Machinery

May 3, 2016, Ontario – With the recent warm weather, soil temperatures have reached 10 C, which means that now is great time to scout for wireworms and grubs. Wireworm baits will be most effective right now and grubs will also be feeding close the soil surface, according to Tracey Baute in her latest blog. | READ MORE
Mar. 31, 2016 - Much of the tracks-versus-wheels debate on farms has focused on compaction and the ability to drive in wet conditions, but what about differences in fuel consumption? Testing done in southern Manitoba in 2015 confirmed long-standing research showing tracks require less energy to move in field conditions, dispelling a lingering misconception that implements on tracks require more horsepower to pull than wheeled units. Research conducted near Altona — the home of track-maker Elmer's Manufacturing — found fuel savings of 11 to 15 percent when pulling a grain cart on tracks instead of wheels. "We used a grain cart and compared wheels to tracks at the same weights. We tested on fresh tilled ground, tilled and then dried for a few days, untilled canola ground, and concrete for a reference." explains Mike Friesen, general manager and lead engineer at Elmer's. While wheels pulled easier than tracks on concrete, there was less resistance pulling tracks in all three field scenarios. That's because tracks "float" or stay higher on top of the soil, reducing what engineers describe as "rolling resistance." Since tires generally create deeper ruts, they have a greater rolling resistance than tracks on soft soil, as explained by researchers AJ Koolen and H Kuipers in Agricultural Soil Mechanics back in 1983. "In plain English, the tracks don't have to continuously try to get out of the rut they are digging like the wheel does," explains Friesen. Hartney, Manitoba farmer Tim Morden's experience pulling large capacity Bourgault cart on Elmer's TransferTracks supports the findings. "When we had duals on the back of the cart, dirt would build up in front of the wheels and slow it down, making it hard to pull," he says. "This didn't happen with tracks." Morden explains the biggest difference he's noticed with switching to tracks is the reduced compaction and rutting, especially in wet conditions. "The number one fact is it doesn't really leave a rut at any time, unless it's really wet, but it's significantly less than tires," he says. "We have much more confidence on the field with the track." The study also compared energy required to pull Elmer's large tracks versus Elmer's smaller TransferTracks, which concluded that, while both tracks pulled easier than wheels, the TransferTracks required less horsepower at weights below 35,000 lbs per wheel making it the ideal candidate for use with an air-seeder cart, small grain cart or a rolling water/fertilizer tank. The reduced energy requirement not only results in improved fuel efficiency, but it could also allow a grower to optimize their existing horsepower in other ways, such as driving faster or pulling a wider drill with the same tractor during seeding.  
June 26, 2015 - Most of Alberta received isolated rain showers over the past week, which helped previously dry areas and somewhat alleviated moisture stress. However, soil moisture conditions still remain very dry, according to the province's weekly crop report. Surface soil moisture conditions are on par with last week despite the recent rain. Provincially, surface soil moisture conditions are rated as 30 per cent poor, 41 per cent fair, 26 per cent good and three per cent excellent. Dry spring conditions have left little soil moisture reserves, making timely rains critical to enhance crop, hay and pasture development. Provincially, crop growing conditions did not changed significantly from last week and are rated as 18 per cent poor, 44 per cent fair, 35 per cent good and three per cent excellent. Field crops continue to be affected by the dry spring conditions. READ MORE.  
June 15, 2015, Salford, ON - Salford isn't content to grow by acquisition. The rapidly expanding organization will launch several new products from each of its tillage, seeding and fertilizer application divisions. The new product offerings include two new vertical tillage designs, the I-2200 and I-4200; new Flex Finish hydraulically adjustable finishing attachments for the I-Series; the new Salford Valmar 8600 Pull-Type Pneumatic Boom Applicator; and Salford BBI will introduce the Javelin and MagnaSpread Ultra spreaders to the Canadian market at the same time. READ MORE.  
Faced with lower commodity prices, farmers are looking for any edge to improve productivity and crop performance. As the 2015 growing season gets under way, experts say one of the most effective ways to improve yield is to minimize soil compaction by using tires that can operate at a lower air pressure. Farming equipment, including tractors, sprayers and combines, has grown larger and heavier in recent years, allowing farmers to cover more acres per day but also making soil compaction a much greater challenge. "Lower-pressure tires produce a larger tire footprint, which distributes the weight of the machine over the largest area possible to reduce compaction," said James Crouch, farm segment marketing manager for Michelin Agriculture tires. "In addition, a larger tire footprint provides excellent traction in the field, which can improve fuel economy by reducing slippage." Academic research has demonstrated the benefits of lower-pressure tires that provide higher flexion than standard radial agriculture tires, thus reducing soil compaction. "Topsoil compaction is caused by high contact pressure. To reduce contact pressure, a load needs to be spread out over a larger area. This can be done by reducing inflation pressure," states a Penn State University Extension report.1 Harper Adams University in the United Kingdom recently completed a three-year study involving Michelin's Ultraflex IF (Increased Flexion) and VF (Very High Flexion) tires that demonstrated a yield increase of up to four per cent compared to standard radial agriculture tires.2 Additional recommendations from Crouch and other experts to help farmers minimize soil compaction include: • Check and maintain proper tire pressure as temperature changes throughout the growing season, particularly in the spring if new tires or equipment were purchased the previous fall or winter. Every increase of nine to 10 degrees in ambient air temperature can raise tire pressure by one psi, or lower it by that same amount as temperature decreases. • Reduce total axle load by operating the lightest possible equipment for each application that still efficiently transfers horsepower to the ground with minimal slippage. Ensure total machine weight conforms to manufacturer specifications. • Minimize the number of trips over the field and reduce the area of the field on which equipment is operated. Limit heavy machinery to the same lanes through the field each season. Only the controlled traffic lanes become compacted, sparing soil between the lanes. • Use duals and large-diameter tires, since the larger surface area can help reduce tire pressure against the soil. • When additional machine weight is needed, use cast iron ballast instead of filling tires with liquid ballast. Liquid ballast changes the flexion of the tires, resulting in a smaller footprint. "Proper tire management and other practices can help reduce soil compaction, even though it can't be eliminated totally," Crouch said. "Protecting the soil is one of the best investments farmers can make to improve their crop performance and their bottom lines."  
Nov. 25, 2014 - Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers will conduct its largest agricultural auction of 2014 on December 2 at its permanent site in Saskatoon, Sask. The auction already features close to 1,800 equipment items, including 95+ headers, 85+ combines, 85 tractors and more. Every item will be sold without minimum bids or reserve prices. Agricultural equipment highlights in the auction include: Eight John Deere S670 combines (seven 2012 models, one 2013) Six John Deere S690 combines (five 2012 models, one 2013) A 2014 Case IH Magnum 290 MFWD tractor A 2013 Case IH 550 Quadtrac track tractor A 2013 Case IH Steiger 550HD 4WD tractor Seven John Deere 4940 120-ft sprayers (six 2012 models, one 2013) Three unused 2013 Seed Hawk 45 Series 60-ft air drills Two 2014 Case IH Titan 4530 70-ft spreaders The December Saskatoon auction also features a great selection of construction equipment, including two Caterpillar D7R XR crawler tractors, two 2012 John Deere 350G LC hydraulic excavators, two John Deere 872GP AWD motor graders, two Caterpillar 140H VHP Plus motor graders and a 2013 John Deere 544K wheel loader. The auction will also feature automobiles, including a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro RS and a 2005 Hummer H2, pickup trucks, consumer items and more. Consignments are still being accepted for the Saskatoon auction; anyone interested in selling their equipment can contact the auction site at 1-306-933-9333. For more information, visit www.rbauction.com.    
Jan. 8, 2016 - XiteBio PulseRhizo now replaces previously registered XiteBio PeasRhizo, expanding on an enhanced label. PulseRhizo features the following enhancements: product use expanded to include faba bean on-seed compatibility with most popular seed treatments extended to 48 hours application methods expanded to include in-furrow as well as on-seed treatment XiteBio PulseRhizo works to invigorate the natural microflora in the soil while also adding fresh rhizobia for optimum nitrogen fixation. According to XiteBio Technologies Inc., PulseRhizo, the liquid inoculant for pea, lentil and faba bean, enhances crop performance and nodulation while maximizing yield. Along with XiteBio SoyRhizo, a liquid inoculant for soybean, XiteBio PulseRhizo is becoming the outstanding option for producers, exclusively available from XiteBio and its North American distributors and dealers.    
Combine header selection is just one of many factors growers have to evaluate when considering straight cutting canola. In a three-year project launched in 2014, researchers in Saskatchewan are evaluating different header types to find out whether or not there are differences in headers and what factors make a difference. The project started in 2014 at two locations in Saskatchewan: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Indian Head Research Farm/Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation (IHARF); and Swift Current, at the Wheatland Conservation Area’s (WCA) southwest Agricultural Applied Research Management (Agri-ARM) site. A third site was added in 2015 at the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) site in Humboldt. “We are using full-scale machinery and very large replicated plots for the trials,” explains Nathan Gregg, project manager with PAMI. “The combine is a CR 9080 and header widths are 35 or 36 feet, depending on the treatment, with individual treatments about 80 feet wide and 400 to 1000 feet long. The project is focused on combine header performance, not optimal combine performance, so we are using a fixed ground speed and other settings for better comparison between headers.” The four harvest treatments include swathing and belt pick-up as a control compared to a draper header, which is fairly common throughout the Prairies, a rigid auger header and a new style header (Varifeed) with an extendable knife. “The Varifeed header style has been used in Europe for a few years and is starting to be used in Western Canada,” Gregg says. “This header has an extendable cutter bar that can be moved forward about 23 inches. The one we are using in the project is hydraulically activated and can be moved from the cab, while there are other fixed attachment options that have fixed extensions.” Two canola varieties are being compared, standard hybrid variety InVigor L130, and shatter resistant variety InVigor L140P. In 2015, Dekalb 75-65 RR was added to the treatments. Factors such as yield, header loss and loss location, environmental shatter loss and various quality components will be measured. Although there are still two more years of data collection for the project, preliminary observations from the 2014 harvest so far aren’t showing any clear differences between the headers. “We are trying to evaluate specific treatments to determine if one header performs better than the others,” Gregg says. “However, in terms of yield in year one, we didn’t see any significant differences between harvest treatments. We measured header losses through the use of pans for shatter loss and throw-over from the header, and again the performance was very similar with relatively low losses. The Varifeed appears to show some advantage, although we need more data. It appears that the extended knife may be able to collect shatter losses induced by the reel a little better and may provide for smoother crop flow.” Researchers also tried to identify the location of the header losses by putting pans across the width of the header and into the zone just beyond the header into the adjacent crop. As expected, most of the shatter losses were concentrated at the perimeter of the header around divider points. Gregg says preliminary findings validate the assumption that the divider point contributes a good portion of shatter losses, while the reel isn’t contributing as much loss as initially anticipated. “We need to investigate further why we are tending to see a higher proportion of the losses at the divider and perimeter, and again near the centre of the header as the material moves into the feeder house.” Header dividers are of interest so the project researchers compared powered side cutters including a vertical knife on some configurations and a rotary knife on others. In 2015, passive end point dividers have been added to the treatments. “In 2014, we did see losses increase at the edges of the header,” Gregg explains. “The powered knife may be causing higher losses because sometimes whole pods and branches are lost compared to a passive divider that may shake the plants and cause a few pods to open. Although this is fairly common in swathers, the powered knives may be causing some additional losses, particularly in drier conditions.” Environmental shatter losses were also measured by putting out pans in adjacent crop at the same timing as the swathing treatment. The pans were collected just prior to straight cutting harvest treatments. The varieties performed fairly similar across all treatments, except at Indian Head in 2014 where a significant wind event caused substantial losses in the standard hybrid as compared to the shatter resistant variety. In those trials, the control swathed and combined standard hybrid plots out-yielded the other standard plots by about four bushels per acre. The shatter resistant variety performed well in all harvest treatments, with no significant difference in yield. “We expect to be able to provide more details at the end of the three-year project and provide some recommendations to growers,” Gregg says. “At this point, although we may find some differences in headers, any slight advantages may be marginalized relative to all of the other decisions and management practices that growers use. One header might reduce losses by a couple of bushels. However, losses overall may be reduced by properly timing harvest activities, making sure plant densities are optimized and other good agronomic practices that produce a good even high yielding stand.” Gregg notes there are generally intrinsic risks and losses with both systems and it comes down to which ones you want to manage and which ones fit your farm. “Straight cutting is just another tool in the toolbox, and works for some people on some farms in some years,” Gregg adds. “There is a whole management aspect of straight cutting that needs to be considered along with all of the other factors in a compressed harvest window.” A farm with a lot of combine power and labour availability might find straight cutting a good option because crops can be combined the day they are ready. However, growers have to be patient and may have to wait a bit later in the season. On the other hand, a smaller operator with limited combine capacity and limited labour may want to include swathing to spread out the already compressed harvest window. Preliminary project results will be presented over the winter at various extension events, and the straight cutting research will be included in upcoming 2016 field days. Once the project is complete, an economic analysis will be completed with final project results available in early 2017. The project is jointly funded by SaskCanola, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and the Canada-Saskatchewan Growing Forward II Bilateral Agreement, and the Western Grains Research Foundation.  
