Thursday, 20 June 2013
Alberta Day 3 - Three Hills with Steve Larocque
Day 3 and we've been very well looked after by Nuffield Scholar Steve Larocque who runs his own company with wife Vanessa called Beyond Agronomy. Steve lives and works around the town of Three Hills in Alberta. The town has a population of 2,500 and somewhere 19 churches! Most of the farms in the area are about 3,000-4,000 acres and have been zero tilled for about 20years. The soil is loamy, almost sweet smelling and with the great advice Steve is offering to his clients, yields are moving on up.
I was very interested in the planting methods used for zero till so we headed to the local John Deere dealership Evergreen's at Drumheller. In the yard was a Seed Hawk planter with a seed hopper for fertiliser and seed that could carry 20T. Bearing in mind nearly all of the fertiliser for the crop is applied at seeding, these rigs were huge. All pulled by over 500hp of tractor either on duals, triples or tracks, with widths of up to 66'. Even transport widths were hovering around the 5m mark! We also looked at the John Deere ConservaPac opener which placed the fertiliser and the seed almost down the same drill row, seeding tine behind fertiliser tine, reducing soil disturbance creating a very even drilling depth and capable of following uneven topography, with short leg length. Drilling speeds of around 4.5mph are common, so relatively slow compared to our drilling speeds but reduced soil disturbance is key to the system.
After some lunch we headed out to visit a Hutterite Community at Starlands. The we were met by 'Farm Boss' Peter Stahl. It was a very slick operation and Pete was keen to show us around the farm. The investment was huge with 3 big drilling rigs each worth somewhere near $750,000. Each of these systems is capable of planting 350 acres in a 24 hour period, and with 14,900 acres (of all crops to plant), seeding can be completed in 14 days. The infrastructure was impressive too with grain store, hog yards, dairy, beef and chickens. The community share everything between each other, so all 93 souls get a share of the wealth. At the communal kitchens we met Pete's wife and daughter who were busy preparing the fresh chicken for super that evening. It's a shame I couldn't take any pictures but the I will certainly remember Pete for his warm welcome, generosity and openness into the way they live.
We called in to look at some of Pete's crops and the picture above show wheat plants being planted between the rows of Canola stalks. This is using the guidance on the tractors (RTK) to the fullest and means the new roots and follow the old crop root channels down without all the stubble stalks being ripped up. It also acts as protection to some degree to the young shoots as they emerge. Another great day; meeting interesting people, more tomorrow.