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Land Access Strategies for New Farmers in Alberta

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

Statistics Canada reports that only 8 per cent of farmers across the country have a succession plan. Meanwhile they’re getting closer to retirement. The average age of producers in Alberta is 57 and fewer of their children want to take over the family farm.

“Seventy-five per cent of farmers say they will sell their land in the next 10 years. That’s a huge transfer of land,” says Dana Penrice, prairie program manager at Young Agrarians. “At the same time we’re seeing a trend of new farmers coming from non-farming backgrounds.

They’re first generation farmers and they’re looking for land.” AREF is supporting the Young Agrarians’ Organic Alberta project which will research, consult and survey new farmers, older farmers as well as land experts to better understand the upcoming land transfer in Alberta.

The project will host workshops on intergenerational communication, succession planning and other topics regarding land transfer. They’re branding the initiative: ‘Want land? Got land?’

“What we’re facing is a really significant change in assets in terms of land and farm ownership,” says Penrice.

“We need to figure out this whole land access issue. How do we match up people who are looking for land and people who have land?”

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

Precision Agriculture at Olds College

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

A Smart Farm uses GPS, soil scanning and a number of other technologies connected to the internet to employ precision agriculture—that is, being selective with farm management techniques to increase the quality and quantity of food production.

With support from AREF, Olds College is developing a multimedia Smart Ag Digital Story Map to showcase the science and technology used on a Smart Farm. “It harnesses the power of both maps and stories to capture the different perspectives of our Olds College Smart Farm partners,” says Jason Bradley, the director of Smart Ag at Olds College. “We’re capturing the value proposition of each product or service provided to show how the technology works and how it interacts and performs as part of our connected farm or smart ag ecosystem.” Agriculture and agrifood production are predicted to be among the top drivers of Alberta’s future GDP growth so it’s important to help educate people about new technologies in the sector. “Stories and maps have been how we have shared knowledge and information since the dawn of time,” says Bradley. “The project is validating the best practises on our farm and helps us prove to those who will inherit this land that we stewarded it to the best of our knowledge and capability.”

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

 

 

U of L study a first in looking at the use of precision agriculture in irrigation farming in Alberta

Given the importance of irrigation to the southern Alberta economy, two University of Lethbridge economists wanted to know if agricultural producers who irrigate are using precision agriculture technologies.

Drs. Lorraine and Chris Nicol have conducted the first study in Alberta examining the adoption of precision agriculture in irrigation farming. Their survey shows users are reducing farm inputs and seeing positive economic benefits as a result.

Last fall, they conducted a survey of irrigators in the Taber Irrigation District (TID) to find out the extent to which precision agriculture technologies are being adopted, the types of tools being used and the satisfaction with the technologies. They also looked at those who didn’t use precision agriculture technologies and their reasons for not adopting. Twenty-seven percent of irrigators in the TID participated in the survey.

“Based on the data collected, 81 percent of irrigators have adopted some form of precision agriculture, an average of five technologies per irrigator. Overall, those who have adopted are very satisfied with the technologies and almost all plan on using even more technologies in the future” says Lorraine. “Among non-adopters, most said their operations were too small to justify the high investment costs.”

Precision agriculture involves parsing fields into small parcels based on variability, allowing more precise application of irrigation water, fertilizer, chemicals and seed, compared to conventional methods. The study identified 20 technologies including auto-steering equipment, variable rate fertilizer and irrigation application, soil-moisture monitoring, terrain mapping and analysis, unmanned aerial vehicle mapping, satellite imagery and various data management tools, for example.

“Precision agriculture has fundamentally changed the way farming is done and it has the potential to reduce costs and increase profits for farmers. Precision agriculture is also critical for sustainable agriculture. Using less fertilizer and less irrigation water, for example, helps lessen run-off and conserve water so it’s also better for the environment,” says Chris.

The TID, one of 13 irrigation districts in the region, has one of the highest concentrations of specialty crops, including potatoes, sugar beets, canola seed, beans, peas, corn, sunflowers and onions. These inputs are vital to processing industries as well as the confined feedlot industry in the region. The TID consists of 115 to 120 irrigation producers who irrigate more than 80,000 acres. Its irrigation infrastructure also supplies water to several communities and many individuals.

The survey showed under precision agriculture, crop yields have increased an average 20 per cent and yearly crop quality has increased by an average of 16 per cent. Yearly reductions in irrigation water, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides have ranged between 14 and 24 per cent.

Non-adopters consist entirely of farms less than 2,000 acres. Those irrigators generally cited the smaller size of their operations, high investment costs and incompatibility of machines as the main reasons for not adopting.

“These results suggest irrigators are embracing precision agriculture and experiencing the benefits,” says Lorraine. “This also has positive implications for economic and community development, as well as environmental stewardship.”

…..