Aug. 25, 2015, Olathe, Kansas – John Deere is helping customers improve productivity and profitability during harvest with enhancements to its grain harvesting equipment lineup. For model year 2016, the company is adding performance boosting features to its S-Series Combines, 600C Series Corn Heads and 600F HydraFlex Draper Platforms, as well as introducing a new 12-row folding corn head. Jon Gilbeck, division marketing manager for John Deere Harvester Works, says these are some of the most extensive updates to John Deere harvesting products since the introduction of the S-Series Combines years ago. "We are constantly listening to our customers and looking for ways to boost their grain harvesting productivity by improving the performance, quality, and technology of the Deere equipment they are using. This includes enhancements to the combines as well as improvements to the different headers and platforms in the lineup." S-Series Combine Updates John Deere is making some significant improvements starting with the workhorse of its grain harvesting equipment – the S-Series Combine. Internally, customers will notice a 12 percent larger cleaning sieve and a new shoe drive system with a beefed up, wider belt with double the tensile strength and durability. In shoe-limited conditions this new Dyna-Flow Plus cleaning system increases combine capacity up to 10 per cent in corn and 13 per cent in wheat and canola and reduces tailings as much as 28 per cent. The combines are designed with stronger internal bearings, pulleys and support structure for increased durability and uptime. In addition, John Deere is making Active Terrain Adjustment available as a factory-installed option for all 2016 models of S-Series Combines. Active Terrain Adjustment automatically controls the fan speed and sieve/chaffer openings as the combine travels up and down hilly terrain. This optimizes the harvesting performance of the combine and minimizes grain loss on slopes. On uphill slopes of 12-16 degrees the results can be a US$32-64 savings per acre while reducing tailings by as much as 35 per cent. And when harvesting on declining slopes, the greater the slope and greater reduction in foreign material. To improve accuracy and reliability of yield data collected during harvest, John Deere introduces Active Yield with automated calibration. This feature greatly reduces the time operators spend calibrating the yield monitor and provides more accurate yield data from field to field. Active Yield is available as a field-installed attachment for 2016 S-Series Combines and is compatible with earlier model S-Series machines. Lastly, John Deere has added an onboard air compressor to new 2016 combines. This addition makes routine combine cleaning and maintenance more convenient, especially when operators are in the field or remote locations. "These enhanced features make the S-Series Combines even more productive when harvesting all types of grain crops, provide more accurate yield information, and allow operators to spend more time harvesting and less time with calibration and maintenance," Gilbeck says. New in Headers and Platforms Along with the updates to the S-Series combines, John Deere is expanding its lineup of 600C Series Corn Heads and updating the 600F HyraFlex Draper Platforms. For the first time, the company is offering a folding 12-row corn head (612FC model). The 612FC can provide productivity of up to 30 acres more per day versus harvesting with a traditional eight-row corn head and six more acres per day versus a traditional 12-row while reducing operating costs by 15 per cent. And John Deere is equipping all 600C corn heads with an improved row unit slip clutch and drive shaft interface for longer life when harvesting today's more robust hybrids. For soybean and small grain producers, the company has taken many of the features unique to the recently introduced 645FD and built them into other models of HydraFlex Drapers, including the 630FD, 635FD and 640FD. These features include new streamlined end dividers that reduce grain loss and crop knock down; a wider center-feed section that increases material feeding by 15 per cent to better match combine capacity; and 30 per cent stronger reel fingers for greater durability and improved crop pickup. "These improvements, along with doubling the life of the reel finger support tube bearings on all HydraFlex Drapers, help producers harvest more acres per day with less downtime and lower cost of operation," Gilbeck adds. "Collectively, the changes we made to the combines, corn heads and HydraFlex Drapers provide customers with the most advanced harvesting equipment available."  
Feb. 9, 2015 - Alberta's new Farm Implement and Dealership Act will continue to ensure Alberta farmers are treated fairly when purchasing and maintaining farm equipment, according to the province's Farmers' Advocate Office (FAO). "The Farm Implement and Dealership Act helps protect the investment that Albertan farmers make in farm implements by establishing minimum requirements for sale agreements, warranties and the availability of spare parts," Jeana Les with the FAO says. "The Act also provides a mechanism for resolving disputes regarding farm implements." The new Farm Implement and Dealership Act is a blended act combining the old Farm Implement Dealerships Act and the Farm Implement Act. The two acts were combined on December 17, 2014, when Bill 6, the Statutes Amendment Act, received royal assent. Bill 6 also includes numerous changes to sections of the former Farm Implement Act. "The revised statute addresses gaps in the legislation and adds more clarity. This legislation has been around since the mid-1960s and, like any good legislation, it needs to keep evolving to meet the realities we're facing. We've also taken this opportunity make our Farm Implement and Dealership Act more consistent with equivalent legislation in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba." As the administrator for the Farm Implement and Dealership Act, the FAO provides support to the Farm Implement Board, employs a farm implement inspector, and manages licensing for dealers and distributors. The Farm Implement Board is comprised of three farmers, three industry representatives, and one member appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. "The FAO strives to resolve complaints through the Farm Implement Inspector to help limit costs and ensure expediency for affected farmers," said Les. "In 2013-14, the farm implement inspector spoke with approximately 240 different farmers and agri-business owners, mediated 155 disputes and completed over 20 farm implement inspections. As a result, the Farm Implement Board did not need to review any disputes in 2013-14." More information on these changes is available on the FAO website. The new legislation will come into force in 2015, once the required amendments to the regulation are completed to align with the amended legislation. Updated copies of the Farm Implement and Dealership Act will also be available on the FAO website once they become available.    
by Ken Panchuk, PAg, Provincial Specialist, Soils After a large crop there is bound to be plenty of wear and stress on your straw chopper's components. Did you feel any unusual vibration when operating the combine last fall? If so, this is a good time to investigate and determine the cause. If the straw chopper is the source of the vibration, get the straw chopper serviced and balanced. Many things can happen in short order when putting heavy crops through the machine, from uneven wear on chopper flails and knives to a bent, cracked or even broken shaft. Premature bearing failure or a worn shaft can also be the source of the vibration. Checking closely for hairline cracks on the bearing mounts and pans will also provide hints of an emerging problem. Rotation or replacing the flails and knives may be all that is needed to keep the chopper in top condition for harvest. Remember, the first important step in zero-tillage is chopping and spreading the straw and chaff uniformly using a fine cut chopper that is standard on most combines.    
In 2013, a bright red 490-horsepower Class IX combine, the Versatile RT490, will be out of the shop and in the field, ready to compete head on with the biggest names in North American agriculture. The RT490 was introduced at the Canada Farm Progress Show in Regina in June, and in on-farm demonstrations for the 2012 harvest. It is a Class 9 combine, based on guidelines supplied by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers that include grain tank size and engine capacity. It will be competing against other Class 9 or larger combines manufactured by Case, New Holland, John Deere and Claas. A mixture of world-leading technology is brought together in the Versatile RT490, according to Adam Reid, Versatile director of marketing, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Russian investmentThe RT490 is manufactured in southern Russia’s port city, Rostov-on-Don, by Rostselmash, with assembly completed in Winnipeg. Rostselmash, a global combine manufacturer, builds roughly 17 percent of the world’s combines and holds about 60 percent of the market share in Russia. Rostselmash builds a wide range of combines. Several years ago, the company started developing the rotating concave rotary combine (RCR) as a product for the global market. Rostselmash purchased 80 percent ownership in Manitoba’s Buhler Industries, including access to the Versatile brand, in 2007. “The results in Russia were terrific. It went into mass production in Russia in about 2009, and we started looking at introducing it to North America,” says Reid. “This is a unique threshing system that we’re seeing in the RT490. We were waiting until it was released for full production in Russia before looking at it for North America.” Testing on the RT490 combine in North America has been underway since 2010.  “We’ve tested them in pretty much every crop grown in North America to determine how they compare in terms of power and capacity,” notes Reid. “We brought three to western Canada in 2010 to get them into wheat, barley and canola. We brought over five additional combines in 2011 and we sent those all over Canada and the US. We did rice, soybeans, corn, milo, wheat, oats and barley. The combine performed very well in all the crops we tested it in.” Reid says the combine is rugged, reliable, and simple to maintain and service.  “The capacity and the performance of this machine will go toe-to-toe with any other Class 9 that’s out there now,” says Reid. “Versatile has been known since 1966 for being simple, reliable, easy to service and maintain. This combine lines up with those values. In terms of daily service checks and the maintenance required, they are very low maintenance and easy to work on.” New technologyThe RT490 rotating concave rotor (RCR360) threshing system, according to Versatile, is different from – and better than – ones in AGCO, Deere, CNH and Claas combines. Most rotary combines have a rotor turning in a stationary setting. The rotor has a partial cage around it and one or two pinch points for threshing.  For the RCR360, the rotor is enclosed completely by a 360-degree concave. It has three pinch points. “That concave is turning against the rotor very slowly, at about 8 rpm. The rotor can turn full speed within the concave. There are three points of threshing as the crop is going through the rotor, so grain is threshed three times in each rotation,” says Reid. “You get better threshing, better capacity and better cleaning. Because the concave turns against the rotation of the rotor, you get fantastic cleanout.” Versatile claims the moving concave makes RT490 more productive than combines with stationary concaves in high-yielding or difficult crop conditions. To feed the RCR360, Russian engineers replaced conventional feeder house designs with an inclined, four-stage beater chamber.  “This spreads the crop more evenly before it enters the rotor. It means less chance of matting and less chance of closing,” Reid says.  The new technology considerably increases processing stability and productivity, by allowing a uniform layer of material to enter the rotor. North American versionEngineers at Rostov-on-Don spent a year developing a version of the combine for North America, and for the Versatile brand. They equipped it with a familiar built-in-Indiana Cummins QSX 11.9L engine. Cummins engines are standard power units for Versatile tractors. The QSX meets interim Tier 4 emissions standards with Variable Geometry Turbochargers that also help improve fuel economy. It is tuned up to 490 horsepower for adequate power in tough crop conditions.  The RT490 brings some familiar technology to the table for Canadian and American farmers to consider, too. MacDon Industries in Winnipeg, is supplying conventional headers and draper headers for the Versatile RT490. Versatile is offering headers at up to 35 feet wide and up to 12 rows for the combine. Corn headers will be available from suppliers such as Capello and Geringhof. Raven Industries is supplying a yield monitor, moisture sensor and autosteer.  The drive line has a lot in common with the Claas combines from Europe, notes Reid. MudHog is supplying an optional all-wheel-drive system. Future options may include tracks or dual wheels.  Two modes are available from the straw chopper. It has a two-speed shred and scatter mode for spreading debris evenly across the swathed area. Or, it can drop crop debris straight behind the combine for later pickup. One button and a pin will raise and lower the chopper.  The 340-bushel grain tank features standard hopper extensions that are controlled from the cab. Unloading capacity on the 19-foot auger is about three bushels per second Inside the RT490 cab, operators will find a familiar and very comfortable sitting place. “One component we decided to change was the seat and the buddy seat,” says Reid. “We install the driver seat and the buddy seat here at the Winnipeg factory. It’s the same seat that we put in our Versatile tractors.” The cab isn’t big on ‘bells and whistles,’ adds Reid, but he calls it “adequate and not a hard place to spend a day” at work. Winnipeg workers also put North American tires on the red combines and make a series of other minor changes. In addition, they perform full inspections before sending the new combines to dealers.
June 15, 2016 - Salford Group unveiled what it says is the largest pull-type pneumatic boom applicator on the planet. The whopping prototype is being shown for the first time in public at Canada's Farm Progress Show this week in Regina.
June 17, 2015, Regina, SK – Pesticide application has never been more important in Canada. Today's operators need to understand more than just how to operate a sprayer - one of the most complex and expensive agricultural machines. They also need to balance how weather, chemistry, plant canopies and many other factors affect performance and environmental fate. To help make sense of it all, a new website, www.sprayers101.com, has been launched by two Canadian sprayer specialists. "Applicators want to do the best job possible, and are always looking for information and advice," says Dr. Jason Deveau, application specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. "We recognized a need to provide that information more effectively. That's why we developed a site that combines horticultural and field crop information." Dr. Tom Wolf is a sprayer specialist based in Saskatoon with over 25 years of research experience in field sprayers. His company, Agrimetrix Research & Training, reaches thousands of applicators across Canada through presentations and workshops. "Each year, producers spend more time in their sprayers than almost any other piece of equipment. Most of my clients' fields are now treated three to five times per year. The investment, and the stakes, are high," says Wolf. "Applicators deserve the best information on how to maximize pesticide performance and minimize environmental impact. Sprayers 101 is the ideal means to provide that information." Deveau and Wolf use a variety of approaches to get their message out, relying on Twitter to invite applicators, agronomists and educators to Sprayers101. Facts, often spiced with humour, are delivered via stories, images, videos and apps. International sprayer specialists have begun submitting information for posting on the site, creating an unparalleled resource for all things "sprayer." The site is mobile-friendly and scales to the phones that applicators rely on for information gathering.  
Agrifac, a Dutch manufacturer of self-propelled sprayers, is expanding into Canada. Agrifac has 30 years of experience in designing and manufacturing self-propelled sprayers. The company gives primary attention to an accurate spray application: "Every drop hits the right spot." Boom stability as well as techniques to increase the coverage of the crops are available on the machines of Agrifac. Agrifac offers two types of self-propelled sprayers: the Condor and the Condor Endurance. The Condor is a versatile, high-quality sprayer suitable for demanding farmers. The Condor Endurance is the Condor's big brother, a reliable, high quality sprayer with extreme durability. For more information, visit http://www.agrifac.com/condor.  
