Applied Research Associations – an Emerging Agronomy Diamond
Reducing production risks, meeting quality standards for the markets, improving the profitability of our crops and improving our soil and water resources over the longer term are benefits and value that the twelve applied research associations (ARAs) across Alberta bring to farmers.
These applied research associations are located throughout Alberta. A key strength is their ability to help farmers adapt and customize agronomic technologies, products and practices to their farms.
A typical year will see these associations conducting around 200 small plot and field scale applied research trials. They hold upwards of 250 workshops/tours/field days of one sort or another, an active presence in media and social media, and serving over 15,000 farmers through these activities. Strengthening connections farmers have with science, and adapting that science to their farm is a highly valued outcome.
It is one thing to use new knowledge, products and practices. It is quite another to work out the kinks close to home. Soils, weather, growing conditions, crop rotations, production practices vary enormously around Alberta. Associations help deal with this.
For example, a number of the associations are working with their farmers on developing best cropping practices for new crops that are coming along. Hemp, rye, corn, lentils, are crops that come to mind that are moving into new areas of the province.
Associations are very active in the testing of adaptability and performance of new varieties in various crops through the Regional Variety Test trials. This is no crap shoot as farmers receive valuable information and data, based on their growing conditions, to work with in making their choices.
A significant part of the associations work around crops and agronomy is with our big acre crops of wheat, barley, canola, pulse crops. How can I tinker with my production systems to improve my odds of getting top grades, top quality and most profitable yields?
Part of the work being done is adjusting what you can do as well as when and how to do it. For example, work continues in the use of growth regulators and being able to adjust fertility and fungicides to optimize yield and quality in wheat and barley. This involves split rates, timing of application, methods of application etc.
Several farmers over the years have told me it is better to figure this out on a field or small plot, than it is for me to mess with a few hundred acres on my first try. The applied research associations take this one step further in that the applied research is close to home so is very relevant to my farm.
Insect pests, disease, and weed issues certainly catch everyone’s attention. Associations are very involved with keeping fusarium head blight at bay. They are very engaged in working with scientists, agribusiness and farmers in determining best practices to manage clubroot if they have it, and to keep it out if I do not have it yet. Aphanomyces can knock the heck out of pea yields as has been evidenced in the past few years. Associations are working with researchers to come up with ways that reduce yield loss and infestation levels.
Not lost is the great work that Alberta Agriculture and Forestry have been doing in monitoring insects, diseases and weeds. This is keeping a sharp eye out for infestation levels of known pests for new and emerging problems. Associations are a key part of this network every year. They monitor throughout the growing season, make sure that farmers get timely details on problem pests, and work on coming up with methods to battle specific problem insects, diseases, and weeds longer term.
In 2014, Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF) conducted focus groups with farmers and agronomists from Fort Vermillion to Lethbridge. ACIDF worked closely with the applied research associations in doing this. In total, participants had over one million acres. Priority issues in agronomy were identified. Turns out this was a spot-on match with the work the associations are doing. Further investments in research have been made based on this work.
Associations are focused on adapting the research from the science community to help apply their research findings in the best manner under growing conditions you experience.
This brings me back to where we started. Farmer led applied research associations have had and will continue to have a strong role in agronomy. Value and results are to reduce production risk, optimize yield and quality of crops (ie the sweet spot for profits, not necessarily yield at all costs), and continually improve soil and water resources over time.
If you are not already involved with the applied research association in your area, reach out to them. They are an emerging diamond with respect to bringing value to your farm through agronomy.