The Chinook Applied Research Association (CARA) can’t control the weather.
The oldest farmer run, applied research association in Alberta, can evaluate and demonstrate a wide range of crop and forage production and management practices, as it has done for 30 years, but as the 2009 growing season proved, Mother Nature again has the final say.
Field research trials carried out in eastern Alberta last summer weren’t complete write offs, but the cool dry growing season produced so many variables in the field, that determining any “response” between treated and untreated plots was very difficult, says Aaron Dietrich, CARA crops field manager.
There were just too many variables ranging from seeding, to poor germination, and too many weeds due to poor chemical activity to draw any clear results. It was even difficult to get a late summer application of glyphosate to work so the plots could be dried down for an even harvest.
“We did accomplish one goal, which is to get people thinking about different practices, and how a particular treatment might be of benefit,” Dietrich says.
And getting people thinking about new ideas is one of the key roles of CARA, Dietrich adds.
Chinook-area farmer Charles Schmidt is always interested in new ideas. He has been a long-time supporter of CARA, and has donated his land and time for applied research trials over the years.
“I think we always have to be asking the question and looking at ‘can we drought proof crops in the Special Areas,’” says Schmidt, who farms about 10,000 acres in a 50/50 chemfallow/crop rotation. “This can be a very dry area so we have to be looking at what crops to grow and what new practices or treatments can be used to maximize returns. There is a lot of good research information out there, but often it never gets much further than Edmonton or Saskatoon, so people need to have access to it. And something might work in Lacombe or Stettler, which are more than 100 miles away, but the question is how does that work here in our area.”
FERT ILITY TREAT MENTS
Field scale trials on the Schmidt farm this year were aimed at evaluating response to a range of fertility treatments on wheat.
Schmidt has been a fan of a micro-nutrient seed treatment made by Omex for the past few years. The company produces different products for different crops, but the 2009 CARA trials used products that contained copper, zinc and manganese. Schmidt’s personal observations over the years is that the treatment dramatically improves root development in cereal crops, which ultimately means the crops can access more moisture during the growing season with potential for improved yield.
As part of the CARA project other popular products included in the trial were Alpine plant food, another liquid seed treatment that supplies micronutrients, and Power Rich, a granular product applied with the seed that also includes a micronutrient package. Cost of the products ranges from approximately $2 to over $20 per acre.
Along with these treatments, the plots were also set up to compare different rates of fertilizer. Although Schmidt does regular soil testing on his farm, he uses a stand-ard blend for cereals: 40-10-5-0 applied at 100 pounds per acre. For the CARA. trials, fertilizer rates on plots ranged from zero fertilizer to 50 lbs., 100 lbs., and 200 lbs. of the blend. There were also plots demonstrating composted manure applied at five and 10 tonne per acre rates. (That sounds like a lot, but in actual fact, it amounts to a surprisingly few particles of composted material per square foot).
The CARA trials included field-scale plots — two passes with the seed drill wide and about 400 yards long — roughly three acres in size. A small plot replicated trial of the treatments was also established, but data could not be collected due to conditions at the site.
TOUGH CONDITIONS, VARIABLERESULT S
“I think if we could have just run this project through July and August and skipped May and June, it would have been much better,” jokes Schmidt. “Nothing got off to a good start. It was so cold in late April that we couldn’t do a pre-seeding burn off — there were no weeds, so we did a post-seeding (pre-emergent) burn off, that caught a few.
“There was no moisture, it was cold, it took the crop a long time to germinate and then we had frost well into June.”
Again because of the cool, dry conditions, in-crop herbicide treatments appeared to be ineffective. Finally, when they did get a bit of rain in late July and then in August, it was too late to control weeds. Farm rain records showed they had three millimeters (mm) in May, 17 mm in June, 60 mm in July and 128 mm or about five inches of rain in August.
The plots ended the season quite uneven because of poor germination, poor weed control and second growth.
“That’s just the way it was,” says Schmidt. “There wasn’t anything you could do about it. You did everything you were supposed to do, but it seemed like no matter what you did it was wrong. If you didn’t spray there were weeds and if you did spray there were weeds. That part of it wasn’t so much a learning experience as much as a lesson in frustration.”
Overall when plots were harvested in late September there appeared to be no obvious differences, says Dietrich. Yields varied, but on average wheat yields from the plots was about 20 to 25 bushels per acre, regardless of treatment. “It doesn’t appear that nutrients were an issue,” he says. “Weeds, drought and cold temperatures were the main factors influencing results.”
Schmidt says it would have been good if the effort had produced some dramatic results, but adds the exercise does have a value. A field day was held in late April, at time of seeding, to show farmers as well as number of students from area high schools seeding practices, and another field day and plot tour was held in early July to explain the project to area producers.
“As producers, we need to be looking at new ideas,” says Schmidt. “Here is a new product, or new practice. Does it make sense? Will it work on my farm? If nothing else maybe it gets a few people thinking and maybe there is some idea they can take home they will try next year. There are no guarantees that a new variety, or a different treatment is going to work for everyone, but maybe at least they will do a few test strips to see if there is a difference. I think we have to keep asking if we can drought proof crops in the Special Areas.”
Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]