The study found:

  • 81% of irrigators have adopted some form of precision agriculture;
  • yearly crop yields have increased an average 20% and yearly crop quality has increased an average 16%;
  • yearly reductions in irrigation water, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides have ranged from 14% to 24%;
  • precision agriculture technologies are being applied largely to specialty crops;
  • for 85% of adopters, precision agriculture has affected their overall farm management approach;
  • 89% of adopters are highly satisfied with the technology;
  •  92% of adopters plan to adopt additional precision agriculture technologies in the future;
  • non-adopters indicate small operations, high investment costs, and incompatibility of machines are the main reasons for their non-adoption of precision agriculture technologies.

 

 

Read the full report here. The study was funded by a grant from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

Methods of Remediation of Contaminated Water and Excess Nutrients

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

Research at Olds College has determined at least three native wetland plants in Alberta—sedges, cattails and bulrushes—are “working very well” removing contaminants and excess nutrients from the water. “There’s no data that indicates what plants, what kind of contaminants or nutrients each plant takes up and how much the plants can take up at a time,” says Ruth Elvestad, research technician at Olds College Centre for Innovation.

That’s why AREF supported furthering the research with a project called: Use of Native Wetland Plants and Cold Climate Floating Island Systems for the Remediation of Contaminated Water and Water with Excess Nutrients. The project will test several more native wetland plants to help landowners understand the value of wetlands on their property and how different plants can clean up different contaminants.

“We would say let’s test the water that has algae or other contaminants,” says Elvestad. “Then we should be able to say ‘This is what you’ve got going on in your pond so you need plant X, Y or Z and this is how many you need of each in order to assist in cleaning your water so it can be recycled and used in agriculture, irrigation, and other applicable industries.’”

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

Rural Climate Solutions online resources and broadcasting

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

The Stettler Learning Centre is creating a series of podcasts and a website that are “part educational tool, part source of inspiration” aimed at Alberta producers who want to understand what they can do on the farm to help move toward a clean energy economy.

“This podcast comes straight out of Alberta—one of Canada’s biggest agriculture and energy producers— and dives into the technology and practices that are both good for the farm and good for the climate,” says Derek Leahy, the project coordinator for Rural Routes to Climate Solutions at the Stettler Learning Centre. “The agriculture sector is often characterized as a cause of climate change as opposed to a solution but most people do not realize that there are farming practices that can help us in the fight against climate change.”

From solar power to better land management, many of the practices that can help the environment can also help improve farming and ranching operations. “There are many producers who do not realize many climate solutions can help their farming and ranching operations thrive,” says Leahy. For example, using biodiversity can boost productivity, manage pests and help the land endure Alberta’s endless cycle of floods and droughts. Another podcast covers the benefits of formalizing a cooperative among agricultural producers to save on costs and minimize operators’ environmental footprints.

“Producers are constantly looking for opportunities and new techniques to improve my agricultural operations,” says Leahy. “Our project connects those dots by providing clear, informative and entertaining explanations on how producers can benefit from using climate solutions on their land.”

AREF’s support for the project allows the Learning Centre extend an existing program that received funding from the Alberta Government Community Environment Action Grant program. The initial program developed workshops and other materials for producers about agricultural and land-use practices that reduce carbon emissions.

Turning those materials into podcasts provides a really convenient method for producers to consume the information. “For producers, time is limited and it is also a precious commodity. But with the podcast, a producer can simply download episodes on to his or her phone and listen on the job, particularly on those days that they’re on a tractor or combine all day.” says Leahy.

“It is our hope that through this easily accessible method of learning, producers will be informed and inspired to use climate solutions on their farms. They will benefit and we will all benefit from this.”

Listen to the Rural Routes to Climate Solutions podcast here!

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

University of Alberta enhances research on urban expansion

“Urban Alberta is spilling into rural,” says Brent Swallow, an environment and development economist. Too often, decisions about land designation are driven by short-term goals, he says. But there are long-term costs to development and to the “ecosystem services” that rural land provides for cities, such as clean air and water.

Balancing urban expansion with rural conservation is challenging and heavily influenced by people’s attitudes and beliefs. For example, do urbanites in Alberta want to preserve the rural land around their cities? Do they want more locally grown produce at the farmers markets? Are they willing to pay extra to keep the city outskirts green?

The Alberta Real Estate Foundation wants to find answers to these questions to help the real estate industry better understand issues around land stewardship. The foundation’s $50,000 donation will make it possible for Swallow and his research team in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences to conduct a province wide survey of urban attitudes toward fragmentation, conversion and conservation of agricultural land.

Stewarding Lac La Biche, by Living Lakes Canada

Lac La Biche is the seventh largest lake in Alberta, with importance to the local economy and culture.  Local and provincial government, in collaboration with lake stakeholders, created a watershed management plan for Lac La Biche in 2009, but little has been done to date to implement it.  That is soon about to change, with the formation of the Stewards of the Lac La Biche Watershed, a group of community stakeholders committed to implementing the monitoring, outreach and stewardship recommendations in the plan.  With the support of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, the newly formed group will be able to take on activities that will increase publicly available science about the lake and provide means of disseminating that information to stakeholders.  Since the project start date, a group of steering committee members has formed to work out the mechanics of the group so that it will make the broadest and most enduring impact on protecting the lake values.

Location of Lac La Biche