Maintenance
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 ingredients
The 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 benefits
Keeping 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.

December 16, 2014 - Starting January 1, 2015, vehicle owners wishing to purchase or attach farm plates to a new commercial vehicle over 3000 kg will need to provide documentation to demonstrate that they have a farm business.

Only those clients purchasing or attaching new farm plates to a vehicle will be required to show proof of farm business as of January 1, 2015. The new requirements will not affect any current farm plate owners who are renewing their farm plates.

What documentation do I have to show to prove I have a farm business?
A Farm Business Registration (FBR) number is proof that you run a farm business and any one of the following documents will prove that you have an FBR or are exempt:

  1. A farm organization membership card;
  2. A Gross Farm Income Exemption Certificate;
  3. A letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal indicating religious exemption;
  4. A letter from Agricorp with your FBR number; or
  5. A letter from the Indian Agriculture Program of Ontario confirming that the producer has met the FBR eligibility requirements.

Why is the Ministry of Transportation making these changes?
Ontario’s Auditor General (OAG), in its 2012 annual report on the Drive Clean Program and the 2013 annual report on ServiceOntario, noted an increasing number of vehicles with farm plates and was concerned that no verification is required to obtain farm plates. In both audit reports, the OAG recommended the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) review the requirements for obtaining a farm plate, to ensure that no abuse of the system was taking place.

As a result, MTO is implementing new requirements for issuing or attaching farm plates to a commercial vehicle. This will ensure that only qualified farmers obtain farm plates and receive the benefits associated with having a farm plate.

For more information:

 

Sept. 26, 2014 - Golden fields of wheat and the sight of trucks full of grain are sure signs that the harvest season is upon us once again. Every harvest season there are collisions between farm equipment and passenger vehicles resulting in expensive repairs, injuries and sadly even deaths. However by taking a small amount of time to discuss how to safely transport agricultural equipment, farmers and their equipment operators can minimize the risk of a collision.

Glen Blahey is a Health and Safety Specialist with CASA. "There are three common types of collisions involving farm equipment and a typical road vehicle: Rear-end, passing and left-turn collisions."

Farm equipment moves much slower than regular highway vehicles. A typical tractor travels less than 40 kilometers per hour. Farm machinery is long and wide. Motorists can underestimate the length, width and speed of farm machinery, often with disastrous results. Rear-end collisions occur when motorists come up on farm equipment too quickly. Passing collisions often occur because motorists attempt to pass without having a clear view of oncoming traffic. And left-turn collisions happen because motorists often think the equipment operator is pulling over to allow the vehicle to pass but the operator is actually making a wide left turn.

So what can farmers do to prevent these types of collisions? The first step is having a conversation with
all equipment operators and truck drivers about how to safely and efficiently move farm machinery on public roadways.

In March, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture launched "Let's Talk About It!", a Canadian Agricultural Safety Week campaign focused on encouraging farmers to talk about farm safety.

As a part of "Let's Talk About It!", CASA developed the Toolbox Talks, a series of brief, informal talks that help farmers discuss with their workers and their families about safely conducting farm tasks, including the operation of farm equipment on public roadways. "By having a conversation with equipment operators and truck drivers at the beginning of the harvest season, farmers can lay out their expectations and procedures on how to safely move farm equipment," Blahey says. "CASA's toolbox talks are an excellent way for farmers to effectively communicate these expectations in clear and comprehensive way."

Some quick and easy tips to remain safe this harvest season are:

Be Visible. If motorists know that slow moving farm machinery is on the road with them and how that machinery is likely to move, the chance for a collision is greatly reduced. All slow moving farm equipment must be equipped with A Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) Emblem. This emblem is a triangular, bright orange sign with a red border. It must be placed at the centre or to the left of centre of all slow moving farm vehicles and equipment. Make sure that the SMV emblem is clean and visible. Lighting is also important to make sure that your farming equipment is visible to motorists. Tractors and other self-propelled equipment must have at least two headlamps visible from the front, two red tail lamps visible from the rear and two flashing amber warning lamps visible from both the front and the rear of the machine. Proper turning signals should be available and used at all times so that motorists can anticipate what the farm machinery is going to do. Some provinces have other lighting requirements, check with your provincial department of transportation for these regulations.

