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Winter 2018


As agriculture has become more digital and data-driven, the expectations farmers have for seed performance have also increased. While certain seed testing processes such as germination testing haven’t changed in decades, new technologies such as digital imaging and molecular testing are speeding the process and providing better information about seed lots. These tests are typically requested by seed companies, but the end user benefits by knowing the seed has been more rigorously tested than ever.

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Choosing seed varieties is always a hot topic among farmers, but the central reason for selecting one variety over another is straightforward. “Typically, growers are growing something they can sell,” said Monica Klaas, general manager of Alberta Seed Processors.

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Farmers know that soils and crops exhibit variability. From Alberta’s first soil surveys in the 1920s to today’s vegetation and soil electrical conductivity maps, the mapping of these variations has influenced how farmers manage the multitudinous factors that affect crop yield.

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Sustainability is a broad term. It is subjective, and can have different connotations based on the subject it is used to describe. In its very simplest form, it is defined as the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. This concept can be applied to virtually any aspect of the cropping industry, from economics to generational transition. Most importantly, it can be applied to agronomic practices. Most agronomic decisions made by farmers are made in an effort to be sustainable—to maintain crop production at a high level.

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It’s often said that weather and government policy are the two biggest influences on grain prices. Weather obviously drives the supply side of the equation. And, as with most industries, government policy permeates all aspects of agriculture. Often, this shows up in subtle ways, like when crop insurance levels, transportation policy or biofuel mandates affect decision-making and prices. More dramatic market impacts are felt when, for example, a foreign government suddenly closes its door on Canadian grain.

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While developing higher-yielding varieties is always a central objective, improving other agronomic and quality characteristics in cereal crops can be an equal and sometimes greater challenge. This according to western Canadian wheat and barley breeders who’ve worked within the wheat and barley clusters of the Growing Forward 2 ag development program.

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This farmer loading his seed drill near Dalroy, AB, was employing near-top-of-the-line equipment in 1911. Did he have any idea what was to come in seeding technology? In this photo taken by W.J. Oliver, the farmer is working the field with a Pioneer tractor pulling three Van Brunt 18-run press drills, which were able to seed a width of six metres with each pass.

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On an effort to grow the economy and create jobs, the Canadian government will invest $950 million to generate partnerships that will drive innovation through the Innovation Superclusters Initiative. Western Canadian agriculture stands to benefit in a big way through the proposed Smart Agri-food Supercluster (SASC), shortlisted in a group of nine out of more than 50 competing proposals in October of last year.

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As Canadian trade negotiations continue with potential global partners, opportunity for economic growth in agriculture is greater than ever. The prospect of modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and fully implementing agreements with large, rapidly expanding populations in the Trans-Pacific, the European Union (EU) and China holds massive opportunity.

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