Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Solving the VRT payback puzzle

Posted: November 7, 2012

Solving the 'VRT payback puzzle' is a key target for the early but growing research effort into the opportunity variable rate technology (VRT) represents for Alberta farmers.

More resources are becoming available to producers, but the lack of available data to fuel strategies and evaluate benefits remains a key limiting factor, says Ty Faechner, Executive Director of the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) This is why ARECA has supported field trials to better understand the economics of VRT.

The approach used in the ARECA-supported studies is to analyze the difference between VRT and corresponding constant-rate check strips, in a variety of fields.

Getting the most out of farm machinery

Posted: November 7, 2012

Are you getting the most you can out of your farm machinery?

One of the most important things producers need to know in order to answer this question is how much energy they are using. Until now, that's been a tough figure to pinpoint.

But Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD), along with Climate Change Central, has developed a new "carbon footprint calculator," based on heaps of the best quality farm data available, that is designed by agricultural engineers to do just that.

Best of all, says Lawrence Papworth of the ARD AgTech Centre in Lethbridge, Alta., the calculator is tied to a step-by-step program producers can use to not only understand their energy efficiency but ramp it up substantially.

"Carbon is a word that gets a lot of attention these days as a trendy term," says Papworth. "But really when it comes to day-to-day farm field operations it has exceptional relevance as a key measure for farm management. If your carbon use is higher than it should be or could be, bottom line is you're losing money you don't have to lose. The calculator is designed as a tool farmers can use to see where they're at. If they're high, they can plug into a program to pinpoint the issue and fix it." Learn more.

Ramping-up efficiency with new air drills

Posted: November 7, 2012

If you missed the last couple years in air drills, you missed a lot.

Air drills just got super-sized. The new ones are typically 50 to 70 feet wide, rather than 30 to 50 feet.

And the openers on these big drill units are a whole new ballgame - state-of-the-art, precision tools, miles ahead in evolution from the older generation. These openers have parallel linkage movement and use the trailing packer to control the depth. They also usually place nitrogen at a shallower depth compared to the older seeders.

There's lots to like, and lots of promise around the productivity gains these drills can bring to farmers.

For the crew at the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) AgTech Centre in Lethbridge, however, one of the big questions to answer isn't one that's likely top-of-mind for most producers:

"How much power does it take to pull that air drill?"

Agricultural engineer Lawrence Papworth leads the team looking into this question and he says there's an important reason for doing it - carbon. Stay tuned for results as the AgTech research churns out new knowledge.

Tapping Alberta's other 'liquid gold' resource

Posted: November 7, 2012

Mention the term "liquid gold" in Alberta and livestock manure isn't likely the first thing that jumps to mind.

But it's slowly becoming part of the conversation as researchers learn more about how to harvest the nutrient benefits of this potentially abundant resource and byproduct of the livestock industry.

One of the latest and most promising forms is "digestate" or the frothy manure-based slurry produced by biodigesters.

"In Europe, they call it liquid gold, and not in a joking way - it's quite valuable," says Virginia Nelson, a project engineer and researcher at Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development's (ARD) AgTech Centre in Lethbridge who has long studied emerging manure management strategies. "We're not there yet in Canada, but we're on that path. There's more interest and more progress every few years."

Pulling back the curtain on overlap

Posted: November 7, 2012

There's no doubt people from all viewpoints on GPS would benefit from a better foundation of hard numbers to anchor the discussion.

Now a key source of that information is emerging as results flow out from an ongoing study on the hidden costs of overlap, led by the AgTech Centre in Lethbridge. While there is more to the GPS story than overlap, it is a big piece of the value equation as touted by industry for where the cost saving advantages of GPS lie.

Based on the numbers rolling out, farmers who have invested in GPS can look forward to an added boost of confidence, says Virginia Nelson, agricultural engineer with AgTech Centre.

"What farmers would like to know is just how much they save in real dollars through precision farming," she says. "Our study was designed to help answer that question. What we're finding is that in most cases the potential savings of reduced overlap are quite substantial. The overlap savings alone would be enough on their own to justify a GPS investment, particularly if a producer is in it for the long-term."

Speed limits and canola emergence

Posted: November 7, 2012

What impact does seeding speed have on canola emergence? Scientists are aiming to find out, by harvesting new insight into how producers can tweak their approaches for better results.

"I think producers know the importance of seeding depth," says Dr. Bob Blackshaw of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. "What they may be interested to find out is just how much seeding depth changes with ground speed in different drills. In the small plot studies, we actually go in, dig away the dirt and measure where the seed is and the consistency of seed placement under these different variables."

It's a safe bet that slower speeds tend to support better placement, he says. But the researchers hope to provide some analysis and advice on what are acceptable speeds that can get the right balance of results. "It's not just about optimum speed for placement because farm scale today means most producers have a lot of acres to seed in a short period of time. They're more interested in what are acceptable boundaries. Producers likely have a pretty good gut feeling, but we want to put some numbers to it so they can take an approach that is more precise."