Be Cautious. When operating farm machinery on a public road, be sure to drive as far to the right as possible to give motorists room to pass, but stay on the road. Travelling on the shoulder presents its own hazards – it may be soft or have obscured hazards like culvert openings or depressions. Equipment operators should never allow extra riders on farm machinery. If something goes wrong, the extra rider is the most likely person to die. And always remember to buckle up your seat belt, even a low speed equipment crash can result in a significant injury.

Be Alert. Only properly trained and licensed drivers should ever operate farm machinery. While it goes without saying that no one should ever operate farm machinery under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it's also true that anyone who is overly tired should also avoid driving.

By following these guidelines, farm workers will minimize the chance of a collision or other incident while travelling on public roadways in a farming vehicle.

For more information on the Toolbox Talks, visit agsafetyweek.ca/toolbox-talks.

 

 

Dec. 9, 2013, Calgary – Bayer CropScience and AGI have introduced the Storm (Seed Treatment Optimized Rate Metering), an in-the-yard cereal and pulse seed treatment applicator. 

The Storm is meant to be connected directly to the seed bin, where the seed is then treated during the transfer process to another truck or bin. The system comes with pre-set calibrations for Bayer CropScience SeedGrowth products, and the ability to input additional calibrations, to ensure the correct rate of application. By inputting the density of the seed being treated, the system is said to calculate the mass flow rate of grain and automatically applies the correct amount of treatment, removing the uncertainty and waste associated with most applicators.

Danick Bardi, a Bayer employee, says the idea came from what growers and retailers who were concerned about their ability to effectively treat seed. Bardi began developing the framework for a tool that would deliver precision seed treatment application in a convenient, efficient and integrated system, according to a press release. Focus groups were held in the summer of 2012 and a limited supply of the STORM is now available through AGI retailers across Canada. Visit www.grainaugers.com/storm for more information. 
A high-moisture year – like this year, in many parts of Ontario – can cause producers a multitude of problems, including a proliferation of weeds, increased soil erosion, potential nutrient loss, and compaction issues. But there is one management solution that can help alleviate all four: the use of cover crops. Anne Verhallen, soil management
specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, shares her knowledge on using the right cover crop for the right job.

Installing thousands of feet of buried drainage pipes in fields has never been cheap, but it has been economical in a few circumstances, such as vegetable production. Now, more and more Prairie grain farmers are finding that tile drainage can make sense and benefit their fields, too.

So says Simon Knutson, co-founder and general manager of Northern Plains Drainage Systems, based in Carman, Manitoba. Knutson and business partner (and brother-in-law) Joel Classen both come from extensive drainage

backgrounds – before forming the partnership in January 2012, Knutson was producing topography maps for drainage and developing his own software. Classen was doing drainage installations and surveying.

As a software developer, Knutson developed the Precision Water Management Process that is now offered by Agri-Trend network geo-coaches in Canada and the United States. Most areas of Western Canada now have a geo-coach who can help with assessing the benefits of a tile drainage installation for specific fields.

Southern Manitoba has other tile drainage contractors around Winkler and Rosenort that operate closer to home and on larger projects, says Knutson. His company was installing tile in western Manitoba in 2012 and was working with relatively small projects, draining just a few acres at some locations.

“We’ve been involved in drainage for five years,” he notes. “Drainage systems in Saskatchewan are usually seasonal, built around potholes that load with water in spring. In Manitoba, tiling is on larger areas that have a high water table.”

Land values
A dramatic rise in farmland values has been underway for several years, long enough to change the balance on the economics of tile drainage. As well, mainstream crops like wheat, canola, soybeans and corn have been sustaining record high net returns for producers. And, very low interest rates have encouraged investments in land and land improvement.

“Tiling is becoming a more realistic option for a lot of land,” says Knutson. “People call us saying they’ve bought more land or want to improve the land they currently have. With land prices as they are, it’s making more and more sense to stick with the acres you have and improve them.”

If a Saskatchewan acre was worth $600 five or six years ago, it’s probably worth $1,200 today. However, potholes can downgrade the value on 20 percent of the field or more. They don’t get seeded if they’re too wet, or they get seeded and then drown out by early June.