Equipment technologies are continually advancing to provide more opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness. But according to Jason Deveau, an application technology specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), farmers do not have to buy a new sprayer to take advantage of the newest tools. Deveau works with technology companies worldwide to learn about and test their latest sprayer advancements, and he says a multitude of aftermarket products can be purchased to improve operation and application. Improving management Oil- and water-sensitive papers are yellow cards that turn blue when sprayed. Deveau says the papers provide a cost-effective way to show coverage, spray drift and sprayer contamination.  “By taking your time and using a clothespin and flag in the field, you can get a very good, immediate picture of how well you are doing,” he says, adding the tool can help farmers put recommended practices to the test by using the papers before and after changing methods, and analyzing the difference. TeeJet Technologies offers two monitor products that Deveau sees as opportunities to improve operator management – the Sentry 6140 Flow Tip Monitor and the Sentry 6120 Droplet Size Monitor. The flow tip tool detects plugged tips as well as high and low flow errors or partial blockages. Deveau says using a minimum of three tips, sensors are mounted at each spray tip location without impacting flow. The sensors are linked to a touchscreen monitor, and errors are indicated by audible alarm and display notification. “This type of tool could replace hard-to-read floats, and could be used when planting, spraying and applying fertilizer.” Deveau notes droplet size affects coverage and drift, and operators should be using catalogues to determine the average droplet size given their pressure and nozzle choice. He describes TeeJet’s droplet monitor as a catalogue tool, as it provides real-time droplet size display and highlights size changes with auto-rate controllers. The Accu-Volume System, manufactured by Custom Concepts Mfg. Inc., claims to increase operator efficiency and Deveau agrees it answers the question of what exactly is in the tank. He says some gauges can be inaccurate by approximately 25 gallons, and sprayer grade can create a difference of up to 80 gallons during filling. The monitor, which includes a digital display in the cab and at the loading station, reduces the chances of running short or over-batching, and helps operators to avoid diluting existing solutions. Deveau says Johnson’s Innovations manufactures Peek-a-boom, a remote controlled system for performing timed output tests safely and easily. Peek-a-boom allows operators to turn individual or all boom sections on and off from the cab or other nearby locations. ATI Agritronics Inc. has a similar smartphone application product called AppliMax Spray Boom Remote Control.    Nozzle technologyNew in 2014, Pentair Ltd. announced the Hypro Duo React Twin Valve Nozzle Body. The product features a single nozzle holder and a rotatable four-way turret in one unit which Deveau says allows the operator to select either or both tips from the cab. He notes this tool could be convenient for operators aiming to switch from fertilizer to fungicide, from conventional flat fan to air induced or to dual fans. Deveau says the Pentair Hypro Express Nozzle Body End Caps product could be applicable to more operators. “The caps are also air aspirators which could mean an 85 per cent faster shut-off valve operation.” In terms of nozzle calibration tools, Deveau points to the SpotOn Sprayer Calibrator made by Innoquest Inc. He says this digital spray tip tester can be described as a vessel with two inside sensors. Once the meter is held under the nozzle at a slight angle, the tool displays how many litres, ounces or gallons per minute it is emitting within approximately 10 seconds. Research and development Deveau also reviews products currently in development or not yet available in Canada such as K-B Agri-Tech LLC’s Pattern Master, Harrie Hoeben’s Wingssprayer and Coraltec Inc.’s D30. The creators of Pattern Master (patent pending) are claiming this product will change the way the industry looks at drift control. “It is a brush that is mounted in front of the nozzle, which means more coverage and less drift,” Deveau says, noting the brush has bottom bristles to diffuse but not block air flow. The product is currently being tested in the U.S. Deveau says initial trial results comparing brush to no brush show significant coverage improvement. Wingssprayer has been available in Europe for four years and the manufacturer is considering expanding into Canada this year. Deveau says the product is a floating shield that blocks oncoming wind and flexes to lightly drag the crop surface which opens the crop canopy. Because the shield decreases the distance between the nozzle and crop, the creators claim Wingssprayer reduces dosage by up to 30 per cent. Deveau says Coraltec Inc.’s D30 spray droplet size measurement system research is currently focused on industry applications, but the technology will be modified for agriculture. “Spray mix viscosity can change nozzle output by as much as 30 per cent and also changes the volume median diameter (VMD),” Deveau says. “D30 could provide a way to check this quickly to ensure effective material deposition.” As product technologies advance and new educational courses become available, information and free downloads can be found at www.sprayers101.ca, or by following Deveau on Twitter @Spray_Guy.
For the project’s lab component, the researchers created a canopy of mature wheat plants and a simulated broadleaf canopy, and assessed canopy penetration using different spraying practices. Photo by Tom Wolf, Agrimetrix Research & Training. A new project to discover the most effective ways to spray fungicides into mature crop canopies is already generating some interesting preliminary results. The three-year study was initiated in response to emerging information needs. “Fungicides are the growth area in the crop protection business. More acres and more new products are being sprayed in that part of the business than any other. So we’re seeing a lot of promotion of fungicide use by the crop protection industry. And we’re also seeing quite a bit of interest from the applicators; they have now purchased high-clearance sprayers, and they want to know how to apply fungicides better,” explains Dr. Tom Wolf of Agrimetrix Research & Training. “We realized that we didn’t have a lot of the answers to that because fungicide spraying is a relatively new business.” Wolf, who is an expert in sprayer and nozzle technologies, is working on this project with two plant pathologists: Dr. Randy Kutcher of the University of Saskatchewan and Dr. Bruce Gossen of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Project funding is from Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund, the Western Grains Research Foundation, and nozzle companies Hypro, TeeJet Technologies, Greenleaf Technologies, and Wilger Industries. As well, some new funding will be coming from the crop protection industry. As a first step, the researchers conducted lab experiments in the fall of 2014 to determine where the spray goes in the crop canopy under various treatments. Then starting in 2015, they will evaluate the most promising treatments from the lab study in on-farm research trials. “Determining where the spray goes is one of the big challenges in the spraying world. It’s very difficult to quantify the amount of spray that ends up in different parts of the canopy, and yet in the plant disease world, that is a very important aspect,” says Wolf. “For example, to control Fusarium head blight (FHB), a prominent cereal disease that is all over Eastern Canada and moving into most parts of Western Canada, the spray needs to land on the wheat head. So we need to know how much of the spray we are actually getting on the wheat head. For a disease like sclerotinia in canola, usually the spray has to hit the flower petal or the flower bud prior to opening. And for diseases like tan spot or septoria in wheat, we need to spray the flag leaf and perhaps the penultimate leaf, so we need to make sure most of the spray goes at least halfway down into the canopy.” For the lab study, the researchers created two crop canopies. One was composed of mature wheat plants with emerged heads, the crop stage for spraying FHB. The other was a simulated broadleaf canopy made of silk plants that were configured to provide a quantifiable canopy density and a generic look. For each spray treatment, the researchers placed plastic drinking straws as spray targets at different heights and orientations throughout the canopy. Then the sprayer moved through the canopy and applied a fluorescent dye mixed with water. After each spray pass, the researchers removed the straws, washed them and accurately measured the amount of dye on each straw using fluorimetry. The sprayer passes were designed to compare a wide range of factors including different travel speeds, boom heights, spray pressures, droplet sizes, nozzle types and nozzle brands. So the researchers were able to determine what proportion of the total spray applied to the canopy landed on the different places within the canopy, for each application method. Preliminary findingsWolf is now analyzing the data from the lab study. Based on his initial look at the data, he makes several observations. “The first observation is something we’ve known from other studies, which is that it is very difficult to get much of the spray beyond the top third of the canopy [no matter which application practices are used]. “In the wheat canopy, about 65 per cent of the spray that we applied was intercepted by the wheat head, which is a pretty high percentage. But at the bottom of the canopy, only about 25 per cent of the spray was intercepted. “In the broadleaf canopy, the picture was bleaker. Typically about 50 per cent was intercepted near the top of the canopy and only about 20 per cent near the bottom.” Wolf’s second observation is that the answer to the question “Which application practices are most effective?” really depends on where in the canopy the spray needs to go. “The first and absolutely the most important question to be answered by the applicator is: ‘Where does the spray have to end up?’ The applicator has to know that to make the correct application decision,” he says. For example, the lab study showed that if the wheat head is the spray target, then the best option is to use an angled spray, a boom height that is relatively close to the wheat head and a relatively fast travel speed. If the target is deeper into the canopy, then the best option is to travel a little slower, spray vertically and keep the boom low. Determining the best application methods for the broadleaf canopy is a bigger challenge for the researchers. “It was very difficult to find one application method that was much better than another one. For spraying the top of the canopy, all the treatments were pretty similar. And we always found very little at the bottom of the canopy, no matter how we sprayed it,” notes Wolf. “So we’re not comfortable yet saying what growers ought to be doing when spraying broadleaf canopies. The general recommendations about travelling a little slower, using a higher water volume and keeping the boom as low to the canopy as possible are probably true, but the overall benefits of doing it that way over doing it a different way were not as big as we expected.” Next stepsThe researchers will be releasing their final results from the lab study in the coming months. They will also be working with some chemical companies, manufacturers, dealers and agronomists to find crop growers who are willing to collaborate in on-farm research trials. They are looking for Saskatchewan field sites because all three researchers are based in that province. “We want to work with producers who have sprayers and fields that need to be sprayed,” notes Wolf. “It’s a real opportunity for us to speak directly with the applicator and get a very good sense of how they do things. And it could be an opportunity for the applicator to learn, too. For instance, they might already have two or three different nozzles for their sprayer and may not be sure which would be best to use in a specific situation, so we could approach their field trial from that angle. Farmers love to learn, so if we can help them do that learning, usually they can meet us half way.” The researchers will probably do just two treatments at a site because each site will have to include space for the treatments to be replicated to ensure statistically valid results. So, for instance, they might compare two different nozzles on one farm, and two different travel speeds on another farm.Kutcher and Gossen will assess the level of crop disease in the different treatments. And crop yield data will be collected for the treatments. Then the researchers will analyze the data to determine which application methods are the most effective for controlling disease under real-life conditions. Some principles and tipsUnderstanding the principles of spray management can help with decision-making on fungicide applications. Although it’s too early to formalize such principles for spraying broadleaf canopies, Wolf outlines some principles for spraying grass canopies. He identifies four principles to use when applicators are aiming for exposed vertical targets, like wheat heads. “The first principle is to use an angled spray to hit the vertical target from the side. If you have a vertical droplet direction, one that just goes straight down to the ground, it is unlikely to hit a wheat head that is also vertical.” The second principle is to use slightly larger spray droplets. “That angled spray needs to make it all the way from the nozzle to the wheat head, without losing momentum from air resistance and so on, and eventually falling vertically with gravity. So you want to make the droplets bigger to ensure they retain their initial angled direction for as long as possible.” The third principle is to keep the boom as close to the canopy as the nozzle allows. “There are minimum boom heights that make sure you have good spray patterns, but you want to be as close to those minimum heights as possible. That minimizes the amount of time that a droplet has to travel, so the droplet will likely still be moving at its initial angle [when it gets to the target].” And the fourth principle is to enhance the horizontal momentum of the spray. “Typically it’s better to have the nozzle pointed forward and not backward. Also, faster travel speeds for the sprayer are usually better in this particular case. Those two practices combined impart greater horizontal velocity to the droplet.” In contrast, when applicators are aiming for the leaves in the middle of the canopy, the spray droplets should fall directly downward. So, almost the opposite application methods are needed – the applicator should use a vertically oriented spray and travel a little slower, while keeping the boom height as close as possible to the minimum. Wolf understands why growers are often reluctant to follow advice to go slower and use lower boom heights, so he offers some tips to help make these recommendations more practical. “At the research end, we are responding to some very powerful market trends. Those trends are that sprayers are bigger and sprayers travel faster, and because of those two factors, sprayer boom heights are generally a little higher than we would like. Farmers are buying these sprayers because they need to do more acres per hour so they can spray everything on time, which is a very important priority. So when we say, ‘To get maximum benefit from this spray, you should slow down, lower your boom and add more water,’ it contradicts some of the productivity gains they are trying to achieve,” he explains. “Therefore, I think we have to find other ways of achieving efficiencies in the spraying world. One approach is to reduce your downtime, so you can maximize the amount of time you spend actually spraying, which allows you time to do a slightly better job while spraying.” According to Wolf, examples of ways to reduce downtime include things like using a larger spray tank and/or a higher capacity transfer pump with larger diameter plumbing to allow faster tank filling. Table 1 compares several ways to increase the number of acres sprayed per hour. “Another time-consuming activity is tank cleanout and waste disposal, which can take as much time as it takes to spray an entire field. By investing in more efficient cleaning equipment like a clean water saddle tank, a wash-down nozzle or boom-end rinse valves…an applicator can win some time back.”
The decision on whether to spray or not can be a difficult one for producers, says an Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) specialist, and the wrong decision can have serious financial consequences. "Today's farm business managers wear many different hats, and mycology and entomology may not be their area of expertise," says Nevin Rosaasen, research economist, ARD, Edmonton. "The decision to spray a fungicide or insecticide can be complex, and last minute choices at spraying time stand a good chance of missing the mark." Determining the economic threshold when it pays to spray is not as cut and dried as a simple insect count, a specified severity of infection rate or basing the decision solely on the weather forecast, said Rosaasen. While all of these variables are important in making the most informed decision, he says the decision should ultimately be made based on profitability, and the best way to determine that is by using a partial budget. "First, determine your farm specific economic cost of spraying the pest that you are trying to control. Determining your costs is the left hand side of the ledger of a partial budget and should include not only the cost of the pesticide, but all variable costs including fuel, time, labour of both the sprayer operator and water hauler. Fixed costs include depreciation on the sprayer, chemical handler, water truck, tanks, etc. Divide these by all the acres that you spray over the estimated lifetime of these assets to give you a rough fixed cost per acre. Knowing what it costs you to spray is essential before evaluating the potential benefit, loading up the sprayer and hitting the field." On the direct benefit side of the partial budget, evaluate how the decision to spray may affect yield. "Factors to consider include the expected yield savings and price of the crop you are protecting (use realistic yield estimates and conservative estimates for price). You may also want to net off the crop lost from compaction and tramping - roughly two per cent crop loss on 100 foot booms. The net of these gives insight into the 'direct' profitability of spraying pests. If it is negative, here is where you stop. If you have defined a threshold, you would know where you would start." However, Rosaasen said that even when the numbers are right, there are other considerations. "Understanding that your field is a complex ecosystem, that, when shocked with a fungicide or insecticide, may have unintended consequences on beneficial insects or fungi and subsequent infestation levels, is key. When infestation rates and benefits of spraying outweigh the costs, producers need to act to protect their profitability. However, when you find that deciding to spray or not to spray is based on costs and benefits being nearly even, letting nature run its course may have longer-term net benefits for your integrated pest management and ultimately, your longer-term profitability."    
If you leave your pivot exposed all through the winter, you’re going to be working on it a lot longer in the spring,” says Jeff Ewen, an irrigation agrologist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture in Outlook, Sask. To help producers prevent damage from winter’s storms and bone-chilling temperatures, Ewen offers a number of winterizing tips.
