The Fieldman’s File – What did we learn?


Normand Boulet, CCA
Agricultural Fieldman
M.D. of Smoky River No. 130
Every year, mostly during the winter I have the privilege of attending some fantastic workshops and conferences.

In my position, I feel it’s very important to try and stay on top of what’s happening in agriculture, and to maintain my Certified Crop Adviser designation and Pesticide Applicator License I need to take a certain number of hours of upgrading every year.

It’s great to have this information, but it’s also important to share it with people who were not able to attend.

There is no way I can cover in one article everything I took in at FarmTech at the end of February (it’s an intense three days of sessions). So I’ll give highlights, and if anything you read here triggers a question, contact me.

Weed resistance – there are 65 weed biotypes with herbicide resistance in Canada, in Alberta there are 23 plus or minus 1. In 2017 the Alberta Weed Survey will be done again (it’s done about every five years) and weeds resistant to herbicides will be a subset to the survey.

The expectation is that about 50% of the farmland will be found to have herbicide resistant weeds.

Resistance is not only an herbicide issue, hand-weeding of barnyard grass in rice worked very well, until the pickers “selected for” barnyard grass that looked like rice.

Many control methods are being developed worldwide to deal with resistant weeds, including the Harrington seed destructor which pulverizes the weed seeds coming out the back of the combine (it’s going from a trailed type unit to combine integrated).

Chaff diverters are being used to divert chaff into tire tracks or tramlines so they can be dealt with in a specific zone, i.e. left to rot, tilled or by using an herbicide in that zone only, a herbicide which would not be crop safe.

Autonomous weeder robots, electric zapping and vison guided inter- row tillage are all at various stages of development too.As canola seed becomes more and more costly it becomes much more important to analyse the value of increasing seeding rates.

With hybrid (more competitive & vigorous) varieties becoming commonplace, and herbicide tolerant (HT) varieties allowing much cleaner fields a meta-analysis of HT yield data shows that lower plant counts of four to six plants/sq ft are very viable.

However, with lower plant counts staging of fungicides, swathing and other management decisions become less clear.

Swathing at 60 per cent seed colour change on the main stem (current BMP) may not be optimum if a thinner stand encourages more yield to come from the side branches, swathing at 60 per cent SCC may be too early for optimum yield.

Regarding crop diseases, in 2016 Alberta saw Virulent blackleg in about 90 per cent of fields checked, severity levels are still quite low but as tolerance to the disease gets eroded with our short rotations, given good environmental conditions we could see yield losses occurring.

Clubroot spore breakdown happens more quickly than research would expect.

In low disease level fields, a two-year break (using Clubroot tolerant varieties) may be acceptable, but in high-disease level fields a four- to five-year break is still the BMP.

I was introduced to the 7 deadly sins of grain marketing, not enough space to go into all of them but my favourites were: Lust – aiming to sell you grain for the market high is like chasing a unicorn.

Greed – the biggest enemy of any marketing plan.

Sloth – putting off marketing because you dislike it. To overcome all the deadly sins – use a proactive, disciplined marketing plan and stick to it.

Avoid Envy – the feeling of discontent when someone else gets a better price than you. “Ever notice that in the coffee shop, whoever talks last sold for the best price.”

It was thought that Swede midge (a canola pest) was found in Alberta this past summer. Turns out it was a very similar midge which had previously not been seen in Western Canada, still causes some damage but it’s not nearly as destructive as Swede midge – some good news, finally!!

Pea Leaf Weevil (PLW) overwinters and feeds on many other legumes, but move to peasto get enough energy to mate.

Their larvae feed on the nodules on the roots, which causes the greatest yield damage. I discovered at this session there was a whole new reason to hate caragana. The PLW overwinters as adults in soil, residue and shelterbelts. PLW love legumes, caragana are legumes so it would be a perfect habitat. I didn’t ask, but really doubt the PLW can harm caragana. The final speaker I caught at FarmTech was the Honourable Brian Mulroney, former Prime-Minister.

I’ll go on record here and say I was never a Mulroney fan, and wasn’t a believer in NAFTA. However, Mulroney was a very interesting speaker and I would have to say I do not want to see NAFTA torn apart. The theory behind NAFTA (according to Mulroney) was that if we could compete and cooperate on our continent, we would be more competitive worldwide. Though it is always very important to negotiate trade deals with other countries, the proximity, population and general affluence of the U.S. makes them valuable trading partners.

According to Mulroney, in the 20-year period after NAFTA a 300 per cent increase in trade between the US and Canada occurred. Current trade balances (imbalances) are Mexico/US 65B, China/US 400B and Canada/US about even. FarmTech (to me) is always a worthwhile Conference, if not for the speakers then for the Tradeshow and the Annual General Meetings of all the Commissions. Did something in this article pique your interest?

Let me know and call me at (780) 837-2221, ext. 115, or send an email to

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