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Alberta Blue Book goes private

It will be published jointly by four Alberta crop commissions

For the first time in more than 40 years the long-standing bible of crop protection products in Alberta, often referred to as the Blue Book, will be published by private industry rather than the provincial government.

Starting in 2021, the Blue Book — Alberta’s crop protection guide — will be published in a joint effort by four Alberta crop commissions. Alberta Barley, Alberta Canola, Alberta Pulse and Alberta Wheat have collectively hired a private contractor to collect and update the 624-page reference manual, which provides label and application information on just about every crop protection product registered for use in Alberta. The name of the contractor is not being released.

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The 2021 edition, produced in print as well as online, can be downloaded in PDF format and will be available in March. Anyone interested in a hardcopy is urged to pre-order online at albertabluebook.com. The hardcopy sells for $15 plus about $14 in mailing costs or about $30 total. The online version is free.

The provincial departments of agriculture in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba soon followed with their own, but very similar, versions of the crop protection guide, also available in print and online. Details on those books follow below.

A blue cover

The Blue Book (originally named after the colour of its cover) was first created within Alberta Agriculture in 1978, says Shafeek Ali, who was editor for nearly 30 years. The first effort was really just a collection of product labels that were assembled to be used as reference material by farmers or anyone who had signed up for a chemical applicator’s home study course offered by the department.

“We collected the labels for the home study course and then we got thinking it was information that would also be of value to farmers in general,” says Ali, now retired, but who served for 26 years as the Alberta provincial weed specialist. “The Blue Book grew from there. We started with herbicides and eventually added other categories such as fungicides and products to control insects.” The Blue Book has been published in its current format since the late 1980s.

Along with label information on active ingredients for each product, the book also provided a few paragraphs, essentially in layman’s terms, on how the product is to be used and applied, with notes on any restrictions. One variation between the product label and crop protection guides in all three provinces is application rates in the guides have been converted to litres per acre, for example, rather than litres per hectare, just because farmers are more familiar with the acre reference.

And in all cases, the crop protection guides have grown beyond just label information for herbicides, insecticides, seed treatments and fungicides. They provide contact information for all chemical companies, information on leaf and growth stages of crops, sprayer calibration, information on pesticides and the environment, safe handling of products as well as first-aid measures.

A trusted information source

Ali says the Blue Book, which became the go-to source of information on pesticides, was well regarded as a trusted source. “One thing we heard from industry is they appreciated Alberta Agriculture’s neutrality,” says Ali. “Companies sometimes shared proprietary information they didn’t want competitors to hear about and they were comfortable in sharing that with the department. It may be different now that the Blue Book will be published by private industry.”

He says Alberta Agriculture always resisted the idea of allowing advertising in the Blue Book as that could open a whole can of worms that could compromise the book’s neutrality.

Ali says at one time there was a proposal for all Prairie provinces to join forces to publish just one version of a crop protection guide for all three provinces. However, there were differences of opinion on certain aspects of the book, and all three decided to co-operate but remain independent.

“Charging a fee for the book was one area where the provinces couldn’t agree,” says Ali. “A number of years ago, Alberta decided it would sell the Blue Book to recover some of the production costs. Saskatchewan was determined to keep its book free and Manitoba also charges a fee for its guide.”

The 2021 editions of the three crop protection guides across Western Canada will be available early in the new year.

In Saskatchewan, the 636-page Guide to Crop Protection remains free of charge. Print versions will be available from a number of farm supply and chemical retailers, while the electronic version can be downloaded at saskatchewan.ca.

And in Manitoba, the Guide to Field Crop Protection, all 688 pages, sells for $10 and will be available at Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development Offices, while the free online version is available for download at gov.mb.ca.

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