Apr. 21, 2016 - Deciding on the correct water application solution is vital to your center pivot's performance. Here are three questions you need to ask yourself before picking out a sprinkler package with your dealer. 1. What is your soil type and texture? Proper sprinkler design and selection helps reduce soil sealing with medium to heavy soils.2. What crops are you growing? A significant challenge with sprinkler head design is its ability to penetrate the crop canopy.3. What does your field's terrain look like? The slope of your field must be considered when choosing sprinklers to minimize runoff and ​to keep water where it does your crop the most good. By using your answers to these questions, you will be prepared to work with your dealership's water application experts to help determine how best to reduce energy cost, save water on your farm, and maximize your profitability. For more information on sprinkler packages and water application solutions, get your free eBook 8 Tips to Accurately Check Your Center Pivot Sprinklers.    
  Every 15 minutes, 685 kilometres out in space, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite known as SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) records the earth’s soil moisture and temperature. NASA then uses that data to produce the most accurate maps of global soil moisture, temperature and freeze-thaw states ever created with data from space. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Environment Canada and university scientists are assisting NASA in validating SMAP soil maps. AAFC is also producing higher resolution soil moisture maps from the Canadian RADARSAT-2 satellite. The maps from SMAP and RADARSAT-2 are valuable tools that help improve people’s understanding of the processes affecting weather and climate. This, in turn, can help agricultural production. “Soil moisture is an important variable in the development of extreme events,” says Heather McNairn, the AAFC team lead and a research scientist for geomatics and remote sensing in Ottawa. “If we don’t have enough water in the soil, drought can develop; if we have extended periods of wet soils, it puts us at risk of flooding.” This is where the information from SMAP and RADARSAT-2 comes in. It reveals how much moisture is in the soil so scientists – and producers – can understand the risks for drought or flooding. “Knowing how much water is available in the soil can help us understand drought risk, where drought might be developing and how severe the drought might be,” McNairn says. “If we can measure how much water is in the soil, we can determine if the soils have enough reserve space to absorb spring snow melt and rainfall. If the soils are saturated, they are unable to accommodate additional water and this tells us the risk of flooding is high.” From an agricultural perspective, monitoring soil moisture will enable the sector to better mitigate agricultural risks regionally and nationally. It will also help Canadian producers make informed decisions for their farm operations based on changing weather, water and climate conditions. For example, producers could use the data to determine their variable rate irrigation needs. Environment Canada will use data from SMAP for improved weather forecasting since the amount of water in the soil significantly affects temperature and rainfall forecasts. “We don’t currently have good data on soil moisture across Canada,” McNairn says. The data will also help researchers outside of Canada, such as in Chile where agronomists are looking at variable rate irrigation. “Producers don’t know how to variably apply water because they don’t know where the moisture is in their fields,” McNairn says. She is assisting researchers in Chile to integrate soil moisture maps from SMAP and RADARSAT-2 into their variable rate irrigation practices. While NASA launched SMAP in January 2015, AAFC began working with the space agency three years earlier. That’s when an AAFC team from Ottawa and Winnipeg took part in SMAPVEX12, a six-week field-testing campaign that involved government and university scientists collecting soil and plant measurements in southern Manitoba while NASA flew two aircraft equipped with the same sensors as the SMAP satellite. The measurements from that mission were then used to calibrate and validate the processing models NASA was planning to use with SMAP. During the SMAP mission, which is expected to run at least three years, AAFC will provide NASA with data from its network of 12 soil monitoring stations in Manitoba and five in Ontario, all installed at private farm sites. The SMAP team will use this data to assess the accuracy of SMAP’s soil moisture products. The 2012 SMAPVEX experiment used data from NASA aircraft to simulate what soil moisture maps from SMAP would look like. Now that SMAP is launched, NASA is returning to Manitoba this year for a second experiment. SMAPVEX16 will validate actual data from the satellite, and NASA will use what is learned during SMAPVEX16 to improve its models and SMAP’s global soil moisture maps. Canada also collects data from its own satellite, RADARSAT-2, to produce soil moisture maps at resolutions higher than those produced by SMAP. These methods will be carried forward and used with Canada’s next generation of satellites, the RADARSAT-Constella­tion scheduled to launch in 2018. With this Constellation, data for use in soil moisture mapping would be available from three satellites. “SMAP and RADARSAT-2 can work together to provide a range of soil moisture products,” McNairn says. The SMAP sensor provides very coarse resolution images covering approximately 1,000 kilometres, which are very good for large scale forecasting of weather and floods, but not detailed enough for field scale mapping. This is where higher resolution data from RADARSAT-2 can help. Scientists are validating the maps from SMAP and also tackling how to downscale SMAP data to improve the resolution of soil moisture maps from this NASA satellite. Downscaled SMAP soil moisture products would provide producers with better data for use in variable rate irrigation and determining the disease risk at the field level. For example, “the risk of some crop diseases increases if the soil is wet for many days,” she explains. “The temporal persistence of wetness tells about risks and if we can determine this risk, this information will help producers make decisions in managing this risk.” For now, it’s exciting that NASA is providing soil moisture maps for the whole world every three days, McNairn says. “We couldn’t do that without satellites.”  
Mar. 21, 2016 - Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) undertakes a number of research projects to ensure the quality and safety of land, air, and water for our food producers. Although long-term monitoring shows the overall quality of Alberta's irrigation water is good or excellent, a study is currently underway to use DNA fingerprinting techniques to determine the sources of contamination of irrigation water. While there are no current concerns, this is an opportunity to improve water quality for the future. The Water Quality Section of AF is currently working with the Taber Irrigation District on a pilot study to understand the sources of E. coli in irrigation water. The study is funded by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The District has made water quality a key part of their mandate to ensure farmers are growing the best quality crops. Often, irrigators are required to have water quality tests completed to market their produce, and with recent changes in regulations in the United States (US), this need may increase. In the US, the Food Safety Modernization Act requires testing of water that is used to irrigate fruits and vegetables which are consumed raw. These regulations may affect Alberta producers with irrigated crops destined for export to the US. This study will assist in identifying opportunities to continue to improve water quality, and help producers meet their food safety requirements for the global marketplace. The key item being measured in the study is E. coli. Generic E. coli are present in the intestines of most people and animals, and are excreted in feces. E. coli are therefore used to measure fecal contamination in water. The testing is complicated, as there are "naturalized" E. coli that occur in the environment and are not indicative of fecal contamination. "Research gives us a better understanding on the amount of fecal and naturalized E. coli in irrigation water. The discovery of naturalized E. coli is very important because food safety is concerned about fecal contamination. If we find E. coli in water, we need to determine whether it is fecal or naturalized, which then determines if there is a food safety concern or not," says Andrea Kalischuk, director of water quality, AF. "Our study in the Milk River area showed cliff swallows and cattle contaminated some of the water, but a significant proportion of naturalized E. coli was also observed" says Kalischuk. Whatever the study identifies as a source of contamination, the research team and irrigation district will need to work with producers to seek a balanced solution that supports both the agriculture industry and wildlife habitat, while meeting food safety requirements. This is the final year of a three-year study, and a summary report will be shared with producers on AF's website in the fall of 2017.  
Mar. 15, 2016 - Grasslands in North America could well be more productive in future climate scenarios, a new research study shows. Researchers from the United States and Canada, including University of Lethbridge biologist Dr. Larry Flanagan, used a new modelling method to predict how native grasslands could respond to climate change and their results are pointing to increased productivity, even under slightly drier environmental conditions. "Overall, our projections indicate significant gains in grassland cover by 2100 across major areas of western North America that are dominated by grasslands at present," says Flanagan. "This was particularly true in the northern grassland regions that are often limited by cool temperatures in the early growing season. Warmer temperatures can cause an earlier start to the growing season, by as much as a few weeks." Grassland growth occurs quickly and depends on precipitation and soil water content. To predict daily changes in grassland cover, the researchers developed a model that calculated plant growth and the soil water budget, and calibrated it using measurements made at a range of field sites. Once the model was successfully tested, it was run under a new set of environmental conditions that consisted of climate projections for the next century. These projections were provided by Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), a five-year climate change modelling research strategy that is co-ordinated by the World Climate Research Program. "Our analysis indicates a likely future shift of vegetation growth towards both earlier spring emergence and delayed autumn senescence, which would compensate for drought-induced reductions in summer growth and productivity associated with climate change," says Flanagan. The model doesn't include the effects of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on photosynthesis and water use efficiency, factors that could magnify the positive impact of climate change on the grasslands. Grasslands cover more than 30 per cent of the world's land surface and are fundamental to the meat and dairy industries. This projected increase in productivity of grasslands has implications for agriculture, carbon cycling and vegetation feedbacks into the atmosphere. "The stimulation of grassland plant growth by warmer temperatures is strongly dependent on adequate soil moisture being present in new climate change scenarios. The positive trends in native grassland cover we currently predict for the next 100 years could be stalled by lack of moisture or other environmental limitations. So climate change could also have significant additional demands on irrigation and nutrient management that influence agricultural productivity in the next century," cautions Flanagan. The research study by Flanagan and his colleagues can be found on the Nature Climate Change website under the 'Latest research' tab.
Mar. 8, 2016 - With flooding across the province in recent years, there is a lot of discussion at provincial, municipal and federal levels on how to manage the flow of water to minimize the destruction of land and infrastructure during high water events. As a landowner, there's a role you can play in this plan as well, especially with the help of the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation (MHHC). The Corporation is in the middle of a significant wetland restoration project and they are looking for landowners to help them meet the project objectives. There are a number of advantages to restoring wetlands, but the main benefit that landowners are often most interested in is the actual retention of water. Deloraine landowner, Gord Weidenhamer, recently added a 10-year wetland restoration agreement to enhance a wetland already under an existing conservation agreement with MHHC. "Nature took a lifetime to create it and to try to get it back takes a lot of steps and a lot of work. These conservation projects help to restore the natural lands and I think people should take advantage of them and really look at the big picture. The land was drained by previous owners, but it didn't provide any benefit as far as the grazing goes, the wetlands were still there especially during high water years," said Weidenhamer. The 32 acre wetland restoration on Gord Weidenhamer's and Glen Scott's properties is just one example of the many projects, big and small, that have been funded through MHHC with support from Environment and Climate Change Canada and its Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund. Research and land surveys are always completed in cooperation with the landowners to determine what the water level should be at and to provide direction on the best means of restoring the natural landscape. Since Weidenhamer's land is in the headwaters, he's hoping the reclamation of this wetland will help to alleviate some problems downstream. "If every municipality could look at these programs and utilize them, I think there would be real benefits to storing some water and slowing down water that's heading downstream," said Weidenhamer. The Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation is a non-profit, Crown corporation with a mandate to conserve, restore and enhance fish and wildlife habitat in Manitoba through conservation initiatives that promote healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. If you're interested in participating in the Wetland Restoration project, contact Tom Moran (204-305-0276) or Scott Beaton (204-471-9663).  
Nov. 8, 2015 - Cases of grain entrapment deaths have been growing in recent years. New equipment in Prince Albert, Sask. will help firefighters aid anyone who becomes trapped under flowing piles of grain, whether in bins, silos or the back of trucks. READ MORE.  
