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U of L study the first to examine 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 per cent of irrigators in the TID participated in the survey.

 

“Based on the data collected, 81 per cent of irrigators have adopted some form of precision agriculture, at 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 that, 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 of 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 was funded by a grant from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

 

 

 Western Irrigation District celebrates 75 years of delivering water to farms 

In the early 1900s, posters produced by the Canadian Pacific Railway were a never-ceasing attraction to passersby of its office in Canon Street, London, that encouraged “Home seekers” and “Land Seekers” to Canada.

In 1903, the government of Canada approved a 1.2-millionhectare land grant to the CPR as final compensation for the construction of the railway. And they needed to persuade people to live on those lands and to use its trains to get to them.

But the land across the prairies was too dry to produce good crops, so the CPR began work in 1904 on a large gravity-fed canal network drawing water from the Bow River, starting with the weir in Calgary, and diverting it to farms to the east.

Water was carried to Reservoir No. 1 — better known today as Chestermere Lake — that was filled for the first time in 1905.

By 1944, the CPR decided it no longer wanted to be in the water-distribution business and transferred the system to a group of local farmers. They joined forces to form the Western Irrigation District, which in 2019 will celebrate 75 years of delivering water to 38,500 hectares of land.

General manager David McAllister says thanks to irrigation local farmers can grow a diverse array of crops, allowing irrigation producers to take advantage of a wider range of markets.

Armed with an engineering degree and an MBA, McAllister was lured back to Alberta after spending 10 years on Vancouver Island, attracted by the opportunity to manage an environmental organization that has more hectares irrigated with less water now because of actions the district and its irrigators have taken to save water. Much had been lost over its more than 1,000 kilometres of canals and pipelines, so the organization is constantly rehabilitating its water delivery system. Smaller canals are being replaced with PVC pipe to eliminate water loss from evaporation or seepage. Larger canals are cleaned and armoured to reduce siltation and improve water quality.

Chairman of the board Ray Kettenbach grew up on the family farm, but spent 26 years in corporate communications in the city. All members of the board must be farmers in the irrigation district system.

Kettenbach has been a supporter for a number of years and is particularly enthused about its plans to enhance the quality of its water.

Much of the stormwater from municipalities goes directly into our rivers, allowing all kinds of contaminants from streets, industrial sites, shopping malls and parking lots to flow through into the canals. Passing through hectares of wetlands can clean the water, but a big problem is the rapid growth of invasive and noxious weeds. The district is leading a plan to separate stormwater from irrigation channels with a parallel system to halt its impact on agriculture.

Other rehabilitation, operations and maintenance projects mean that the district has invested more than $100 million in works since 2005.

Saving water, putting land to work and enhancing water quality are continuing key initiatives for McAllister and his staff of more than 30 working out of their Strathmore headquarters.

He needs more storage for water to be prepared for shortages, and there is a big push to help farmers convert from highpressure to low-pressure pivots.

The district controls an amazing system that helps farmers provide table foods from carrots to watermelons, as well as providing water to livestock that also finds its way onto the dinner table. Raw water is supplied to a number of municipalities and to the Balzac area of Rocky View County, and also generates revenue from the City of Chestermere for the use of its lake for recreation.

NEWS AND NOTES: Riddell Kurczaba Architecture has appointed Michael Sczesny, formerly studio manager with Norr, as the new managing principal of its Edmonton Office.

 

 

 

Montana flexing muscles over mussels

 

BY KUHL, NICK ON JULY 21, 2018.

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald

Aquatic Invasive Species Solutions, a Montana-based, private company dedicated to preserving mussel-free waters, will be conducting a pilot study of a boat monitoring program this summer to better understand and prevent the spreading of mussel larvae between lakes.

In the fall of 2016, Montana wildlife officials detected larvae of invasive aquatic mussels at Timber Reservoir and suspected samples at Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the Mils and Missouri Rivers. The discovery prompted Governor Steve Bullock to declare a state-wide natural resource emergency, temporarily closing many bodies of water in the state to all boating, including Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Park.

Currently, the only line of defence against future infestations of Aquatic Invasive Species is mandatory boat inspections. The boat inspection process can be labour intensive, inconsistent from one agency to another, cost taxpayers and is nearly impossible to visually detect mussel larvae.

“We believe this will be a great way for the boating community to be proactive in stopping the spread of AIS,” said Matt Redding, vice-president of AIS Solutions, in a news release.

“We foresee this to be an important tool in the fight against invasive species while rewarding boaters with certified and proven ‘clean’ watercraft with a much faster and precise inspection process. We envision this program will be embraced by inspection agencies by providing a ‘speed-pass’ option for responsible boaters at mandatory inspection stations, allowing AIS inspectors to focus on high-risk watercraft.”

AIS Solutions is a private monitoring company with privacy as their utmost priority, and will only have verification that a boat has or has not entered mussel-positive waters will be indicated to the inspecting agency. If a boat has entered infected waters, that agency will be given further information including location and date to make an accurate determination of decontamination actions.

As a part of the upcoming study, a small, waterproof battery and solar-powered GPS will be securely attached to both motorized and non-motorized vessels, including kayaks and SUPs. With inspection, through the use of Geo-Fence technology, both the boat owner and inspector can be alerted when a vessel has entered mussel-infected waters.

“We expect this system to solve the serious issue of boats being launched or entering areas before or after hours, or when no inspectors are present,” Redding said. “Through this tracking device and by using a simple app or automated text message, the boat owner could have their boat ‘cleared’ to launch remotely by accurately verifying that they have not been in mussel-infected waters. We anticipate this program will help continually safeguard our water systems.”

AIS Solutions believes this to be a good, long-term solution that will allow recreational boaters, anglers and water-users to be proactive to ensure mussel-free water systems and to have access to those waters long into the future. For more information about the upcoming boat monitoring study, visit aissolutions.org.


Copyright © 2019 Alberta Irrigation Projects Association

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