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Les Henry: Crop Week offers a good mid-winter break

Saskatoon’s annual winter farm show offers a chance to see old friends and new tech

This is the Birch Hills area as shown by Google Earth on May 10, 2017. The town is in the bottom left area. 
Clearly, much of this area is not good land in wet years without some slough consolidation.

The highlight of cold, dark January is Crop Week/Crop Production Show that takes place in Saskatoon each year. One of the things that takes place during that week is the annual reunion of the Saskatchewan Agricultural Graduates Association (SAGA).

The saga of SAGA

SAGA formed in 1935 when a few Agros (University of Saskatchewan ag graduates with a degree) and Voc Ags (U. of S. ag graduates with a diploma) grads met and made it happen. This year was the 84th Annual Reunion.

It was the 55th anniversary for my class’ graduation with ag degrees from the U. of S. On Friday, January 11, our class assembled for a reception, visiting and reminiscing. We were rather a dull, all male crowd at that time. This year, grads and wives came all the way from Ottawa to Charlie Lake, B.C., and had a good time.

The 84th Annual SAGA Reunion Banquet was held on Saturday, January 12. There were over 400 in attendance and highlights were Thomas Drever, a degree grad of 1939, and Harold Chapman a degree grad of 1943. Harold is 101 years old. Last year at 100 he was as spry as a chicken and gave us a short pep talk to be remembered forever.

At the Saturday night banquet it was my pleasure to visit with grads of all ages and many readers of Grainews. Doug Kent, a 1949 Grad from Grenfell, Sask., remembered curling games from the former Ag Grad Bonspiel. David Thompson, a 1954 Grad from Kelliher, Sask., is a combine fan and is writing up his memories of the many years doing what most farmers like best — combining! We agreed that the old Massey 750s/760s were the first serious combine with a least a modicum of comfort. I am sure lovers of other paint colours might well disagree.

Agros can live a long time because they never retire. They may retire from one job but always find some ox to slay along the way. What keeps them going is going.

Alumni of other colleges at University of Saskatchewan and of colleges of agriculture at other universities would die to have what we have. All credit to an ad hoc meeting of six grads in a hotel room at the Bessborough hotel at University of Saskatchewan Farm and Home Week in 1935. John Mitchell, then Head of the soil science department was the first president. The soil science department has been my “home away from home” for 55 years. I have not received a paycheque for the past 22 years (my choice) but I still keep in touch.

Crop Production Show/Week

Crop Production week is the business meetings and technical talks part of the week. It involves annual meetings of commodity groups and commissions and current topics of interest to those groups. This year, changes to plant breeders rights was a hot topic not yet settled.

The Crop Production show was a huge event with booths featuring all kinds of farm input products, seeds, labs, farmland, insurance, commodity trading, high tech gadgets and of course the huge equipment.

The size of farm equipment is mind boggling. I might be wrong, but it is my sense that the next wave will be new ways to manage smaller equipment that requires less human attention.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture provides risk maps for various insect pests and diseases. It seems as though wheat midge has been almost squeezed out, for now.

There is all manner of high tech pieces that can generate all sorts of “big data.” Many of these items start out as a solution looking for a problem. In the end, some of them provide us solutions to problems we did not know we had.

Drones are a classic example of a solution looking for a problem. But, I did stumble on a very interesting booth showing a very good application for a fixed-wing drone.

Green AeroTech can make topography maps using RTK and drones to get elevations with accuracy of a few inches. To me, just knowing elevations and surface curvature of the earth to close tolerance is an interesting prospect. There are many soil science applications for such information.

The eye catcher for that booth was a very interesting executive type “sandbox.”

Green AeroTech’s sandbox simulates a field with many sloughs and complex topography. 
A drainage project could be simulated by moving the sand around with a finger. photo: Les Henry

This sandbox simulates a field with many sloughs and complex topography. A drainage project could be simulated by moving the sand around with a finger. It is all credit to one very talented computer geek.

Drainage is one of the first applications to think about with that kind of information in land with lots of sloughs. With the topographic information this drone application can provide, planning a drainage project would be made much easier.

The cost must be determined for each situation, but the numbers I was quoted were not that scary. I might just get such a survey, but I would do it when the sloughs are all dry and all the sloughs can be fully mapped. If 2019 turns out on the dry side that well may be possible.

Drainage in Saskatchewan is undergoing serious review and one can not just go ahead and dump the water off onto a neighbour. Slough consolidation within the land base owned by one farm could be possible with good topo information.

One of the areas Green Aerotech said they worked in was the Birch Hills area of Saskatchewan. Grainews readers long enough in the tooth will remember long-time columnist Harvey Gjesdahl of Birch Hills. He was a talented farmer, inventor and well known for the Gjesdahl five-in-one grain cleaner.

In the wet 1970s Harvey did a slough consolidation on part of his Birch Hills farm and used a small pivot to use the final big slough for irrigation. The area in the photo is a good example of good soil (Melfort silty clay loam, no stones) but not-so-good land (sloughs galore ).

It was great to wander around the Crop Show see new and old things and meet many interesting people. A great break from the January blues.

About the author


Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.



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