Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ag tour draws small crowd

Perhaps those who didn’t attend the annual open house at the Emo Agricultural Research Station last Thursday evening were just as much of an indicator to the state of agriculture in the district as those who did.
The event historically has drawn dozens of community members and specialists alike. But this year’s group only boasted about 30 participants, which was down from the 70 on hand last year.

But station manager Kim Jo Bliss said she was not disappointed, noting those unable to attend likely were busy haying—a good sign following countless weather setbacks so far this season.
The group was walked through the research facility, which grows a wide range of cereal grains and forage crops to test various hybrids, soil mixtures, fertilizers, and pesticides for their suitability in the area.
The barley and wheat were marvelled over while onlookers groaned at the sight of a nearly non-existent corn field, which was flattened by a downpour a few weeks back.
But perhaps the season’s most notable growth was a soybean crop situated in the southern portion of the 54-hectare property.
“We focused a lot on soybeans and we had a really good speaker,” Bliss said, referring to Ministry of Agriculture and Food soybean specialist Horst Bohner.
“He was very knowledgeable with the crops so there was a lot of good information sharing,” she noted.
“Bohner reassured [the farmers] on a few things they were doing already and outlined things they didn’t need to do so some of their input costs could change because of that,” Bliss added.
Bohner was eager to encourage soybean planting here as the crop has been proven to be adaptable to Northern Ontario’s climate.
“In Ontario, soybeans are over three million acres now and it has actually become our biggest crop—economics is driving that,” he enthused.
And Bohner predicts there will be more than five million acres in the next five years in western Canada.
“There is a huge world demand for soybeans and if we can grow them here, that would be a huge benefit,” he stressed.
“You have pretty nice soils here and if you have a growing season long enough that you could finish them before the frost, there is lots of opportunity.
“It is another crop we could grow in the rotation that could actually bring some income,” Bohner noted.
“If you think about real economic development for rural Ontario, soybeans are one of the things that could advance [the district] as it has in other areas.”
Bohner also noted the value of testing the crops at the Emo research station before planting, adding the most significant aspect of doing so is determining which of the 200 varieties registered each year are best suited for local conditions.
“This is one of a network of research stations that tries to provide information for the local [farmers], but it also provides information for the whole province,” he remarked.
“The way that has to happen is that varieties have to be grown and show the yield that we want them to [produce] in different areas.
“When we are able to do that, there is potential to make a pretty decent profit and it all comes down to the mighty dollar at the end of the day,” he reasoned.
The value of a partnership with EARS was echoed by pathologist Madeleine Smith, who attended last Thursday’s open house in hopes of establishing one on the University of Minnesota’s behalf.
“I think the value to us is that they have expertise here, and they are growing some of the crops that we are interested in and currently working with,” Smith remarked.
“It is going to be beneficial for both of us because then we can do some of the research and partner with them for their facilities and expertise,” she explained.
“We have a lot of the same issues in Minnesota in terms of diseases so we are working to benefit both sides of the border.”
EMF Nutrition rep Eric Busch, who worked at the Emo station back in 2006, said that through a partnership with EARS, his company hopes to be the first to program animal nutrition starting with soil health.
“The crop science products that we are trying out at the research station right now have a long history and they were sold as yield boosters for many years,” he noted.
“But they have only recently found a connection to animal feeds.
“Here we are basically trying to get good trials in local conditions to see how they work and [learn] a little more about timing,” Busch added.
“The Canadian government is very protective of Canadian farmers and we need data before we can make advertising claims,” he stressed.
Busch alluded to the loss of the station pending the University of Guelph’s potential withdrawal from the program, which currently is covering the bulk of the station’s operating costs.
“Above all else, there is a special place in my heart for this research station,” he remarked.
“I basically fell in love with agriculture because of the district farmers and it has been an exceptional experience to get to give back to the community a little bit by plugging some dollars into the research station,” Busch said.
“There definitely is some huge potential here.
“I really hope that they can expand these types of partnerships in the future to keep it going,” he added.
Bliss said nothing has been confirmed at this point, but partnerships will play a vital role in maintaining EARS if the university decides to cut funding.
“Right now it is really status quo. But we were able to partner with some people and we have some money coming into the station for the next three years, which is great,” she enthused.
“I don’t think we will ever develop a new variety of wheat or a new variety of barley, that just is not where we are going,” Bliss admitted.
“[But] we are hoping that we can put some dollars in the farmers’ pockets by helping them make decisions or pointing them in the right direction.
“That is really what we are doing. But we need to convince the university that they need us doing that,” she stressed.
“If the university still decides that they need to save money and get rid of us, then they will get rid of us—we just don’t know,” Bliss conceded.
“But right now we are still here so we can’t get caught up in that—we just have to keep working.”
Although the formal open house only takes place once a year, the public is invited to tour the research station any time during the summer months.
It is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
For more info on tours and activities, call the station at 482-2354.

More stories