RMI Analytics Crop Tour – 2017 Canada
On August 28th and 29th RMI Analytics conducted a crop tour of commercial barley fields and malting facilities in Central Alberta in Western Canada.
On the first day of the RMI Analytics Canadian Tour 2017 the group heard the whole region had been very dry in 2017, with rainfall across the season far in deficit to typical amounts observed. The barley harvest began in the region of Central Alberta around Calgary about two weeks ahead of normal due to the dryness, which had sapped some yield potential. But in the areas observed at the beginning of day one yields were heard between 90-120bu/ac with excellent screenings of above 93%. Other areas visited during the tour returned similar good yields with consistently impressive quality.Owing to the dry season the tour was told by representatives of Rahr Malting disease pressure was very low this year, especially from fusarium, and resulting DON(vomitoxin), compared to the 2016 crop. But experts were sure to tell the tour problems with fusarium were increasing in Canada and it would be an ongoing disease issue which would need to be managed in coming years. One method used by farmers to reduce pressure from mycotoxins is freezing silo bins, a practice which was heard to be common place in Canada. Another trend observed was continually declining acres with 6527ac planted in 2015 (5816ac harvested), 6390ac planted in 2016 (5493ac harvested) and only 5771 planted in 2017 (5148ac expected to be harvested). Declining acres are a serious problem for availability of quality malting barley for malt production with other crops such as wheat, lentils, beans and canola competing for barley acres. Crop tour participants took some solace in the excellent yields of new varieties, such as Syngenta Synergy, but they cautioned in a poor year declining acres could lead to shortages of quality barley and the industry needed to make barley growing more attractive to farmers.
One method discussed to improve the barley supply was using variable rate fertilizer application, reducing costs and improving overall crop conditions, as well as drone technology to map fields, analyze fertility and then better plan planting and fertilizer strategies. During a visit to the Davidson Farm near Red Deer the group saw a demonstration of fixed wing drone technology. The drone had been used to map the fields on the farm and generate 3-D maps of the terrain and the fertility of the fields. Information from the variable rate seeder, and the combine during harvest, was layered over the maps and a team of agronomists and mapping experts planned a seeding a fertilizer strategy to best work on the undulating terrain. The group was told now the farmer has a complete plan he can program into the auto-steer system and the machinery can follow this plan to ensure the crop gets the best start in the difficult terrain.
Later on the second day of the tour the group visited Rahr Malting’s facility at Alix, Alberta where the majority of the fields which had so far been visited would be malted, chiefly for export to the USA or into Asian markets. The 140,000MT facility was established in Alix in 1993 at the junction of the Canadian National Railroads and Canadian Pacific rail lines to ensure the best prices on shipping as well as the speed and capacity to serve all customers in Canada or beyond. Batch size at the plant is 450MT while there is 10,000MT of on-site storage capacity for finished malt. In total the facility requires 90 trucks of malting barley per-week to keep up with production. On the last two farm visits of the tour advanced grain storage technology and state-of-the-art dryer technology was displayed for the group. At the first stop farmer Bernie Frere showed participants his online grain storage monitoring system, which allows him to monitor almost all his storage bins and fans to allow grain to be quickly dried and stored ensuring stable quality and a low rejection rate at the malthouse. As well as this he demonstrated the online system Rahr Malting uses with their farmers to monitor fertilizer, pesticide and fungicide use and actual harvest results to ensure farmers are following best practice. At the last facility visit, the Bauer Farm, the group inspected a new grain dryer, installed by the family operation to, once again, allow grain to be quickly and efficiently dried and stably stored.
During the final visit of the tour the participants saw a trial of PGR (growth regulators) at the Crossfield site, 30 minutes from Calgary. In Canada the use of PGR’s has been limited and chemical manufacturers are still working to gain industry acceptance. In the field the tour was told some farmers had reported a 10% boost in yield compared to not using PGR’s with the trial inspected being a field of Copeland feed barley. Expectations from the group that were if the agricultural chemicals industry works with USA and Canadian based brewers and maltsters PGR use could become more widespread, especially as yields become more important if the decline in acres continues.
The tour group left Canada much more confident about the state of grain, with almost all harvested grain and barley observed in the field of excellent color, with good screenings but some slightly higher protein content. Harvest weather was perfect with warm and dry conditions allowing for good advancement while cool nights helped cool down grain in the bin. For the next few days it appears weather conditions will continue to favor harvest with no rain in the forecast into next week for Central Alberta. If this forecast comes to pass then barley will come off the field in excellent condition leading to a higher quality than expected Canadian harvest, welcome relief after last year’s wet conditions at harvest.
As a side note, it’s important to say the group was much impressed by the ingenuitive farmers which were visited, who are using technology, new practices, new varieties and data based analysis to improve their bottom line and the quality of their harvest. As well, many young farmers were met during the tour and it’s a good sign for the future that so many members of the next farming generation show such passion for farming.
This is the fifth RMI Analytics crop tour of 2017 and we would like to offer our sincere thanks to gold sponsors Rahr Malting and Syngenta.
Thanks as well go to local farmers who opened their doors to the tour group and shared their passion for malting barley.
Finally, it’s important to thank the participants, who make this unique malting barley industry networking opportunity such a success.
The final RMI Analytics crop tour for 2017 will be held in Victoria, Australia October 22-25.
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