Three grain storage bins used for natural air drying study at the IHARF research farm at Indian Head, Sask. A diesel generator, used to power the fans, is in the foreground. Photo by Ron Palmer, IHARF. An option for natural air drying other than continuous fan operation is being put forward by Ron Palmer, an electrical systems engineer with the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation (IHARF), a 1200-acre, non-profit producer-directed applied research organization in Saskatchewan. It isn’t fancy, but it is simple and cheap, as Palmer describes it. And if you’re skeptical, it won’t be difficult to test. The IHARF study of natural air drying began in 2007, and is being funded through the 2017 growing season by the Western Grains Research Foundation. Other sponsors include Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Great West Controls, and Advancing Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Saskatchewan. According to Palmer, the purpose of the study is to develop a fan control strategy for natural, unheated air that results in safe storage of grain, requires less fan running time and dries grain quickly for early sales. “Safety” of the storage reflects the number of days grain can stay in storage before the germination rate (quality) falls to 95 per cent of whatever rate it had when it went into storage. The faster it reaches a stable cool and dry condition, the better the quality will be and the longer it can be stored safely. To the end of 2014, Palmer worked with spring wheat, barley and field peas in typical farm-size bins with 33 trial runs. Two 2250-bushel bins and four 3500-bushel bins were paired for the trials – each filled at the same time with the same lot of grain. The typical continuous operation strategy was compared to experimental options, with 3-hp and 5-hp fans. All bin runs from 2007 to 2013 with continuous fan operation were examined to determine the average rate of drying on an hourly basis. It was observed that there was consistently a significant amount of drying occurring in the first 24 hours of all continuous runs. “Thus, we suggest that it is important to have the fan on immediately as the grain comes in from the field,” Palmer says. After the first 24-hours, his analysis of the drying curves became very interesting. “There was a daily cycle of drying and wetting appearing to repeat every 24 hours… in general, drying occurred at night and occasionally during cool days,” he notes. Palmer’s research showed a direct relationship between grain temperature and air temperature. Drying was occurring whenever the grain temperature was decreasing. Drying was not occurring when the grain temperature was rising. In fact, grain in storage was being re-wetted by warmer outside air – moisture from the warm air was condensing on the cooler grain, and was being gradually absorbed into the grain. “There are some producers who are intuitively following a control practice of only running the fans on hot days,” Palmer notes. “This does result in drying the grain, but it also keeps the grain hot which in turn reduces the number of safe days of storage, which could lead to mould development and spoilage. “The common practice of running the fans continuously ‘works,’ but it needlessly cycles the grain through hot wet conditions which increases grain moisture and encourages spoilage,” he adds. “There are many days that the fan is running and is actually damaging the grain, by warming it up and adding moisture to the grain.” The better option, he continues, is “cool fan operation.” Ideally, operate fans only at night when the air is cooler than the grain – resulting in much less fan time and cooler, safer grain. Palmer found out that the first day was extremely critical. After that, continuous fan operation was a waste of fan operation and energy, and a waste of money. “We would remove one per cent of the grain moisture content within that first 24 hours. After that, we fell into the cycle of drying at night and wetting in daytime. Leaving the air on continuously took out more water than we put in, eventually, but we could run the thing for a whole week without getting anywhere. It was just cycling back and forth, water in, water out. We were spinning our wheels, doing nothing.” Thus, continuous natural air drying (airflow 1-2 cfm/bu) of the grain resulted in bins of warmer grain with higher moisture. On the basis of this new information, Palmer suggests, the better focus for grain in storage is to “drive the temperature down” as far as you can. His two-stage advice for best control of natural air drying is: 1. Turn on the fan immediately when filling a bin with warm grain; and 2. Leave fan on until 9 a.m. next day. After that, get the grain as cold as possible by leaving the fan on when the outside temperature is less than grain temperature. Palmer notes that one can adjust the drying time and the fan time by including an offset of one or two degrees to alter the threshold temperature. An offset of only one degree may lower the duty cycle of the fan by about five per cent, he says. The grain will be cooler and safer, but the drying time will increase. Work is being done to determine how the offset affects this balance. A sophisticated controller could include this offset. Source: Ron Palmer, IHARF. Safe daysAs Palmer studied research data from instruments on the IHARF bins over several years, he realized that maintaining the grain quality was as important as getting it dry economically. “Really, we want the grain safe. We don’t want any spoilage. Grain starts to spoil the minute it comes off your combine,” he says. “The question is, how can I store that grain with the least amount of spoilage to keep the quality as high as possible?” That led him to studies from the 1980s that led to a spoilage formula. The Fraser and Muir formula determines the safe storage time for cereal grains based on grain moisture and storage temperature. Safe storage life is 38 days at 30 degrees and 14.5 per cent moisture; at the same moisture and 20 degrees, it has 128 safe days; at zero or colder, the safe days are almost unlimited. “Two things go into secure, safe storage. We’ve been ignoring one of them. The one is dry. The other is cool or cold,” Palmer says. “How your grain is stored determines the number of safe days. If you want to keep your grain safe, keep it dry and cool.” Going back to his data from hundreds of cycles as grain in storage warmed and cooled, Palmer saw that for every 10 to 15 degrees that the grain is cooled, about one per cent moisture was removed - simply because cold air holds less moisture than warm air. “Cooling your grain is drying your grain. The two are one. You can actually build a controller now that would only be drying your grain if the outside temperature was less than your grain temperature. If it’s warmer outside, turn off the fan. If it’s less (than the grain temperature), turn on the fan. I’ve built the controllers and they work,” he says. A company in Regina has started developing a controller for this purpose, to be controlled from a smartphone. It will monitor the temperature of grain in storage and outside air. At a threshold the farmer can set, it will activate or turn off the fans. “We’re going to try that product this fall,” Palmer says. “We’re going to play with that offset, to see how it influences the on/off time.”   More to doThere’s more to do, Palmer admits. For instance, there’s discussion about what happens inside the bulk of grain in a bin. To this point, he’s treated it as a “black box” where those dynamics are ignored. He’s been measuring amounts of moisture going into the bin and amounts coming out. “We’re actually loading these bins this year with sensors for moisture and relative humidity to find out what is really going on, and how the drying is taking place, inside the bin. With the temperature and relative humidity I will be able to calculate the moisture content of the grain, at points throughout the bin. That will be interesting to see with real data, not assumptions. Predictions and assumptions could be wrong if you miss something.” There’s an “art” to drying grain, Palmer adds. “We’re looking at the possibility of using smaller fans, producing less than one cfm/bushel. They may take a longer time to dry but you’ll get more consistent, more uniform drying from top to bottom – maybe,” he says. In the remaining project years, he also may try reversing fans, using bins larger than 10,000 bushels, results with natural air drying for oilseeds and tests to clarify the “drying front” concept as moisture changes while grain is in storage. Finally, good science will produce consistent results. He’s hopeful that other work will confirm his findings or reveal issues that he has missed.  
Sept. 1, 2015, Winnipeg, MB - As harvest has begun for Canadian grain producers, the Canadian Grain Commission reminds producers that insects could be present in any grain stored over the summer, or in areas around storage bins. These insects could move easily between bins and infest your new harvest.To protect the quality of grain currently in storage, the Canadian Grain Commission recommends you: Sample the grain from the core at a depth of 30 to 50 cm (12 to 18 inches) from the surface. Insects are likely to be found in pockets of warm or moist grain. Sieve the samples or examine small portions carefully. Typically, stored product insects are very small beetles (less than 3 mm or 1/8 inch) that may not be moving. A magnifying glass can be helpful. For best results, your grain's temperature should be less than 15°C. As well, you should keep your grain at the appropriate moisture content, depending on its type (for example, wheat should be at or lower than14.5% moisture content). Summer surveys have shown that the lesser grain borer (Rhyzopertha dominica) has been found across Canada, particularly in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The lesser grain borer is one of Canada's most damaging pests found in stored grain. The Canadian Grain Commission has insect identification keys on our website that can help you. If you cannot identify an insect using these keys, call our Infestation Control and Sanitation Officer. Insects in your grain could be grain feeders, fungal feeders, or predators of these insects. By accurately identifying insects, you can determine the appropriate control method. The Canadian Grain Commission's website has advice on controlling grain feeding insects. You can also contact our Infestation Control and Sanitation Officer for further assistance. Make sure storage areas are clean and free from grain residues that can harbour or attract insects. If required, treat your empty storage bins with a registered contact insecticide such as malathion, pyrethrin or a diatomaceous earth-based product. Make sure you treat floor-wall joints, aeration plenums or floors and access points thoroughly. Note: Do not use malathion in bins intended for canola storage. Associated linksControlling insect pest infestationsInsect identification keysLesser grain borerManage stored grain: Maintain quality and manage insect infestationsMoisture determination for Canadian grainsTough and damp ranges for Canadian grains  
July 21, 2015 - The new SW750 air cart from Horsch LLC offers unmatched efficiency and versatility with its three-bin design and 750-bushel capacity. The SW750 comes standard with dual 710/70R38 tires, but can also be equipped with 36-inch tracks for higher flotation, decreased compaction and a lower horsepower requirement when compared with competing air carts. Customers also have the choice of a standard 10-inch auger or an optional 16-inch conveyor for faster, gentler loading of commodities. Other options on the SW750 include a 60-bushel small grain/inoculant tank, as well as scales with live weight readout for the three individual tanks. The air cart is compatible with ISOBUS or Raven Electronics. It does not require any additional monitors or cabling in the tractor, helping to simplify setup and operation.  
Jan. 20, 2015 - The new Operation Harvest Sweep system from Leading Edge Industries replaces the existing deck plates and gathering chains in corn headers with components engineered to combat shatter loss. In a news release, the company states that according to field tests, Operation Harvest Sweep has been shown to reduce shatter loss by 80 to 85 per cent, helping farmers make more money at harvest, while achieving full return on investment in as quickly as one year. Operation Harvest Sweep kits are available for most popular makes and models of corn headers. Each kit contains deck plates, gathering chains, impact pads and hardware for one row unit. Unlike OEM deck plates, the ones included in Operation Harvest Sweep are lipped to retain shattered kernels, rather than letting them fall to the ground. Additionally, the new gathering chains are equipped with sweeps to bring the shattered kernels from the deck plates to the auger. The gathering chains also come with impact pads for gentler corn handling and reduced shattering. In addition to more bushels harvested, end users may also experience less volunteer corn appearing in their corn/soybean rotations, since fewer kernels fall to the ground with Operation Harvest Sweep. As a result of less volunteer corn, fewer nutrients and water are stolen from soybeans. To learn more about the product, check header compatibility, purchase kits, or view a side-by-side comparison of Operation Harvest Sweep versus stock header components, visit www.harvestsweep.com.    
An emerging technology called radio-frequency (RF) heating has the potential to be a rapid, non-toxic, efficient and safe method to disinfest various food and agricultural products. The technology is starting to have some commercial applications for treating products like nuts and spices. Now, Saskatchewan researchers are developing RF heating to control insects in stored grains on the Prairies. Dr. Oon-Doo Baik, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, is leading this research. “Radio-frequency is a kind of electromagnetic wave, like a microwave. RF heating works similarly to microwave heating, but RF heating has a greater penetration depth,” he explains. “Radio-frequency heating is very effective, energy-efficient and fast heating, and provides uniform heating. It can also be used for selective heating or targeted heating, which allows killing of insects in grain without damaging the grain quality.” Insects have very different electrical properties than grains, so at certain RF frequencies the insects heat up much faster than the grain. As a result, the insects can be killed while the grain remains at a moderate temperature. “There are clear advantages to using RF technology compared to other conventional methods to control insect pests in grain,” says Baik. “Conventional methods include using chemicals or non-chemical methods such as [conventional] heating, which is not efficient and takes a large amount of energy. Chemicals can be toxic, and they are specific to certain insect species and certain stages in the insect’s life cycle. “In contrast, radio-frequency heating is non-toxic, it efficiently kills all stages of the insect’s life cycle – the egg, larva, pupa and adult – and it works for all different kinds of insect pests. It’s cheaper in the long run and it’s safe.” Baik and his research team, Dr. Bijay Shrestha and Daeung Yu, recently completed a study to use RF heating to control rusty grain beetles in bulk spring wheat samples at a lab scale. Rusty grain beetle is one of the most common stored-grain insects. The researchers tested the technology with wheat at three moisture contents (12, 15 and 18 per cent) and at temperatures between 15 and 75 C. They examined the effects of RF heating on the wheat and the insect. “By heating the bulk wheat sample to about 60 C for three minutes with our 1.5 kW lab-scale RF unit, we were able to get 100 per cent mortality of the rusty grain beetle [at all life stages],” says Baik. “Also, we observed no significant quality degradation in terms of wheat germination and wheat flour properties.” Following up on these promising results, Baik is now leading a new project to develop a prototype RF heating system as the next step towards the practical use of RF technology in Prairie agriculture. Funding for this project is from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s Agriculture Development Fund and the Western Grains Research Foundation. Developing a prototypeBaik and his research team will be developing the prototype RF technology for use with a variety of grain storage and handling systems commonly found on the Prairies. “This technology is very flexible and can be used for all different types of applications – grain elevators, grain storage bins, any type of grain storage system – because the main body of the RF heating system can be separate from the applicator,” he explains. Coaxial cables can be used to connect the RF generator to the RF applicator, with the generator up to about 30 feet away. “The applicator is basically composed of two electrodes. We can install the two electrodes in an inlet or outlet of a grain storage system, so the grain can be treated with RF heating as it flows past the applicator.” The electrodes can range in size from about 20 cm to 1 m long and can have various shapes like a plate or a tube, depending on the characteristics of the specific grain handling system and the needs of the people who want to disinfest the grain. In an exciting advance, the researchers will be using a sophisticated 3D computer simulation system to design and make the applicators. “Using a computer simulation, we will test the RF system with different shapes of applicators, different configurations and sizes of electrodes, and different grain handling systems, like augers, conveyor belts and bin-to-bin and bin-to-chute transportation systems. The simulation calculates the electromagnetic field generation and then the volumetric heat generation, heat transfer, mass transfer, momentum transfer (fluid flow), et cetera,” says Baik. “So multiple physical effects can be calculated and simulated, and then that can be used for in-house fabrication and implementation of the technology. So this is a powerful tool for theoretical understanding and for scientifically solid virtual protoyping. Based on this, we will fabricate applicators and then test them with a real system as well.” The researchers will be testing the prototype technology on rusty grain beetles in spring wheat and on red flour beetles, another common stored-grain pest, in canola. The RF treatments will be done for all life stages of the two insects, and for a range of moisture contents and temperatures for the wheat and canola. Before and after each RF treatment, the researchers will measure germination of the wheat and canola, as well as the wheat’s flour properties and the canola’s oil properties. And they will determine the insect mortality rates. This new project involves somewhat different RF technology (50 ohm technology) than the researchers used in their earlier project (self-oscillator technology). As well, they will be using a more accurate way to measure the selective heating rate of the insects. With this greater accuracy, Baik suspects they may be able to achieve 100 per cent insect mortality with even less energy input and shorter process time than they used in their initial study due to more rapid selective heating at higher RF power. Towards practical useAccording to Baik, there are a couple of issues that could be hurdles in the adoption of RF heating to disinfest stored grain. “The first one could be an advantage, or disadvantage, depending on your point of view. Based on our preliminary research, we need to heat the grain moderately up to about 60 C for about three minutes or less to kill the insects, so there might be some drying of the grain when you use RF heating. However, many farmers want to dry their grain for storage, so it could be an advantage,” he notes. “The second issue is the initial capital cost of the RF technology. At present a moderate scale RF generator costs about $20,000 to $50,000. However the capital cost per kW of power output is dropping significantly. I am expecting the fall in cost will be like the case of the microwave; initially microwave technology was expensive, but now we buy it very cheaply. Also, the capital cost will be paid back over time because [RF operating costs] are cheaper than the conventional methods.” To assess the relative costs, the researchers calculated the operating costs for RF heating compared to chemical treatment for the example of wheat stored in a medium-sized bin with a diameter of about 27 feet, a height around 19 feet, and a capacity of about 8,750 bushels. “The cost to treat that volume of wheat with RF heating was approximately $25, based on the provincial energy cost of 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour. To treat that same volume of wheat with a pesticide or fumigant, the chemical cost plus the operating costs, based on our preliminary research, ranged from about $250 to something like $2,500. So the chemical treatment cost is much higher than the RF heating,” says Baik. “Of course, there is the initial capital cost to purchase the RF heater, but that cost is falling. And RF heating is safer than using chemicals, it can also dry the grain, if that’s required, and it’s fast and efficient. So I think it’s promising.”  
