Saturday, 22 June 2013

Alberta Day 4 - Beyond Agronomy

Our second day out with Steve started with a visit to Al Jones, who's family has been farming in Alberta since 1903.  Al runs about 5,000 acres with his family.  A herd of 200 Herefords (Herfuds) cattle also run on the farm.  We looked at some of Al's crops after a tour of the workshop.  Steve and Al are trialling precision rape seeding with very low seed mortality compared to the usual air seeding.  The photograph above shows the young canola seedlings growing fantastic root structures very quickly.  Al doesn't practise CTF (controlled Traffic Framing) but has been zero till for a long time.  Again what stood out was the lovely soil, very well structured even after a lot of heavy rain.
Al is also trying a field of Faber Beans this year to see how the crop develops and to get a handle on its Agronomy.  The crop was just starting to flower and in need of a herbicide, but weather delays, due to rain are frustrating the operation. (Sound familiar?)  Beans would be a fairly new venture in the area to add further diversity into the rotation.
I put this picture in of a huge tractor, used for seeding to demonstrate the low ground pressure that they are using when travelling on the fields.  These tires would run at 7psi on the front and 8psi on the rears. It helps that the tractor is duelled up but the attention to traffic and soil protection is a credit.  Getting the soil wrongly managed can be a disaster especially on the soils around Alberta.  Here's what we saw when driving to Saskatoon the following day, not a customer of Steve's!
After an agronomists lunch we headed out to visit Spencer Hilton who has land spread over a 100Km  strip end to end.  I bet it's quite a sight at harvest moving men and machines along the highway.  Spencer had a great business, succession and planing are the key.  Weekly family management meetings and regular staff meetings all made for a very well run business.  The staff were empowered that if they weren't happy, for a safety reason, they could shut the operation down, the management would sort it out and they would move on.  With the removal of the Canadian Wheat Board new markets were developing and Spencer was taking full advantage.  They are contracted to grow malting barley for an American brewing company where the risk was shared between the two parties, in the form of an area value rather than a bushel value.
A huge thanks to Steve and Vanessa for putting us up and showing us around the Three Hills area of Alberta, it really was a terrific visit!

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