FORT KENT – Local producers took time out of their busy season to come together on July 21 to learn, discuss and get a hands-on feel for the latest agricultural research that is being carried out at Lakeland Agricultural Research Association's (LARA) plots during the Fort Kent Summer Field Day.
The annual event drew in about 35 producers from the Bonnyville, St. Paul and Two Hills area, while many others opted to take advantage of the seasonal summer weather to begin haying in their own fields.
The tone among participants this year was far more jovial compared to last year, said Kellie Nichiporik, LARA’s environmental program manager.
“People were generally happy that things are looking a lot better this year than last year. With the drought everybody was really worried about yields and having enough feed as well as the fact that it was a very tough year last year for people in general,” she said.
“A few of our farmers mentioned how the field day was a good mental health outing, which is great feedback to hear because the social aspect is really important.”
This season is shaping up to be a great year for hay production in the area, with producers feeling much more optimistic about their yields compared to previous years, she says, noting that a lot can still change.
First field day
Taking part in her first field day at Fort Kent was LARA’s newest forage and livestock program manager, Megan Wanchuk.
Wanchuk, who grew up on a ranch in the St. Paul area, started working with LARA at the end of April after completing a masters program in Range Sciences.
“I’ve always had a passion for agriculture, and so I was looking forward to helping producers in the local area,” she told Lakeland This Week.
During the field day, Wanchuk gave a presentation on spring seeded winter cereals that can be used as a potential drought mitigation strategy.
“The idea is seeding (winter cereals) earlier than normal and looking at the potential for grazing during the summer to give perennial pastures that might have been stressed from the drought a rest,” she explained.
Spring cereals are generally seeded in May, but for the trial Wanchuk is carrying out, she seeded a crop of winter cereals at the end of April.
“It is a winter cereal variety, which means that if you see it in the spring, it'll remain in a vegetative state, and they'll just keep growing leaves. It needs a winter period in order for it to grow the seed head and to produce grain essentially,” she said.
The idea behind this experiment is to see if the plants can be grazed multiple times throughout the growing season without reaching maturity.
“So instead of turning your livestock out into a pasture, if you have a field that you might be growing either a spring cereal for livestock feed or cover crops or something else, you could potentially plant this winter cereal earlier in the spring than normal and you would be able to graze that field periodically throughout the growing season.”
This method of producing feed during the spring and summer months could help producers when their pastures might not have the ability to sustain all their livestock.
“It's too early to really speak to the trial's findings. We haven’t analyzed any data yet, but stay tuned in the fall and we should have results,” said Wanchuk.
Speaking of her first field day as a whole, the new staff member said it was a great experience.
“It was awesome to have producers come out and take a look at all the hard work we've put into the field day and our research,” she said.
“A lot of producers really engaged and that means that obviously they are learning something and they're enjoying the event. They are listening to what's going on, and they're taking it in. So, knowing that we are actually helping producers feels great.”
Topics for all producers
Participants attending any LARA Field Day are swept into a whirlwind of new and ongoing growing trials and a handful of informative speaker sessions based on a wide range of topics.
“We try to cover as much as possible because everybody has a very different interest,” Nichiporik said.
The Fort Kent tour included overview presentations on newly developed biological products.
Both producers and manufactures are eager to see the results of LARA’s third-party trials over the next five years to understand how the product will perform, as well as what the proper application rates for a product may be, explains Nichiporik.
A soil health demonstration looking at five different blends of cover crops being tested at LARA’s plots was also presented by Avery Shepherd from Imperial seeds.
These cover crops are meant to be used for silage, pasture or hay land grazing.
“Avery went through what each of the blends does and discussed how they perform and how they improve soil health,” she said.
“We are going to be looking at the overall impact that these crops have had on the soil health at that site, which we have been monitoring the soil for the last three years.”
Producers pull roots to assess staging
Sheri Strydhorst from the Alberta Wheat Commission, encouraged participants to get their hands dirty during her crop staging and diagnostic demonstration and discussion.
In preparation, LARA staff planted wheat seeds early in April so that attendees could pick a plant out of a plot and practice crop staging, as well as look to see if any disease was affecting the plant and its development.
“Staging a plant becomes critical... Each crop has its own different way of staging the plants. So, you're basically looking at what growth stages the plant is at. If you have disease or if you have weeds or anything like that and you want to spray them with an herbicide, pesticide or fungicide, you need to be able to do it at the proper plant stage because sometimes it's either too close to harvest or it's just not going to be very effective,” she pointed out.
Regional Variety Trials
Producers also got the opportunity to review LARA’s Regional Variety Trials, which is one of the Field Day’s biggest draws.
“Farmers are very hands on, so they really do enjoy the regional variety trials and coming to see how (different varieties) are growing and doing, because even we have noticed over the years... there's a big difference between, say growing here and in St. Paul, or here and Lac La Biche and in Smoky Lake,” Nichiporik said.
These specially chosen varieties are being grown in different regions across the province, in different soil types, environmental climates and are impacted by numerous different growing factors.
"That way, we can see what grows best where, as well as a lot of new varieties that are coming out are also getting tested (in these trials). That way, you can also compare those to some of the standard varieties.”
All the varieties included by the province in the trials are tested for at least three years by LARA before new ones are rotated into the mix. Some are standard varieties while others are unregistered varieties that are not available on the market yet.
Defending crops against potential clubroot
The last trial looked at the impact of maintaining a soil pH of 7.2 on annual crop productions through the addition of lime.
“We're looking to increase soil pH to help suppress clubroot, which is a disease that's entering our area and impacts canola yields significantly,” explained Nichiporik.
The ongoing Liming Trial is being carried out in partnership with Gateway Research Organization based out of Westlock where clubroot disease is widespread.
While the LARA trial doesn’t deal with clubroot specifically, their results will be monitoring the impact of increased pH levels using lime and how it affects different crop yields of canola, peas and wheat.
“We will be pairing our research findings together at the end, to look at how the yields are doing here and then if it's had any impact on clubroot disease with the high pH in Westlock.”
While the trial has been ongoing for the last three years, Nichiporik explains that it has taken the last three years to build up the pH levels in the designated soil plots high enough to make an impact.
“I think we'll probably see results this year. Not so much in the past,” she noted.
Upcoming Field Day tours
Although Lac La Biche Summer Field Day tour took place at the Craigend Hall on July 27, producers can still get involved by attending the St. Paul Summer Field Day tour, which will take place at the Municipal Seed Cleaning Plant on Aug. 4 from 4-8 p.m.
Then on Aug. 10, the Smoky Lake Summer Field Day tour will take place at the Smoky Lake Agriplex from 12-4 p.m.
On Aug. 16, LARA will also be hosting a presentation by Jimmy Emmons on soil health at the Fort Kent Seniors Hall from 9 a.m. to 3.p.m.