Sustainability is an evolving concept that can mean many different things to different people and industries. A hot button topic, sustainability coincides with public trust granted to operate concerning environmental, societal (labour rights), food quality and safety. To most farmers, it means constant improvement in production practices, technology, efficiency and leaving the land in better condition than they found it.
For Alberta wheat farmers, it means adopting many techniques that reduce their environmental and ecological impact. These include:
- Minimum till farming – also known as low, no till or conservation tillage farming, this practice means that farmers no longer have to till the soil to kill weeds, conserving moisture and reducing erosion of soils. According to Statistics Canada, more than half of our farmland is cultivated using no till practices.
- As fewer passes are made over the field, fuel use in Canada is reduced by over 170 million litres each year.
- Precision Agriculture employs modern farming equipment (including drones) to allow for targeted application of crop inputs when and where they are needed most.
- Adherence to the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program for fertilizer application.
- Plant biotechnology allows for more efficient pesticide use and improved soil management practices.
- Crop Rotations are an integral part of integrated pest management, breaking disease, weed and other pest cycles. These include winter crops such as fall rye and winter wheat as well as leguminous forages for building soil health.
- Cover crops to inhibit weed growth and fix atmospheric nitrogen.
- Development and revisiting of provincial Environmental Farm Plans – to ensure goals and continuous improvement are maintained.
The Alberta Wheat Commission’s (AWC) research investments are farmer-focused with the goal of increasing wheat farmers’ profitability. The AWC is focused on supporting research that will improve crop management, reduce input costs and environmental impact, and increase yield and grain quality.
To help direct specific research projects, the AWC frequently undertakes priority setting exercises. These exercises allow them to hear directly from farmers and the research community what issues they are facing on-farm and what emerging issues they expect to face. The AWC’s latest priority setting session was held in March 2020, prompting the following specific project interests:
- Improving the functionality of Alberta’s Crop Protection Manual (The Blue Book)
- Integrated pest management (IPM) strategy for wireworms
- Alternatives to pre-harvest glyphosate use
- Greater focus on genetic resistance of leaf disease to reduce the use of chemical fungicide
- Increasing organic matter content of our soils
- Genetic selection of varieties which encourage mycorrhiza associations
- Increased study on plant growth regulator (PGR) use in wheat
- Varietal mixing to discourage pests
- Integrated maturity management
- Effect of grain-drying on post-harvest grain quality
- Improving falling number
Sources: Grain Growers of Canada, Alberta Wheat Commission.