“It’s costing you potentially $100 to $200 an acre every time you put in crop inputs and get nothing back,” says Knutson.

“And, you could be looking at losing another $150 an acre every year on the lost potential from that land. That’s what we’re hearing every day.”

Meanwhile, the price of tile has been fairly steady. Knutson says the cost today is roughly $400 to $500 an acre for the tile and $15 an acre for the survey work and drainage layout design. It can be installed by a contractor for about $250 to $350 an acre, or it can be installed by the farm manager using his own time and a specialized plow for tiling.

In a single growing season, some growers can recover their investment cost. “People think now about spending $20,000 to $30,000 on a quarter [section] to really improve it. It doesn’t take long to repay that,” he says.

Nuts and bolts
Tile drainage pipe has been standard for decades. The plastic, perforated and corrugated pipe comes in rolls that vary from four-inch diameter with up to 4000 feet per roll to 12-inch pipe with roughly 330 feet per roll. Self-propelled drainage plows are being built, but the common choice today for growers is a pull-type plow. It takes one (and sometimes two) 400-horsepower (or more) tractors to pull these plows as they cut up to six feet deep to lay the pipe.

Northern Plains Drainage retails the Soil-Max Gold Digger Stealth ZD plow, a popular pull-type tile drainage plow that’s used and built in the United States. It also has one crew available for installations.

In practice, most farms now are choosing to buy a tile plow and train their own operator. The setup cost for the plow is about $50,000. It could be used for one or two seasons and resold, but it may stay on the farm for many years.

“Once they do a little they see how well it’s going to work, and they will probably want to keep doing it,” says Knutson of installing drainage tile. “People start with a mindset they are going to just target a few places, and it takes off when they see better yields. The potato industry has gone from targeting problem areas of fields to having everything tiled because it gives them better yields and better quality and less nuisance when they get to the harvest.”

Precision guidance for the heavy work requires an RTK GPS receiver that is mounted on the plow. The grade control system uses this input plus a slope sensor to maintain grade. A drainage design layout also can be loaded into the controller display to guide the operator, making sure the tile is installed in the correct locations.

Northern Plains can work with most RTK systems, but retails the Hemisphere/Outback A320 and A321 RTK GPS systems. For depth and grade control, it retails the Ag Leader Intellislope Grade Control software.

Most farms need a consultant to help with the mapping phase, even if they have the RTK equipment. “In theory, anybody who has an RTK system now can survey their own land,” notes Knutson. “Usually, we still need to take some survey shots in wet spots, and we need to know where the water is going to go, to make sure we can bring the tile out two to three feet deeper than the edge of the field.”

Most people struggle a little with the software. Northern Plains now offers drainage workshops throughout the year and can arrange for participation in one-week advanced courses in Ontario or the United States.

Expectations
Weather conditions and the type of tiling determine how much land can be tiled in a season. Tiling normally begins when the crop is off in late August or September. It can continue until the ground has several inches of frost.

Typical tile spacing is 50 feet. At that spacing, it normally takes 870 feet of tile to drain an acre. Realistically, for potholes, one farm can take on three to six quarters of drainage work in a season. In southwest Manitoba in 2012, one farm installed about a half-million feet of tile in the fall and placed an order for more.

As of 2012, Knutson says his was the only company providing tile drainage service for Saskatchewan. They sold several plows to farms and worked with other farms that already had plows to develop drainage layouts. At the moment, he says, Redvers is the tile drainage capital of Saskatchewan. West-central Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba growers also are installing tile drainage.

For further information on tile drainage, growers can visit www.drainage.ag.

Trelleborg announces a price increase of up to 5.5% in North America, effective July 2012, on all tires and wheels for agricultural, forestry and light industrial applications.

Paolo Pompei, President Business Unit Agri & Forestry Tire says: “This decision comes as a necessity due to escalating raw materials prices as well as a growing trend in energy and transportation costs.”

Technology continues to change the face of agriculture, and so too are the faces of many of the GPS monitors and display panels now available. To help with the decision-making process, this feature provides a glimpse into some of the more-recent designs.
Terradox Corporation has introduced its TRC Terrain Compensation Technology option for its award-winning SiteWinder GPS guidance system for agricultural applications.42c1
Procedures and diligence are required to do the job thoroughly every time.
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