Agriculture trade show plants seeds in farmers’ minds

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LANGHAM, Sask. — It’s a given that farmers don’t flock to an outdoor farm show to hang out in a tent and listen to speakers. Unless of course, it’s raining.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/07/2022 (200 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

LANGHAM, Sask. — It’s a given that farmers don’t flock to an outdoor farm show to hang out in a tent and listen to speakers. Unless of course, it’s raining.

The field demonstrations featuring big seeding and tillage equipment, spot-spraying drones, artificial intelligence and various expressions of autonomous agriculture drew spectators by the thousands at Ag in Motion here this week. The show returned to being a live event after two years of pandemic-induced measures that kiboshed most in-person events.

These new innovations on display focus on making agriculture more efficient, more productive, more precise and more environmentally sustainable. In theory at least, all of those things combined could put more money in farmers’ pockets, but there are usually significant upfront investments involved.

For farmers looking for a break from the hot sun or just a fresh take on managing their business, the speaker sessions were a treasure trove of ideas for how they can make more money with a minimum of capital investment. However, it takes time and a commitment to doing things a little differently.

Topics such as growing forages, calibrating your combine and tips for better data management may not be as tantalizing as the shiny paint, but it’s hard to beat the return on investment.

For example, forage specialist Ken Wall spent part of the week coaching farmers on the payback they could see from adding perennial forages such as alfalfa to their annual cropping mix.

It sounds counterintuitive. A century or so ago, most farms were mixed and typically had part of their land sown to forage for their livestock. But as farming has become mechanized, bigger and more specialized, there are more grain-only farms growing annual crops, which typically pay better despite the yearly expenditures on seed, fertilizer, herbicides and harvest.

Forages have typically been less expensive to grow, but unless the farmer needs the feed on the farm, selling hay hasn’t traditionally been a big money maker.

However, Wall told the tiny audience that had ducked into the tent just before a rain shower that times have changed. “The economics are changing in the fact that forage has suddenly become a big player in terms of price,” he said.

Not only has the price of hay more than doubled, the surge in fuel prices has made it expensive to haul around. “The trucking cost is becoming so high that it’s almost impossible, economically at least, to import hay from further distances,” Wall said. “Now suddenly the hay becomes a valuable commodity that they can actually sell, and there’s extra demand for it.

“It’s not that hard to get $450 to $500 an acre with not a lot of inputs. So it really does start to compete with some of these higher-yielding, higher-dollar annual crops.”

Growing forage offers additional benefits by way of improved soil health and fertility as well as lower weed-control costs. Forage crops also soak up excess moisture, have long tap roots that increase the soil’s water-holding capacity, and help keep salinity at bay.

Wall said the federal government’s commitment to reduce fertilizer emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 is also a game-changer.

By growing forage legumes such as alfalfa, which produces nitrogen that supports the crops that follow, farmers can reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer they need to purchase, as well as emissions.

Wall said more grain farmers are showing interest in adding forages to their rotations. However, he cautioned them to show their forage crops the same care they provide to their annual crops, if they hope to succeed.

“That’s my biggest complaint with a lot of cereal grain farmers. They’ll seed all their cereal crops. And then the end of June, when they got everything done, and the first pass of the chemical has been put on, then they’ll think about seeding forages.”

Whether it was a different colour of paint or a fresh perspective, it’s hard to imagine how any of the nearly 30,000 farmers who traipsed through the pop-up city of booths and displays near Saskatoon this week didn’t drive home with something new to think about.

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at lrance@farmmedia.com

Laura Rance

Laura Rance
Columnist

Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.

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