Editor’s Column: The internet and stubble height

We spend most of the summer close to home, so Brad can work on the farm most days. 
This is Nickle Lake, near Weyburn, Sask.

I was hopeful. The media had been alerted that the Honourable Ralph Goodale would be in Regina to make an announcement about rural internet on June 8.

As I’ve mentioned, my own personal rural internet problem has been solved, for now, since a new private company put up more towers in our area. But I know there are many farmers who still don’t have access to an internet plan fast enough to serve a modern business in 2018. (The full story: my internet speed problem has been solved, and I’m thrilled. But it is irritating knowing that my monthly bill of $199.99+tax is more than double the $79.95 Regina residents pay SaskTel for a similar service, but that’s a complaint for another day.)

So although my problem is solved, for now, I’m happy to hear the federal government is looking for ways to help farmers who aren’t as lucky as me, and also to keep our options current, so I can keep up when city residents upgrade to even faster internet technology.

I was looking forward to June 8.

Goodale’s press release began with an important point: “Fast internet is more than just a convenience; communities, businesses and institutions need it to offer new services and create new opportunities.” That’s for sure.

This came along with $12 million for the federal “Connect to Innovate” program (total expected value: $500 million), to: “bring access to high-speed or faster internet to 30 rural communities and up to 163 institutions in Saskatchewan.” The money will be used to build the “digital backbone of high-speed internet networks.”

When I saw the word “backbone,” I got a little nervous. It’s going to be a long time before a “backbone” gets all the way to our farmyard.

Sure enough. The money being invested in Saskatchewan will go to SaskTel and FlexNetworks to provide specific communities and institutions with high-speed internet.

I don’t understand exactly how this works, so I called someone in the industry with expertise in this area. What I wanted to know is, would this expanded backbone help small, private companies that provide internet over towers serve more farm customers?


“The fund was marketed to end users as a huge improvement in helping rural customers. However, with many government projects, sadly this was not the case,” said my contact, who would rather not be named.

He explained that the fibre optic backbone the federal government is helping to fund is only accessible to SaskTel and FlexNetworks. When a company planning to build a tower to serve someone like me wants to access this backbone to send out a connection to nearby farms, SaskTel or FlexNetworks charges them up to four times the rates charged in larger centres. That makes this option a non-starter, cost wise, for someone thinking of using this government-funded backbone to start a new service to get the internet those last few miles down our gravel roads.

About the ongoing quest for farm internet access, my contact said: “The media campaign run by the federal government promoting this has been great. It has given everyone a false sense of hope that help is on its way. The reality is that small, private corporations are trying to help, however, the constant fight with our own tax dollars is a tough uphill battle.”

Once again, I’ll remind you that Elon Musk is sending up satellites to bring high-speed options to rural areas. And that AT&T is running a pilot project using power lines to deliver internet to rural customers. I’m optimistic that, in the future, someone will be offering me what I need to keep up with the rest of the world. It’s just a shame that those 500 million tax dollars in the federal fund likely aren’t going to help.

Saskatchewan’s provincial plant disease specialist, Barb Ziesman, spoke about managing disease at the SaskWheat semi-annual meeting (held at the Farm Progress Show in Regina this year).

Barb talked about the importance of disease prevention to keep diseases like fusarium head blight and cereal leaf spot under control.

Her management tips were the usual suspects: crop rotation to lower disease presence; resistant varieties where possible; and seeding at a higher rate to encourage less tillering, so heads emerge at the same time and simplify spray timing.

Another tip she mentioned is making sure your harvest straw is chopped and evenly spread. This, Barb said, will allow your residue to decompose faster, lowering pathogen levels in the field.

On my drive home I looked out the window at the crops just beginning to rise over last year’s stubble, and wondered, does cutting stubble higher retain more disease pathogens?

Barb says it’s not impossible. “Standing stubble can harbour the pathogen and, if left standing, can take longer to break down than if it were chopped and spread.”

Thinking of cutting low as you head into the field? She says, “The decision, in part will have to come down to practicality. There could be an advantage in cutting the stubble shorter to encourage more decomposition; however, that needs to be balanced with the benefit of leaving taller stubble.” For example, catching snow, and limiting equipment damage.

“There are no studies that have looked at this specifically,” Barb wrote. “With that said it is unlikely that a difference of a couple of inches in stubble height will have a major impact of FHB risk on its own.”

Thanks Barb!

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