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Agronomy

THE BIG C

At first glance, the farmer’s role in helping Canada reach its ambitious goal of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 appears simple: lower emissions and adopt technology and alternative management practices that boost soil carbon sequestration. Many believe addressing the carbon equation offers economic advantages, too. Farmers who cut back on inputs subject to the carbon tax save money, and those who adopt so-called regenerative practices may participate in the growing carbon economy by collecting and selling carbon credits. While this sounds straightforward, it is anything but.

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FIGHT AGAINST PLANT DISEASE EXPANDS

Bacterial leaf streak (BLS) is a subtle intruder, but given the right conditions, it can cause significant yield loss and affect future crops in wheat and barley. Most commonly transmitted through contaminated seed, the disease has the cereal industry pushing on all fronts to break the chain of transmission, starting with the development of an effective seed test to help farmers manage the risk and prevent it from spreading.

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WILL BIOFUELS BENEFIT FARMERS?

As the world moves toward net-zero emissions by 2050, the use of lower carbon and non-emitting fuels is expected to ramp up. The Clean Fuel Standard (CFS) provides significant opportunities for western Canadian farmers, as demand for several crops will increase with the growth of the biofuels market.

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IN SEARCH OF THE EASY BUTTON

The next great leap in digital agriculture, the adoption of intelligent technologies is a complex work in progress. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are engineered to produce agronomic insights farmers can act upon from a vast flow of information that includes precision ag field data, weather, soil and yield data as well as drone and satellite imagery.

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GEAR EXPLORATION

Robot vehicles and handheld crop sensors are not tomorrow’s dreams, they are agriculture’s here and now. And while such digital, high-tech innovations are available to farmers and crop researchers, agriculture is a physical pursuit that also benefits from advances in hardware engineering. The following new and improved gear represents a wide array of technological innovation on both digital and mechanical fronts.

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PREPARE TO LAUNCH

A group of business development organizations has launched a mentorship program in Alberta to assist innovative agriculture technology and agri-food ventures. The Alberta Yield: Ag and Food Tech Advisory Program is intended to guide tech-based entrepreneurs as they establish their businesses, locate funding and expand.

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MAKE IT WORK

The newly launchedIntegrated Agriculture Technology Centre (IATC) at Lethbridge College uses the school’s applied research expertise to advance innovative ag-tech ideas. Funded by a five-year, $1.75 million Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant received in April of 2020, it works with small- and medium-sized agribusinesses to take their products, processes and services to market. With this technology access centre [TAC] grant, the centre helps such entrepreneurs conduct research, test their products and boost productivity. In its first year of operation, the centre assisted 18 companies to secure more than $500,000 worth of external funding, which includes grants and cash from private investors.

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FARMERS TAKE PART IN RESPONSIBLE GRAIN CONSULTATION

The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) released the results of its consultation on the Responsible Grain voluntary code of practice this month. The majority of participants do not support the draft as it is currently written. However, most provided constructive feedback the code development committee will use to improve and simplify the document.

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ATTACK OF THE LEGENDARY LOCUST

It defies imagination. A biblical-scale plague of locusts an estimated 500,000 square kilometres in size swept across the U.S. Midwest and into parts of Western Canada in 1875. The ravenous insects ate virtually everything in their path from crops to cloth. Described as a living eclipse of the sun, it is believed to have been the largest insect swarm in recorded history. Perhaps even more extraordinary, within 25 to 30 years of this legendary natural event, the Rocky Mountain locust (Melanoplus spretus) was declared extinct.

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GENETIC ADVANCES MULTIPLY

Two research projects funded by the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) have made significant advances in cereal crop genetics. Overseen by Pierre Hucl of the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan, the first of these examined the viability of a new dwarfing gene in bread wheat. Secondly, Nora Foroud of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) developed new wheat and barley lines with improved resistance to Fusarium head blight (FHB).

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