It may be a while before robots and drones are as common as tractors and combine harvesters on farms, but the high-tech tools may soon play a major role in helping feed the world's rapidly growing population.At the University of Georgia, a team of researchers is developing a robotic system of all-terrain rovers and unmanned aerial drones that can more quickly and accurately gather and analyze data on the physical characteristics of crops, including their growth patterns, stress tolerance and general health. This information is vital for scientists who are working to increase agricultural production in a time of rapid population growth.While scientists can gather data on plant characteristics now, the process is expensive and painstakingly slow, as researchers must manually record data one plant at a time. But the team of robots developed by Li and his collaborators will one day allow researchers to compile data on entire fields of crops throughout the growing season.The project addresses a major bottleneck that's holding up plant genetics research, said Andrew Paterson, a co-principal investigator. Paterson, a world leader in the mapping and sequencing of flowering-plant genomes, is a Regents Professor in UGA's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences."The robots offer us not only the means to more efficiently do what we already do, but also the means to gain information that is presently beyond our reach," he said. "For example, by measuring plant height at weekly intervals instead of just once at the end of the season, we can learn about how different genotypes respond to specific environmental parameters, such as rainfall." | READ MORE
Variable rate (VR) technology has been around long enough that VR fertilizer application is common. But what about VR seeding rates? Like VR fertilizer, VR seeding seeks to smooth out field variability so crop establishment is more uniform.
Drones can provide a bird’s-eye view of a field to collect information and see field variability and patterns that you can’t readily detect from ground level. Photo by FotoliaAs farm acreage grows, it is virtually impossible to know every part of the field and to scout every acre. Remote sensing is simply defined as collecting field information remotely from a remote platform. Satellites, planes, UAVs/drones or equipment mounted platforms can provide a bird’s-eye view of the field to collect information and see field variability and patterns that you can’t readily detect as you walk across a field.
By Jeanette Gaultier, Provincial Weed Specialist May 7, 2016 - Herbicides work best when weeds are small. Period. Exclamation mark. You get the gist... There's perhaps no better example of this than cleavers. Take a quick flip through the Guide to Field Crop Protection and you'll notice that most herbicides with activity on cleavers only guarantee control/suppression of this weed when applied between the 1 to 4 whorl stage. Although this staging is most common, application timing may be limited to as few as 2 whorls or extend up to the 8 whorl stage, depending on the product. There are also herbicides that are somewhat ambiguous as to cleavers staging but research and experience have shown that, when it comes to herbicide application to cleavers, the smaller the better. It makes sense then that a recent question on CropTalk Westman was: 'How do you stage cleavers?' Whorled leaves, one of cleavers most distinctive features, results in a herbicide application staging unique to this weed. Staging cleavers is similar to other weeds with a few simple tweaks: Find the main stem. Identifying the main stem is an important step in staging crops and weeds. But this is often easier said than done with cleavers because of its creeping habit and similar sized branches. If you can't find the main stem, just be sure to pick the stem with the highest number of whorls present. Don't count the cotyledons. Only the true leaves count when staging plants. The cotyledons of cleavers are oval to oblong with a notch at the tip and are easy to distinguish from the true leaves. Each whorl counts. Unlike most other weeds, cleavers have a whorled leaf arrangement, with each whorl having ~4 to 8 leaves (usually 6). In this case, simply count each whorl along the main stem rather than each leaf (see figure & example below).  
Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Imagine the vision Henry Ford had for the automobile industry as he built the factories and components in 1908 that would become the vehicle assembly platform for the 20th century. Early automobiles were indeed “found on road dead” as the punchline of an old joke goes, and farmers would have been a segment of society that wanted to keep their horses. But the assembly line brought together the components and processes to create the future vehicles that people didn’t know they wanted. At the time, few people understood how to build an assembly line for automobiles. Today, few people understand the technical components of precision agriculture. Some people view precision agriculture as driving straighter with bigger or faster equipment, while others envision farms with driverless tractors and swarms of robots tending each plant. Agriculture is undergoing a period of technology convergence, and precision agriculture is the virtual assembly line of new tools and processes to enable more efficient operations and measurable results. Initially there were distinct segments, each providing services to agriculture such as manufacturing (equipment, seed, fertilizer, herbicide/fungicide), crop input retail, record keeping, grain merchants and consulting services. In the early days of tractors, there were hundreds of small manufacturers that consolidated into the dominant brands. The ongoing growth and mergers of companies has resulted in farm service providers that participate in numerous segments to provide a bundle of interrelated services beyond their core businesses. Competition is a wonderful motivator that is currently directing billions of dollars into agriculture, and specifically precision agriculture, to disrupt the status quo. New alliances and partnerships are forming as companies strive to share development costs and secure channel access to reach farmers. Now there are over 100 companies offering precision agriculture services, ranging from tech startups to Fortune 500 companies, all striving to create the virtual assembly line for precision agriculture. The platforms produced from this convergence are the apps, websites and cloud storage facilities that can utilize all the information and data collected by any sensor, device or equipment. Our imagination leaps to futuristic tools of The Jetsons or Star Trek, depending on your generation, but today’s technology is confusing because technology adoption takes time. Progress tends to be a series of challenges that are overcome by a series of small innovations and new ideas. Equipment sensors can collect “as applied” and yield data, and alert the operator to hundreds of possible equipment fault codes. There are about 1100 active satellites orbiting the Earth and the remote sensing satellites gather massive amounts of data that is valuable for agriculture. Improved cellular and Internet services have enabled data to be sent to powerful cloud computer servers with specialized software that are available to rent at a fraction of the cost of buying your own computers. You can now stand in any field on the planet and hold a tremendous amount of site-specific field data in your hands. Your smartphone or tablet may enable your great leap forward, but first you need to learn to navigate the platforms, websites and apps, just like you learned how to drive. I encourage you to try out the numerous websites and apps to see the features and options available. The ultimate precision agriculture platform hasn’t been created yet, as companies are still gathering the parts and building the assembly platforms. More fieldwork is required to determine the correct stacking sequence for the data layers and how many years and layers of data are required. How many in-season images, soil tests or weather stations are required to collect sufficient data is still being debated. New products and services are being developed, but unlike the Model T, precision agriculture can tailor the service levels or products to each specific farm. Prices, features and options will vary just like your vehicle choices today.  Technology convergence has the potential to fill the needs of many stakeholders because the resulting software platform doesn’t cost much to operate and deliver through the Internet. It is difficult to determine what the most popular precision agriculture platform will look like in 2020 and who will own it, but farmers will have the most advanced tools to monitor their operations, their crops and the environment. Farmers will continue to rely on their experiences to make decisions every day and the measurement tools will be better. Imagine if the “Internet of Things” was actually functioning on your farm to catalogue every action performed. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of devices, equipment and buildings that are connected with sensors and switches. Instead of wasting human time to record farm actions like when you seeded, changed rates and crop inputs, identified crop pests and updated field records, yield and moisture by area, the loads hauled and bins managed… what if the data was collected automatically by your tools? That information alone is just a record of what you did. But aggregated over years and compared to thousands of farms, it will display patterns and management choices that are the most valuable. History has examples of countries and societies that forgot how to farm. Perhaps the adoption of reduced tillage practices would not have taken decades if better data was available? Benchmarking the actions and results to validate best practices is an old concept, but aggregated data can make it a powerful tool again as we discuss climate change and environmental stewardship. The assembly line continues to be the most efficient method to produce most of the products in the world today. Imagine what we can produce with precision agriculture once we figure out how to operate its virtual assembly line efficiently.  
Many crop growers know about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, for activities like crop scouting. But UAVs are also a great tool for detecting and tracking airborne spores, bacteria and other microorganisms that cause crop disease. The resulting information can have such practical applications as helping in on-farm disease management decisions, contributing to early warning systems for major diseases, evaluating the effectiveness of disease eradication efforts, and tracking down the sources of disease outbreaks. “The field of aerobiology, which is the study of the flow of life in the atmosphere, has lacked appropriate tools to get after organisms that are flying high in the sky. UAVs have really become an important tool in that arena,” David Schmale, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, says. According to Schmale, the use of UAVs in aerobiology got off the ground through the work of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant pathologist Tim Gottwald back in the 1980s. Schmale notes, “Tim Gottwald stuck a little rotating spore trap underneath the wings of a biplane, along with some little insect nets that he could remotely swing open, and he started buzzing peach and pecan orchards. His work was the pioneering work to get unmanned systems to track the movement of plant pathogens and also insects in the atmosphere. So he is the godfather and the real motivation behind all that we do.” The Schmale Laboratory has been working on the use of UAVs in aerobiology for over a decade, making important strides forward in both the technical aspects of how to conduct this type of research and in discoveries about plant pathogens and their transport tens to hundreds of metres above farm fields, across thousands of kilometres. Depending on their study objectives, they can sample the entire microbial community along the UAV’s sampling path or they can tailor the sampler to selectively collect certain species. They can sample at a single altitude or multiple altitudes to find out where and how the microbes are moving. And they can sample at different times of the day and the year to learn about the timing of pathogen transport and deposition. A key early advance at the lab was their development of a fixed-wing UAV (a UAV that looks like a little airplane) with its own onboard computer system. “Although technologies like autonomous systems are readily available today on most unmanned systems platforms, they were in their infancy about 10 years ago,” Schmale says. “In this case, we had a small autopilot computer about the size of a cell phone that had been integrated into a UAV and allowed the UAV to follow prescribed paths through the atmosphere at really tight altitudes. That was really an important milestone for us in terms of engineering.” And this engineering advance enabled important discoveries about pathogen movement. Some of those discoveries involve Fusarium pathogens. “The genus Fusarium contains some very nasty plant and animal pathogens, and many of them produce mycotoxins. We have a really good selective medium for Fusarium that we can take for a ride on one of our aircraft, and we’ve collected all sorts of different Fusarium species,” Schmale explains. “The first discovery was about a very important plant pathogen of wheat, barley and corn, Fusarium graminearum. We were able to show that isolates we had collected upwards of 40 to 300-odd metres above the surface of the earth were able to cause disease and produce mycotoxins. “And one of the isolates produced a really unique toxin that we hadn’t discovered in any of our ground-based populations in Virginia. So this unique isolate was buzzing through the atmosphere over Virginia, perhaps from somewhere pretty far away, which was really exciting and had important implications for biosecurity efforts.” These findings confirmed the long-distance spread of Fusarium graminearum spores and the potential for this type of transport to contribute to increased disease risk and to changes in Fusarium populations that could affect human health. Surprisingly, the UAV samples from this research include many previously unknown Fusarium species. Schmale says, “One of the more striking aspects of that work is that about half of any given population that we’ve collected appears to represent new or understudied species. So, at least in terms of Fusarium, quite a bit remains to be discovered in the air. Many of these potentially new species could also be important pathogens that just haven’t yet been studied or uncovered in some agricultural system.” A big part of the lab’s current work relates to the use of UAV sampling data to understand atmospheric dynamics and to help predict the regional-scale movement of airborne crop pathogens. One of Schmale’s engineering colleagues at Virginia Tech, Shane Ross, is modelling atmospheric features called Lagrangian coherent structures, or LCSs, which are like waves in the atmosphere. Schmale and Ross came up with the idea of using Fusarium sampling to track what the LCSs are doing as a way to confirm the modelling work. He notes, “We were the first to show that LCSs shuffle along Fusarium populations and modulate their movement over long distances in the atmosphere.” The Schmale Lab is also studying the trajectories of airborne pathogens, seeking to identify their sources and destinations. As part of this, the researchers are doing release-recapture experiments, where they release identifiable spores in a field and find out where those spores land to determine pathogen movement patterns. Monitoring fungicide resistance in QuebecA new Canadian project will soon be using UAV sampling to monitor for fungicide resistance in Botrytis, an onion pathogen, in southern Quebec. “We want to monitor if resistance is building up in the pathogen’s population in the region. We’ll use this information to provide the growers with information about which types of fungicide are no longer efficacious,” Bernard Panneton, who is leading the project, says. He is a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu Research and Development Centre, a horticultural research facility that specializes in field vegetable crops. “In our research centre, there is a huge expertise in using ground-based samplers to monitor diseases in horticultural fields. During the last three years we had a project using ground samplers, placed about one metre above the ground and on towers up to 10 metres high, to monitor how spores from fungal diseases are emitted from a field and dispersed over the area and eventually go higher in the air and move away. We found that even at 10 metres above the ground, we can collect quite large samples if you do the sampling at the right time and in the right way,” he says. To monitor for fungicide resistance, the researchers need information on what is happening at a regional level, so they want samples from higher than 10 metres. “With spore sampling, the higher up you are, the further back you see – the spores come from a longer distance,” Panneton notes. Plus they will need to sample large volumes of air. “When you are at some distance above the ground, above 40 or 50 metres, the density of spores is pretty low. So you have to sample for a long time with an efficient sampler to collect some spores on your sampler.” UAV sampling can meet these needs – a UAV sampler can sample a much larger volume of air than a ground-based sampler, and it can sample the air at specific altitudes high above the ground. Panneton’s research team will be using an octocopter, a little helicopter-like UAV with eight rotors. It has a small onboard computer with GPS, so the researchers can upload its flight path. “This technology is getting fairly cheap, and it is a bit easier to use than a fixed-wing UAV. With the fixed-wing type, you need a place to take off and land. With the octocopter, you don’t need a landing strip. And the electric motors are fairly easy to service.” The project’s first step will be to develop the necessary technologies to conduct the Botrytis sampling. For example, the little octocopter is limited in terms of how much weight it can carry, so the researchers will have to develop a lightweight sensor. They’ll also need to develop a way to plan the UAV’s flight paths to collect samples that will be representative of the region. Panneton says, “We will use a map showing where the onion fields are in the region plus forecasts of meteorological conditions to see where the wind is coming from. From this information, we will have to find a way to design a proper flight path so we increase the probability of collecting spores. We are hoping to detect fungicide resistance when the resistant proportion of the population is fairly low, about 10 per cent of the population. So we will need a fair amount of the spores to do that.” Panneton plans to conduct the sampling in August when spore emission from the onion fields is at a maximum. “We think we can achieve a good sampling program with perhaps two flights at two different dates.” The sky’s the limitLooking ahead, Schmale and Panneton see intriguing possibilities for UAV sampling. Panneton is excited by the ability of UAVs to work at different altitudes and scales. “I think there is a future for a multi-scale approach where first you look at a larger region to get an understanding of the overall pathogen situation. If you see that something is happening and it seems to be coming from a particular area, then you can fly right there and take a point sample to confirm your hypothesis. And this approach can also work for weed [pollen], insect pests and other things we can find in the air.” On-the-go pathogen reporting is another potentially important possibility. The Schmale Laboratory has been experimenting with a portable biosensor to do this. “We were interested in being able to collect and analyze a sample in the atmosphere while the drone was flying and to communicate that analysis down to a ground control station, which is essentially a computer on the ground that is talking with the aircraft while it’s flying,” Schmale notes. Unfortunately, the sensor they’re using costs about $30,000 so it’s not a practical option for most agricultural uses at present. “However, those sensor technologies will continue to decrease in size and hopefully cost,” he says. “For the future, it opens up many exciting applications like being able to do source tracking while you’re in the air, so essentially sniffing out the plume of an agent, and continuing to follow the concentration gradient until you find the source of that agent.” Another potential application of UAV sampling is for on-farm disease monitoring. Schmale says, “Imagine you’re a potato grower with thousands of acres of potatoes and you are really worried about a particular pathogen that might be blowing into your potato fields from somewhere else. UAV sampling can do something that a ground sampler can’t do – it can sample a very, very large volume of air. So you can essentially sniff over your entire farm, collect a very large volume of air and determine whether or not a disease agent is there.” At the Schmale Laboratory, the latest UAV research ventures are heading in a new direction: bioprecipitation. “Some of our recently funded work is focused on a rather narrow group of microorganisms [called microbial ice nucleators]. Some of these microbes reside in clouds, while others live on leaf surfaces and in the soil and become airborne. They express interesting proteins that allow water to freeze at higher temperatures and have been associated with global precipitation events,” Schmale explains. “The idea that a microorganism can be determining whether or not it is going to rain, hail or snow is pretty exciting.” His research on these microbes could eventually lead to improved precipitation predictions, and perhaps even contribute to approaches to weather modification. For instance, some researchers are proposing the idea of planting crops that are hosts to these microbes as a way to increase precipitation in arid areas. “Potentially we could do things on our land surface to change the weather, which is an interesting concept and likely to be very important in the coming decades.”  
