Weather posed challenge for ag research station

Peggy Revell

Miserable wet weather this summer threw a wrench in the work at the Emo Agricultural Research Station in 2010.
“The weather played such a role,” Kim Jo Bliss, the station’s research technician, said about the work that was accomplished there this year.
“April was awesome and people were busy planting, and I had stuff in the ground,” she recalled.
“And then we had to wait for seed and then we had to wait for students,” Bliss noted. “And then once May came around, it turned miserable until about September and October.
“So it wasn’t the greatest year at all.”
Normally, early seeding like that means high yields. But because it was “so darn wet,” it was hard on the plants, Bliss said, and so the yields weren’t outstanding.
There were a few other challenges, too—such as having two new students for the summer, as well as the new combine which took a while to get the hang of.
“[The combine] will eventually save us a whole bunch of time, and it will be quite amazing because it certainly eliminates one of our bigger jobs like thrashing the grain and stuff like that,” Bliss remarked.
The wet weather also affected the forage they were growing at the station, with Bliss saying everything got “bumped back so drastically.”
“First cut here is normally by the middle of June and it was about a month late, so that bumps everything back for your next cuttings,” she explained.
As well, she noted there is a “critical cutting period” in the fall where alfalfa and forages shouldn’t be cut.
“Everything was kind of falling in that window, so then you have to make some decisions: do you cut and risk whether or not you have a harsh winter and it’s hard on your crop?
“So it was definitely a challenging year.”
New this year to the station was miscanthus, which did “really well,” said Bliss.
Also known as elephant grass, miscanthus grows tall and is similar to switchgrass or reed canary grass—and is a possible biomass grass for the region.
“We actually lucked out with that because when it came in, the weather co-operated enough for us to get it in the ground relatively quick,” Bliss said.
“It was tricky planting that stuff,” she admitted. “We ended up having to modify equipment and we were drilling holes with a drill and rented a generator so we could get them in the ground.
“But we got everything in the ground relatively quickly.”
Bliss said the moist weather did mean they were lucky compared to other research stations that planted miscanthus, which had to tote water for most of the summer to keep the plants “happy.”
While the plant did well, it’s still a matter of waiting to see what happens with it.
“Of course, the winter is a big challenge with this plant,” noted Bliss. “But there are varieties which seem to be a little more northern ready, so we’ll see.
“I think it has some potential.”
Bliss said it’s slow to establish a crop, so they won’t be seeing big yields next year. But possibly the following year there will be something.
Another area the research station experimented with this year was using charcoal on fields.
“They’re wanting to put wood ash on their fields to increase pH and there’s a small bit of fertility value in it,” Bliss explained.
“But it’s difficult to get that on farms, so we did some work with charcoal.”
The charcoal is similar to that used on a barbecue, except it’s in granular form. It was spread on some barley wheat, canola, and alfalfa.
“It’s a little too soon to tell that, too,” Bliss acknowledged.
“That trial will have to continue for three years at least before we can give you any hard data,” she stressed.
The research station also has been working on annual grasses, especially a kind called “Tess.”
This type of grass possibly could be helpful to farmers who can’t get planting done in early spring.
“It’s a really neat little grass that if you had to get some forage in that year and you needed to plant later­—June, July—you could still get some yields, and that one has potential,” Bliss remarked, noting it’s been a fairly big horse industry crop in the United States.
And making repeat appearance at the research station this year were vegetables.
“The veggies were okay,” Bliss said about the second year of veggie trials.
“The slugs ate every piece of lettuce we had, so we had no lettuce. But the slugs enjoyed them,” she chuckled.
The carrots did quite well with good yields, she added, although the deer came in and “cleaned the tops off and then started to pull carrots.”
“We’ve just got to plug away because we are hoping to get more people growing vegetables,” she reasoned.