She’s dry in the Peace folks, but still lovely

Any second-cut alfalfa that looks “not too bad” on baked
soil, after a hot, dry summer with only about three inches of rain since June
is worthy of a second look. If you’re looking for an alfalfa that grows well in
concrete buy the variety “Vision” marketed by Pickseed. Just imagine what it
would do with some rain. (More on that later). 

Vision alfalfa.jpg

That is one of the stories told last week by the research
plots at the North Peace Applied Research Association (NPARA) near Manning, AB,
as about 30 producers gathered for an evening field day and tour of the summer
research activities.

I traveled to the field day with Graeme Finn of Crossfield
in southern Alberta. He’s a rancher, a director of the Foothills Forage

Association and a board member of the provincial ARECA organization. And he
also dabbles in selling tillage and seeding equipment under the brand name
AgrowPlow. Remember their slogan “If you have soil that’s fixed, Graeme can
break it. “

This was an extremely well planned event as the first order
of business at the field day — 
food. Alfalfa, peas, faba beans, wheat, winter wheat, barley, oats,
lentils, flax, tillage radish, and canola all look better on a full stomach. So
after the beef on a bun, it was off to tour the plots on the NPARA research
farm located just west of the community of North Star.

NPARA tour .jpg

Stacking chairs were set out on a flat deck trailer and the
decks of a couple trucks and away we all went. I don’t think it was WCB

approved, which made it even better — to heck with the rules, let’s just look
at some research plots on this beautiful summer evening in the northern Peace.


The tour was led by Nora Paulovich, NPARA manager and a
livestock and forage specialist, (she’s been there forever) and Tom Fromme, (below) a
newly acquired asset from Illinois working with NPARA as cereal and oilseed
specialist. He says he has long experience working with various U.S. companies
in seed and crop research and development, but I’m guessing he is really a
rouge CIA operative looking for a place to chill before he can be “brought in”.
Nobody just happens to leave southern Illinois one day looking for a job, and
by accident ends up in North Star. 
Maybe I watch too many Jason Bourne movies. But Fromme certainly has
learned his “cover” well. 

Tom Fromme .jpg

He seems to know his crops.

NPARA is one of the dozen farmer-run applied research
associations in Alberta that fall under an umbrella organization ARECA
(pronounced Erica) which stands for Applied Research and Extension Council of
Alberta. NPARA was formed in 1988. It bought 140 acres from a local farmer in
mid-90s for the research farm and Paulovich has been with the organization
since 2006. The main focus of NPARA is to look at all aspects of crops and
forages — testing new varieties, techniques and production practices — so
producers get a better idea of what works or doesn’t work for their own farms.


The big story of this field day, aside from the great
dinner, is that it has been a dry summer in the northern Peace. After a great
growing season last year, the tables turned. While there was some moisture at
seeding, it turned hot and dry in June, with less than three inches of rain all
summer. Pastures and crops are stressed, yields are expected to be way down.

Drought on a research farm has two obvious impacts: 1. It is
tough to see the full effects of some treatments because nothing grows very
well; 2. If something does do reasonably well under these conditions it is a
crop or variety worth paying attention to.

Dry soil no OM .jpg

The second biggest story of the field day, the pickup
pulling the flatdeck trailer with cargo of farmers died at the first stop, so
the Finnmobile (Graeme Finn’s one-ton pickup) was pressed into service with a
tow strap, and pulled the lame truck, trailer and producers for the 2.5 hour
tour around the plots. (Good job Graeme and just ignore that critic at the back
of the trailer who said “finally that Aussie is good for something.”).


Even drought-stricken research plots have plenty of stories
to tell. We looked at plots of barley and a relatively new creature — tillage
radish — which both were seeded on plots of soil treated with a subsoil tool
bar, side-by-side with untreated plots. AgrowPlow makes a shank style subsoiler
that penetrates ground up to 20 inches to fracture the soil profile (hardpan
layer), but doesn’t turn the soil over.

There was a marked difference — improved growth —  to the naked eye in both the barley (below) and
tillage radish that grew on subsoiled plots compared to the untreated plots. So
something made a difference.

barley roots .jpg

There were pea plots comparing different inoculants to
non-inoculated peas. At this site no visible difference in the standing crop.
The big question may be answered next year — is there a difference in the
amount of nitrogen fixed in the soil to benefit the subsequent crop? Stay tuned
on that one.

There were plots of winter wheat treated with fungicide,
beside the untreated check. No visible difference in the appearance of the
plots, and in fact the untreated may have looked a bit better. But it was a dry
year, perhaps very little disease pressure. Harvest will tell the story.

How much
nitrogen can you place with the seed? This may not be the definitive research
trial, but it was interesting to note…40 pounds of N with canola — no big
difference. However there was one plot of canola seeded with 80 pounds of
seed-placed urea and nearby another plot seeded with 80 pounds of seed-placed
urea treated with ESN  — a polymer coating that delays release of nitrogen. Crop
in the straight urea plot (below, top photo)  was thin, stunted and obviously damaged, while the
ESN plot (below, bottom photo)  was much more substantial and 
robust. So something made a difference.

Canola 80 lb N.jpg

And looking at forage legumes there were series of plots
comparing a dozen alfalfa varieties, as well as clover, sanfoin and trefoil. As the photo at the very top shows, this was a no-contest demonstration as Vision alfalfa distributed by Pickseed
was literally outstanding in its field. The second-cut regrowth was at least a
foot tall, compared to other alfalfas that were perhaps three to four inches or
barely coming back. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t good, but if Vision can
do this on two-inches of rain, in good growing conditions you may have to swath
it with a chainsaw.

And there was plenty more to see too — wheat, barley and oat
variety trials, an interesting plot of Bearpaw, hulless and awnless barley. It
is a two-row feed barley developed in Montana in 1989. It may have no real fit, 

Canola 80 lb. ESN.jpg

but was interesting to look at. And the berseem clover seeded as ground cover
and for green manure was a big hit, too. It was another legume that grew well
under adverse conditions.

Only trouble now is that I may have to find a new driver
when I travel back to North Star to get the final results of this year’s
trials. I could ask Finn but I’ve heard all his stories a couple times. I need
to find someone with new and more believable material.

Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or
by email at
[email protected]


About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



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