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Revolution Started In Farm Shops

The first airseeder was a discer put

together by the famous Jerome Bechard of the Lajord-Sedley area

southeast of Regina.

A recent article I read pointed out the impact of public research on the zero till revolution. Don Rennie, my boss for many years at University of Saskatchewan, almost single handedly championed the demise of summerfallow and a conversion to continuous cropping. That change was based on basic research that showed summerfallow is a very inefficient method of storing moisture. That is all history now and great strides are being made.

But the zero till part of our current cropping systems was almost completely driven by individual farmers tinkering in their shops.

Let us start with airseeders. Does anyone know what implement was first used as an airseeder? If you said cultivator, you are wrong. The first airseeder was a discer put together by the famous Jerome Bechard of the Lajord-Sedley area southeast of Regina.

One of the first zero till farmers I remember is Jim McCutcheon of Homewood, Man. Jim came to our University of Saskatchewan Farm and Home Week programs in the late ’70s to talk about his successes and failures with zero till. In those days there was usually polite applause but few took the ideas seriously. Jim started with disc drills but that did not last.

Most will remember the first major airseeders used for zero till — they were cultivators that were notorious for poor seed placement and uneven germination.

Then along came farmers like Jim Halford at Indian Head with his seeder that separated the fertilizer and seed. He eventually branded the drill Conserva-Pak, which now has green paint under the John Deere label. But it was not high-priced John Deere engineers that put together the original design, it was a farmer in his shop with an idea. I have always been proud of the fact that my brother–in-law David Wilson helped Jim weld together some of the first prototypes.

A former student of ours at the U. of S., Pat Beaujot of Langbank Sask., continues to make strides with the Seed Hawk. The video I saw at last January’s Crop Show with shanks lifting to avoid overlap and waste of seed and fertilizer was impressive. Pat was recently quoted as saying the inadequacy of zero till equipment in the ’80s is what drove the development of what we have today.

Pat’s brother Norbert has the Seedmaster, which seeds between the straw rows of last year’s crop. Pat and Norbert’s dad was part of the Farmlab program that Don Rennie ran in the 1980s. The program tested new and innovative ideas and to compare them to the old conventional ways.

And the list goes on. Not all were farmers in the first instance, but all were Prairie people with a flair for innovation in equipment. I think of George Morris with his Seedrite drill, which has morphed into the modern airdrills under the same name.

The Bourgault family of St. Brieux, Sask., has been innovative with not only seeding equipment but many other items we see on today’s farms. Each fall I help

combine great crops seeded by my son-in-law at Annaheim with a Bourgault seeder. The 14,000 bushels of oats I threshed in eight hours was hauled away on the fly in a Bourgault grain cart.

The problem with naming so many is that I have likely left out some important people. Readers can feel free to add any names I have

left out. But the story is a Prairie story of ingenuity and initiative.

So the zero till revolution is well in hand and is now conventional. Much of that development has been driven by farmers not satisfied with the equipment designed by high priced help in far off offices and labs.

Once again, I mention that our current zero till system relies very heavily on glyphosate herbicide. We can save the moisture for crops because we can kill the weeds as spring burnoff, in crop, pre-harvest or post harvest. My pea crop came off September 1 and the field was green right away from rains and warm weather. Glyphosate at one litre per acre was sprayed September 7 and the field remained weed free until the severe frost finally came in late October. If anything happens to glyphosate, farming as we know it is finished.

J. L. (Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms near Dundurn, Sask.

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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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