lake. We carried on into the mountains taking in the amazing scenery and landscapes, to reach the highlight of the day for me, Lake Morraine. As we arrived at the lake a young male grizzly bear was happily grazing away on some dandelions right by the car park!

Lake Morraine, is also a glacial lake surrounded by forest and the Ten Peaks range of mountains. The contrasting colours of the water, trees, rock and big blue sky were simply breathtaking.

Lake Morraine
After leaving the stunning Lake Morraine, we headed back to Calgary along the Bow Valley Parkway, with a final stop at Johnson's canyon. Johnson's canyon is a narrow canyon carved out of the limestone rock, that you can walk up along catwalks fixed to the canyon walls.
The lower falls at Johnson's Canyon