Many Prairie crops did poorly in the high summer temperatures of 2021, but the wheat stem sawfly thrives in such conditions. The beneficial insect populations that prey upon the sawfly were also knocked back by the heat, which has given the cereal pest another leg up. To size up the sawfly situation for the current crop year, GrainsWest spoke with Meghan Vankosky, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada entomology research scientist and co-chair of the Prairie Pest Monitoring Network.
While the nation expects agriculture to contribute to long-range carbon emissions reductions targets, agriculture has made huge gains in sustainability since the early 1990s. Naturally, farmers are frustrated by the lack of recognition for these positive developments.
On a bright but chilly day last October, Nevin Rosaasen, Alberta Pulse Growers (APG) sustainability and government relations lead, and Hayley Webster, the commission’s Adaptation Resilience Training project assistant, made their way to a small slough on Hannah Konschuh’s farm near Cluny. Konschuh, a former Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) director, joined them for the short hike down from an adjacent dirt road to examine this modest, semi-permanent wetland.
In recent years, cover crops have been widely promoted as a regenerative practice that offers a range of benefits, both environmental and economical. Many western Canadian farmers are skeptical, though, citing short growing seasons, limited moisture and added costs as reasons they haven’t adopted the practice. Yet, policymakers and agri-businesses continue to push cover crops as a fundamental component of regenerative agriculture and overall farm sustainability. But is the adoption of cover crops a logical move for Prairie farmers?
Thirty years ago, streambanks and shores were not valued to the extent they are now. This changed in the early 1990s, when a handful of agricultural landowners recognized the need to better manage these riparian landscapes. In kitchen table sessions, they formulated a vision with support from the Alberta Cattle Commission, now known as Alberta Beef Producers. The ABP rightly predicted the rising importance of riparian stewardship and determined the agriculture sector should lead its management.
Of all the variables in agriculture, from prices and pests to supplies and sun, water is perhaps the most difficult to manage. Most Alberta farmers may prefer to forget the 2021 season, which illustrated just how damaging a lack of it can be. In southern Alberta, drought can be mitigated by irrigation, and local scientists are at work to improve the practice.
Irrigation aside, there is typically no remedy for drought, but a number of abiotic stress management products now or soon to be on the market may give crops a fighting chance against dry conditions. Certain of these crop inputs purport to help plants tolerate heat, drought, chill and salinity.
A research team at the University of Texas at Austin has created what may be a revolutionary means to irrigate crops by drawing water from the air. The group has achieved proof of concept for a super moisture-absorbent gel (SMAG) soil additive that captures water vapour from the atmosphere and releases it into the soil.