Minogue: Back to school for hands-on learning

This plot was left unseeded intentionally. A wide variety of weeds took hold and participants were challenged to see how many they could correctly identify.  Photo: Leeann Minogue

On the first day of Saskatchewan Agriculture’s annual Crop Diagnostic School about 100 ag retailers, agronomists and farmers gathered in Swift Current to get a hands-on look at common real-world crop problems.

Anyone working in agriculture today has 24/7 access to online information about crop disease and pests, but there is no substitute for seeing these problems in real life. Getting up close so you can see all sides of a plant or bug, or even smelling a “new” weed can really help agronomists out in the field.

Researchers from Saskatchewan Agriculture and the University of Saskatchewan brought actual weeds and pests out to the School site. This opportunity for a good look is especially helpful when a weed or pest is extending its area — if you get a preview of a weed on the move, you’ll recognize it when it settles into fields in your area.

It’s useful to see weeds in pots and bugs in jars, but where the Crop Diagnostic School really excels is with its field plots. Saskatchewan Agriculture organizers begin to plan for the event months before it takes place. They lay out, seed, and treat crop plots to display actual problems that farmers will face during the growing season. Some problems they demonstrated this year were lentils seeded without inoculant, soybeans suffering from accidental herbicide drift and canola plants sprayed at the wrong time. Some of these “problem” plots were clearly labeled so participants could learn from them. Others were intentionally left unlabeled, and agronomists were challenged to use their own skills to diagnose the underlying issues.

Cory Jacobs, Saskatchewan Agriculture regional crops specialist likes this event because “you get the people out in the field, and you actually have the real plant species here to show people.”

As with regular farming, not everything goes as planned. Some of the plots that were intended to show common mistakes appeared to be quite healthy. This year’s good growing conditions allowed the plants to compensate for the intentional stress. “We never expected this much water in Swift Current,” said Kim Stonehouse, Saskatchewan Agriculture regional farm business management specialist. If only all real-world farming mistakes were so easily accommodated.

This year’s Saskatchewan Crop Diagnostic School takes place at the Wheatland Conservation Farm near Swift Current from July 26 to 28 (programming is the same each day). In Manitoba, a similar Crop Diagnostic School took place earlier in July at the Ian N. Morrison Research Farm at Carman.

Because they require so much time and plot space, these events are not the type that can be replicated in several areas. There may not be a Crop Diagnostic school conveniently located near you. But be on the lookout for dates and locations next year. This hands-on experience is well worth the travel time.

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