Are AgBots the way of the future for agriculture in Canada, or simply the latest in a long line of products marketed as must-haves for Canadian producers?Long used in the dairy industry for autonomous milking and herding, robotics technology is being applied in soil testing, data collection, fertilizer and pesticide application and many other areas of crop production.“Robotics and automation can play a significant role in society meeting 2050 agricultural production needs,” argues the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Robotics and Automation Society on its website.  Farmers have a right to question the value of new technologies promising greater efficiency on the farm. But Paul Rocco, president of Ottawa-based Provectus Robotics Solutions, believes robotics offer a suite of potential new solutions for producers short on resources and averse to risk.“In a perfect world, farmers would have a machine that could perform soil sampling at night, deliver a report in the morning, and be sent out the following night to autonomously spray,” says Rocco. “We’re a ways away from that, but the technology is maturing and the capabilities exist already – it’s about putting it into the hands of farmers and making sure it’s affordable.”Provectus’ latest project involved problem solving for a banana plantation in Martinique, where human ATV operators are at risk of injury from chemical spray or even death due to unsafe driving conditions. The company recently developed a remotely operated ground vehicle that carries spray equipment and can be controlled by operators in a safe location.“We see applications in Canada,” says Rocco. “Why expose people to hazardous substances and conditions when you can have an unmanned system?”Robotics are not all bananas. For example, a Minneapolis-based company, Rowbot Systems, has developed an unmanned, self-driving, multi-use platform that can travel between corn rows – hence, “Rowbots” – to deliver fertilizer, seed cover crops, and collect data.RowBots are not yet commercially available, but CEO Kent Cavender-Bares says there’s already been interest from corn growers across the United States as well as Canada. As to whether the use of robotics is cost-effective for farmers, it’s almost too soon to say. But utility can be balanced against cost.“In terms of cost effectiveness from the farmer’s perspective, there’s a strong story already for driving yields higher while reducing production costs per bushel. Of course, we need to bring down the cost on our side to deliver services while making a profit,” says Cavender-Bares.He believes that as autonomy spreads within agriculture, there will be a trend toward smaller, robotic machines. “Not only will smaller machines be safer, but they’ll also compact soil less and enable more precision and greater diversity of crops,” he says.Case study: ‘BinBots’Closer to home, a group of University of Saskatchewan engineering students has designed a “BinBot,” an autonomous sensor built to crawl through grain bins and deliver moisture and temperature readings.The students were part of a 2015 Capstone 495 design course, in which groups of four students are matched with industry sponsors to tackle specific problems.Joy Agnew, a project manager with the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI)’s Agricultural Research Services, stepped forward with a challenge: could students develop an improved grain bin sensor for PAMI?“It came about from the first summer storage of canola project we did, and the data showing that in the grain at the top of the bin, the temperature stayed steady during the entire sampling period, but the temperature in the headspace grain was fluctuating wildly,” says Agnew. “We realized the power of grain insulating capacity – there was less than 15 centimetres between the grain that was changing and the grain that wasn’t. That made us think: the sensors are really only telling you the conditions in a one-foot radius around the sensor – less than one per cent of all the grain in the bin.”The problem she set to the students: can you design sensors with “higher resolution” sensing capabilities than currently available cables?“We were looking at some high-tech ideas of how we could do that with radio waves or imaging, and we thought we needed more mechanical systems,” says Luke McCreary, who has since graduated. “We ended up with a track system in the bin roof with a robot on a cable. The robot has a couple of augers on it so it can propel itself through the grain, taking temperature and humidity measurements as it goes and sending that data to a logging source to create a 3D map of the temperature, humidity and moisture in the bin,” he says.Once built, the robot will be six inches in diameter and 14 inches long, with the ability to move laterally, vertically and transversally.Agnew says PAMI is applying for funding to build the robot, and has already had some interest from manufacturers. She says the technology could reach farmers’ bins between five and 10 years from now.“We think this is the way of the future to avoid the risk of spoilage,” she says. “The technology is advancing, and costs are declining rapidly.”
Mar. 16, 2016 - According to the Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting (CAIR) program, 13 per cent of farm-related fatalities across Canada are traffic-related, and most involved tractors. During the busy spring season, farmers often travel long distances between fields, and this requires transporting equipment on public roads throughout rural Alberta. Farm equipment is oversized and slow compared to other vehicles using the roads and when certain procedures are not met, this can lead to collisions and other incidents. "Maintenance is a contributing factor to the safety of transporting farm equipment," says Kenda Lubeck, farm safety coordinator, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF). "Poor maintenance of equipment such as brakes or tires can lead to loss of control of the vehicle." Check all tires for air pressure, cuts, bumps and tread wear. Always lock brake pedals together for highway travel as sudden braking at high speeds on only one wheel could put the tractor into a dangerous skid. Equip heavy wagons with their own independent brakes. The number one cause of farm-related fatalities in Canada is machinery roll overs. To minimize the risk of severe injury or death to the operator, all tractors need roll-over protective structures (ROPS)," says Lubeck. "In addition, operators should always wear a seatbelt as ROPS are ineffective in a roll over without this restraining device." To avoid traffic collisions between motorists and farm equipment, farmers should ensure their equipment is clearly visible and follows all regulated requirements for lighting and signage. This will ensure approaching traffic has time to react to a slow-moving vehicle. Use reflective tape and reflectors in the event that large equipment is required to travel in dim lighting conditions. In Canada, reflective material should be red and orange strips. You can purchase tape in kits or by the foot at local farm or hardware stores. Dust-covered signage and lights make farm machinery less visible to motorists and dust-covered machinery causes poor visibility for the operator, who may not see oncoming traffic. Be sure to clean farm equipment prior to transportation to minimize the risk of collision due to poor visibility. "It's important to note that regulated requirements for lighting and signage on public roadways include the use of a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) sign," explains Lubeck. "The SMV sign must be properly mounted, clean and not faded. It must be positioned on the rear of the tractor or towed implement and clearly visible. SMV signs must only be used on equipment travelling less than 40 km/hr." For more information on the safe transportation of farm equipment on public roads, see AF's Make it Safe, Make it Visible or go to www.agriculture.alberta.ca for more information on farm safety.  
Researchers used polyethylene tanks meant for fish, at Simpson, Sask. Note the grass growth on top and the drip line. Photo by Larry Braul, AAFC. Thank the Swedes for this idea: “biobeds” that promise to protect water quality for generations to come. The concept represents a low cost, environmentally friendly way to deal with the rinse water flushed out of agricultural field sprayers. According to Larry Braul, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada water quality engineer in Regina, the biobed is an organic filter for pesticides, using conventional low value material. The use of biobeds has become an accepted practice in Europe in the past 15 years. Braul and Claudia Sheedy, research scientist with AAFC at Lethbridge, Alta., are co-leading the project to develop a biobed model to support Canadian farmers. Starting with one biobed at Outlook, Sask. in 2014, AAFC expanded the project in 2015 to sites at Simpson, Sask., and Grande Prairie and Vegreville, Alta. An additional biobed was constructed in fall of 2015 and will be monitored in 2016 at Lethbridge. “At the end of 2016, we expect to have enough data to produce a construction, operation and maintenance manual for biobeds,” Braul notes. Initial results promising“The first year at Outlook, it was highly effective. It removed more than 98 per cent and up to 100 per cent of the pesticides it received. That was very positive, and the results we just got back for 2015 are very similar,” Braul says. “Our climate is much colder than Europe and we have more intense rainfall events. We are working to address those issues with designs revised for the Prairies,” he adds. In principle, a biobed is relatively inexpensive, easy to use and significantly accelerates the natural breakdown processes for pesticides. The most challenging aspect at this point is in finding or developing an inexpensive method to easily collect the sprayer rinse water. On most farms when rinsing, the sprayer arms are fully extended while water is pumped through the system. As a result, a catch basin for that spray would need to be up to 120 feet long by about 20 feet wide and would need to drain the spray to a point where it can be collected. Biobed ingredientsThe contained biobed for the rinse water uses a mixture of topsoil, compost and straw. It provides an ideal habitat for microbes to break down the pesticides carried in the rinse water, to the point they pose no threat to the environment. In the project’s first year, Braul and Sheedy discovered the biobed at Outlook was still frozen a few inches below the surface in May, when they hoped to use it. It needed to be warmed to about 10 C, so that microbes could process the rinse water. They resolved that issue for 2015. Braul says, “Microorganisms like warm conditions. In a new biobed, we put heat tape at the bottom. We can get them up to almost 30 C at the end of May, so they can really start breaking down the pesticides. With a little heat application at the right time, we are probably doubling the decomposition rate they’re getting in Europe.” European research found that half and up to 90 per cent of pesticide contamination in groundwater could be traced to the places where sprayers were rinsed, Braul says. Two factors go into that: there’s a concentration of pesticides in one place, and a lot of water washing it down. It’s too much for the microorganisms to process. Often the topsoil is stripped off and replaced with gravel at the site where the farm sprayer is rinsed. This removes the organic matter that absorbs pesticides and allows the pesticide to leach through the soil zone.  Often, it’s fairly close to the well that supplies the water. “That’s the worst situation for managing the site,” Braul says. “It becomes quite a significant source of contamination. Instead, if we capture that rinsate, contain it and treat it, we can make a significant impact on the contamination problem.” The Swedes were first to address the problem. They collected rinsate and applied it to the top of a simple hole in the ground filled with the biomix material. “The Swedes applied the rinsate to the top of the biomix and let it seep through into the ground. It was the standard for six or seven years. It was a heck of a lot better than putting it on gravel, because it absorbed a lot of the pesticide. Now, with more sensitive instruments, we know that model doesn’t remove all the pesticides,” Braul says. Current practice is to build a contained biobed up to a metre deep. In the UK, that would be lined at the bottom with clay or plastic, and drained with weeping tile. For their first project, Braul and Sheedy built a wood frame structure. On later projects they also used open polyethylene tanks meant for fish. Plans call for putting the biomix into big tote bags already used for storing granular fertilizer or pesticide. “Really, you can use anything as a container for the biomix,” Braul says. The biomix material needs three basic components: topsoil (from a field is best, because it will already have microbes adapted to degrading pesticides); woodchips or straw (to provide the lignin for microbial food and structure); and, compost or peat (to provide the organic matter that absorbs the pesticides). Among design variations tried in 2015, the most efficient was a two-cell system about a half-metre deep. Each cell has a six-inch layer of crushed rock at the bottom. A sump pump collects leachate from below the crushed rock in the first cell and pumps it to the surface of the second cell. “Two cells remove a much higher percentage of the pesticide than single cell biobeds,” Braul notes. Although literature from the European experience suggests that nearly all the microbial activity happens in the top six inches of the biobed, most beds are one metre thick to provide additional absorption capacity. At the University of Regina, microbiologist Chris Yost is using DNA testing to determine the type and number of microbes at various depths. Yost hopes to determine the region of greatest microbial activity. At Outlook, a two-cell biobed only a half-metre deep worked better than expected, Braul says. In practice, degradation of pesticides in the biomix can take three to six months, he adds. There’s still a need to deal with the reasonably clean leachate coming from the bottom of the biomix, and a need for eventual disposal of the biomix itself. “Effluent has an extremely low level of remaining pesticide. We recommend spraying it on an area that has some organic matter and lots of microorganisms, and allow nature to do its work. One option is to put it into a tank and spray it someplace, or you can sprinkle it safely on grass or drip it along a row of trees. The little amount of remaining pesticide will be degraded in the topsoil,” he says. Setting up a collection pad for the sprayer rinsate would be the biggest single cost. It can be constructed from heavy plastic but a concrete pad is ideal. “If you want to collect everything you rinse out, you have a fairly large concrete pad. Depending on where you are, it probably could cost $5,000 to $10,000. That’s a big challenge – but some inexpensive creative options are possible,” Braul says.   
