GrainsWest Winter 2020

Winter 2020 Grains West 6 Special interest ALBERTA’S SPECIAL AREAS ARE full of surprises. One massive region sub- divided into three parts, it is so named for the land-use regulations introduced decades ago to conserve the farms and ranchland of this arid, sprawling expanse of southeast Alberta. At risk of turning this page into the new GrainsWest travel column, I will briefly sing the praises of exploring this vast and sparsely populated land. Alberta photographer Zoltan Varadi and I spent the 2019 Labour Day weekend wander- ing its roads and trails so that he could produce the photographs that accompany writer Carol Patterson’s cover story “Spe- cial circumstances” (page 20). Owing to its land conservation practic- es, this is important habitat for wild Prai- rie plants and animals. As we travelled, whitetail deer bounded through golden grain fields, and flights of songbirds peppered the air. Every other fencepost seemed to hold a hawk that flapped off as soon as it spotted the camera, refusing to pose long enough to have its portrait snapped. Though we rolled past serious acres of healthy grain, this is dry country. From Consort in the north to Empress in the south, we stepped over knots of multi-coloured cacti and the region’s abundant grazing land was dressed with wild plants that flourish where moisture is scarce. In stark contrast, early in the morning at Blood Indian Park south of Youngstown, we watched pelicans glide over the mist-shrouded Blood Indian Creek Reservoir adjacent to the main camping area, their bel- lies most likely full of the water body’s plump rainbow trout. The rolling hills and coulees hide several such gem-like recreational areas treasured by locals. These include Prairie Oasis Park south of Hanna and Goose- berry Lake Provincial Park north of Con- sort. An oasis of stellar geography, Mud Buttes with its dramatic sediment-striped canyon walls is all but invisible until you’re on top of it. Especially hard hit during the dry and dusty years of the Great Depression, profitable farming in the region became largely uneconomic. As pioneering im- migrant families left the region, land-use policies and agronomic practices were adopted that better suited the soil and climate conditions. Some cropland was converted to forage and existing native grassland was preserved in perpetuity, a fact the region wears as a badge of hon- our. Over ensuing generations, farmers and ranchers in the Special Areas further adapted to the unique agronomic chal- lenges they faced. “Special” is more than a mere desig- nation here, it’s a way of life. Adversity proved the mother of invention, and this area of forward thinking farmers was the birthplace of the province’s system of applied farm research facilities. Locat- ed in the town of Oyen, the Chinook Applied Research Association continues to carry out important agronomic studies that focuses on the region’s particular climate conditions and soil types as well as contributing to broader provincial research work. Once virtually impossible to farm, with the steady work of farmers, ranch- ers, researchers and agronomists, the Special Areas are now surprisingly productive. If Alberta agriculture needs role models to deal with climate adver- sity, we’ve got three right in our own backyard. EDITOR’S MESSAGE GRAINSWEST READER SURVEY Complete the survey for your chance to win a $100 gas card Take our quick two-minute GrainsWest reader survey by scanning the QR code with your phone camera. Your feedback will help us shape the future of GrainsWest magazine and The GrainsWest Podcast . TECH• 2019 Connecting Farmers,Food and Ideas  REMOTESENSINGSATELIITES  DRONEMAPPING  PRECISIONAGPLATFORMS SPECIAL EDITION