For the past nine years veteran automotive journalists have donated their time to act as judges in the only annual North American truck competition that tests pickup and van models head to head – while hauling payload and also towing.   The Canadian Truck King Challenge started in 2006, and each year these writers return because they believe in this straightforward approach to testing and they know their readers want the results it creates. This year, nine judges travelled from Quebec, Saskatchewan and across Ontario to the Kawartha Lakes Region where we test the trucks each year. All the entries are delivered to my 70-acre IronWood test site days before the judges arrive so we can prepare them for hauling and towing. In the meantime they are all outfitted with digital data collectors. These gadgets plug into the USB readers on each vehicle and transmit fuel consumption data to a company in Kitchener, Ont. (MyCarma) which records, compiles and translates those readings into fuel economy results that span the almost 4000 test kilometres that we accumulate over two long days. These results are as real-world as it gets. The numbers are broken into empty runs, loaded results and even consumption while towing. Each segment is measured during test loops with the trucks being driven by five judges – one after the other. That’s five different driving styles, acceleration, braking and idling (we don’t shut the engines down during seat changes). The Head River test loop itself is also a combination of road surfaces and speed limits. At 17 kilometres long, it runs on gravel, secondary paved road and highway. Speed limits vary from 50 to 80 km/h and the road climbs and drops off an escarpment-like ridgeline several times; plus it crosses the Head River twice at its lowest elevation. The off-road part of our testing is done on my own course at IronWood. This is the third year that we have used the data collection system and released the final fuel consumption report that MyCarma prepares for the Truck King Challenge. It’s become one of our most anticipated results. But how do we decide what to test? Well as anyone who’s bought a truck knows, the manufacturers never sleep, bringing something different to market every year. As the challenge looks to follow market trends, what and how we test must change each year too, and the coming 2016 model year proved no different. In the full-size and mid-size pickup truck categories, we had a field of seven contenders: Full-Size Half-Ton Pickup Truck Ford F-150, Platinum, 3.5L, V6 EcoBoost, gas, 6-speed Auto Ford F-150, XLT, 2.7L, V6 EcoBoost, gas, 6-speed Auto Chevrolet Silverado, High Country, 6.2L, V8, gas, 8-speed Auto Ram 1500, Laramie, 3L EcoDiesel, V6, diesel, 8-speed Auto Mid-Size Pickup Truck Toyota Tacoma, TRD Off-Road, 3.5L V6, gas, 6-speed Auto GMC Canyon, SLT, 2.8L Duramax, I-4 diesel, 6-speed Auto Chevrolet Colorado, Z71, 3.6L V6, gas, 6-speed Auto These vehicles are each all-new, or have significant changes made to them. However this year the Truck King Challenge decided to try something else new by offering a returning champion category. This idea had been growing for a while having everything to do with the engineering cycles that each manufacturer follows. Simply put, trucks are not significantly updated each year and, to date, we have only included “new” iron in each year’s competition. However, we started to think that just because a truck is in the second or third year of its current generational life shouldn’t make it non-competitive. So, this spring we decided that for the first time the immediate previous year’s winner (in each category) would be offered the chance to send its current truck back to IronWood to compete against what’s new on the market. Thus, this year the invitation was sent to the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, a previous winner that accepted the offer to return and fight for its crown. All vehicles took the tests over two days with the judges evaluating everything from towing feel to interior features. The judges score each vehicle in 20 different categories; these scores are then averaged across the field of judges and converted to a score out of 100. Finally the “as tested” price of each vehicle is also weighted against the average (adding or subtracting points) for the final outcome. And this year’s winners are... Full-Size Half-Ton Pickup Truck – Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – 82.97% Mid-Size Pickup Truck – GMC Canyon Duramax – 76.30% The overall top scoring 2016 Canadian Truck King Challenge winner is the Ram 1500, Laramie, 3L EcoDiesel, V6, diesel, 8-speed Auto. Full details and scores are now available online at www.canadiantruckkingchallenge.ca.  
For the past nine years, veteran automotive journalists have donated their time to act as judges in the only annual North American truck competition that tests pickup and van models head to head – while hauling payload and also towing.   The Canadian Truck King Challenge started in 2006, and each year these writers return because they believe in this straightforward approach to testing and they know their readers want the results it creates. I started it (and continue to do it) for the same reason – that, and my belief that after 40 years of putting trucks to work I know what’s important to Canadians. Now, that’s a long list of qualifications, but in a nutshell it’s the concept that a truck can be pretty, but that alone is just not enough. It had also better do its job – and do it well. This year, nine judges travelled from Quebec, Saskatchewan and across Ontario to the Kawartha Lakes Region where we test the trucks each year.  All the entries are delivered to my 70-acre IronWood test site days before the judges arrive so we can prepare them for hauling and towing. In the meantime they are all outfitted with digital data collectors. These gadgets plug into the USB readers on each vehicle and transmit fuel consumption data to a company in Kitchener, Ont. (MyCarma) that records, compiles and translates those readings into fuel economy results that span the almost 4,000 test kilometers we accumulate over two long days.   These results are as real world as it gets. The numbers are broken into empty runs, loaded results and even consumption while towing. Each segment is measured during test loops with the trucks being driven by five judges – one after the other. That’s five different driving styles, acceleration, braking and idling (we don’t shut the engines down during seat changes).   The Head River test loop itself is also a combination of road surfaces and speed limits. At 17-kilometres long it runs on gravel, secondary paved road and highway. Speed limits vary from 50 to 80 km/h and the road climbs and drops off an escarpment-like ridgeline several times; plus it crosses the Head River twice at its lowest elevation. The off-road part of our testing is done on my own course at IronWood. Vans are not tested on the off-road course, though it’s noteworthy that the Mercedes Sprinter was equipped with a four-wheel drive system this year. This is the third year that we have used the data collection system and released the final fuel consumption report that MyCarma prepares for the Truck King Challenge. It’s become one of our most anticipated results. But how do we decide what to test? Well as anyone who’s bought a truck knows, the manufacturers never sleep, bringing something different to market every year. As the challenge looks to follow market trends, what and how we test must change each year too and the 2016 model year proved no different. We had a field of 14 contenders at IronWood this year covering four categories. They were as follows: Full-size half-ton pickup truck Ford F-150, Platinum, 3.5L, V6 EcoBoost, gas, 6-speed Auto Ford F-150, XLT, 2.7L, V6 EcoBoost, gas, 6-speed Auto Chevrolet Silverado, High Country, 6.2L, V8, gas, 8-speed Auto Ram 1500, Laramie, 3L EcoDiesel, V6, diesel, 8-speed Auto Mid-size pickup truck Toyota Tacoma, TRD Off-Road, 3.5L V6, gas, 6-speed Auto GMC Canyon, SLT, 2.8L Duramax, I-4 diesel, 6-speed Auto Chevrolet Colorado, Z71, 3.6L V6, gas, 6-speed Auto Full-size commercial vans Ford Transit 250, 3.2L Power Stroke I-5 diesel, 6-speed Auto Mercedes Sprinter 2.0L BLUE-Tec I-4 diesel, 2X4 Mercedes Sprinter 3.0L BLUE-Tec V6 diesel, 4X4 Ram ProMaster 1500, 3.0L I-4 diesel, 6-speed Auto/Manual Mid-size commercial vans Ram ProMaster City, SLT, 2.4L Tigershark I-4 gas, 9-speed Auto Nissan NV200, 2.0L I-4, gas, Xtronic CVT Auto Mercedes Metris, 2.0L I-4, gas, 7-speed Auto These vehicles are each all-new – or have had significant changes made to them. However, this year, the Truck King Challenge decided to try something else new by offering a returning champion category. This idea had been growing for a while and had everything to do with the engineering cycles that each manufacturer follows. Simply put, trucks are not significantly updated each year and to date we have only included “new” iron in each year’s competition. However, we started to think that just because a truck is in the second or third year of its current generational life shouldn’t make it non-competitive. Certainly if you watch the builders’ ads it doesn’t!   So, this spring we decided that for the first time the immediate previous year’s winner (in each category) would be offered the chance to send its current truck back to IronWood to compete against what’s new on the market.   This year the invitation was sent to the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, Ford Transit 250 and Nissan NV200 – all previous winners that accepted the offer to return and fight for their crowns. They, along with the new vehicles, took the tests over two days with the judges evaluating everything from towing feel to interior features. The judges score each vehicle in 20 different categories; these scores are then averaged across the field of judges and converted to a score out of 100. Finally the “as tested” price of each vehicle is also weighted against the average (adding or subtracting points) for the final outcome. And this year’s segment winners are... Full-Size Half-Ton Pickup Truck – Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – 82.97 per cent Mid-Size Pickup Truck – GMC Canyon Duramax – 76.30 per cent Full-Size Commercial Van – Ford Transit 250 – 73.90 per cent Mid-Size Commercial Van – Mercedes Metris – 75.69 per cent The overall top scoring 2016 Canadian Truck King Challenge winner is the Ram 1500, Laramie, 3L EcoDiesel, V6 diesel, 8-speed Auto. Congratulations to all the winners and to the two repeating champions – the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and the Ford Transit 250.
Installation of controlled drains on the Van Den Berg farm by drainage contractor Ken McCutcheon and UTRCA.. Photo courtesy of UTRCA. December 2, 2014 - On flat cropland, controlled drains may become the new norm in Ontario, replacing conventional tile drainage on many of the province’s farms. The flexibility of controlled drainage delivers benefits for farmers and the environment that standard drainage cannot offer, and the use of these systems is spreading accordingly. Controlled drains have been studied at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research station in Harrow, Ont., for two decades, and some farmers in Essex and Kent have already installed them on their land. “This practice is somewhat common in that area because the land is very flat there,” notes Ken McCutcheon, owner of McCutcheon Farm Drainage Ltd. in Thorndale, Ont. “The Americans in various states have really embraced controlled drainage as well. However, there are not many areas where it works well in Ontario because it totally hinges on flat topography.” Earlier this year, McCutcheon (who has five employees in the field plus office staff at his 37-year-old business) installed two controlled drains on the farm of Henk and Annie Van Den Berg in Lucan, Ont. It was a project spearheaded by Brad Glasman (co-ordinator of conservation services) and Craig Merkley (conservation services specialist) at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA), along with AAFC senior water management engineer Andrew Jamieson. Each controlled drain covers a five-acre field.“It was an ideal site for this project as it was very flat,” McCutcheon says. “That’s a key factor in making this sort of controlled outlet work. It allows you to control the water table within 12 inches.” He notes that if there are elevation changes in a field, the installation of more controlled drain structures would be required to control water flow, and you end up with structures in the field instead of just at the outlet at the edge of the field. This interferes with planting, harvesting and so on. Each controlled drain, placed just before the outlet, consists of a plastic tube 45 cm wide and almost 2 m long integrated with the existing drainage tile. Inside each tube are vertical plastic panels that can be pulled up to let the water flow or pushed downward to stop it. Excessive rainfall can cause water to be pushed up and over the panels and flow out, so additional panels must be added to block water flow if desired in that case. The system is meant to be left open in the spring and fall to drain the field, and closed during the summer to retain water. It is designed to allow faster drying of fields in the spring so that crops can be planted earlier, and to conserve the water from summer rainstorms. This year, the Van Den Berg’s got a large rainfall at the end of July, and closed the two controlled drains at that point. “Water ran through the controlled drains for about a day, and through the conventional drains on the rest of the farm for four days, which is a substantial amount of water loss in comparison,” says Henk Van Den Berg. Environmental benefitsKeeping nutrient-rich water in the field instead of having it flow away (as it does in a conventional tile drainage system) is not just better for crops and farmers. It is also, as Glasman notes, better for the environment and human health. High levels of phosphorus from fertilizer, for example, can lead to algae blooms in Lake Erie. Nutrient runoff from farms also contributes to generally poorer water quality in creeks, rivers and lakes in Ontario, including the Great Lakes. The cleaner water provided by controlled drainage, therefore, benefits all organisms, from invertebrates to birds to human beings. Glasman, Merkley and Jamieson estimate that about 80 to 90 per cent of the phosphorus and nitrogen in a field will stay put with controlled drainage compared to what would have been lost into the watershed with conventional tile. Monitoring equipment to measure nutrient and water outflow (from the Van Den Berg’s controlled drainage fields as well as their regularly tiled fields of a similar size and topography as a control) is expected to be in place soon. Jamieson says this three-year project will involve year-round monitoring. Measuring benefits“As far as how the system is working so far, it’s early days yet,” says Merkley. “We are still learning the drainage characteristics of the site and how the system is responding to rain events.” He says there are no plans at the moment to test the system on other fields, but they may look at the feasibility of automating the stop panels – tying in the raising and lowering of the panels to the amount of rainfall received. “We’re not sure it can be done, but there are plans to investigate the idea,” Merkley notes. In addition to needing flat topography for controlled drains, McCutcheon says newer tile drainage systems – with pipes that are closer together than older systems – make controlled drains much more effective. “In older systems, the spacing of the tile is wider and you’re backing the water up in those pipes with the water level varying because of the distance,” he says. “In newer systems, the tiles are closer and you have more pipes in the ground with a more uniform water table, so with controlled drains [incorporated with those systems], you will more evenly distribute and store water.”   Glasman says yields should be able to be increased by 10 to 15 per cent over time with a controlled drain system. The controlled drainage structures are approximately $700 apiece plus installation, and are available from some of Ontario’s largest drainage material suppliers. When a farmer would achieve cost return depends on a few factors. Each year is different in terms of how much water conservation matters (how dry it becomes) in crop yield, weather patterns, the price farmers get for their harvests, and so on. However, in these times of increasing drought conditions, return on investment for controlled drainage may be swift.

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