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dry fields in front of mountains

Alberta Farmers Face Challenges From Hot and Dry Weather

Alberta Faces a Strange Year for Weather

It may be a case of quality over quantity for some Alberta crops this year.

Hot, dry weather in some parts of the province are making for variable conditions among crops.

“The lack of moisture will impact the yield, but the quality may benefit because of less risk of frost because of the heat,” said Humphrey Banack who runs Banack Farms in Round Hill, about 25 km northeast of Camrose.

“There are some areas that could have used some rain earlier and there are some that could still use some rain,” said Banack, who grows grains and oilseeds and is also the vice-president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture.

The federation’s president, Lynn Jacobson, who runs 3J Farms in Enchant, about 70 km northeast of Lethbridge, said his dryland crops have been taking a hit this year.

“The last few weeks of 30-degree-plus weather have taken their toll,” he said.

“There will definitely be less yield per hectare.”

The irrigation crops are doing better, however increasing utility rates and the fact he’s using more electricity for irrigation this year means Jacobson is taking a financial hit to keep those crops up to snuff.

Jered Serben, vice-president of the Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association, said farming conditions have been extra variable across the province this year.

While he received nearly 30 centimetres of rainfall at Serben Free Range, about 120 km northeast of Edmonton, in the spring, a farm just 50 km away had practically none and was forced to haul in water.

“Usually whole regions would get rain,” he said.

“It’s definitely been a strange year as far as weather goes.”

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fence and field of corn

The Facts on Fence Row Farming

Farmers get an earful about how to increase corn yields

Agricultural engineer Dean Glenney, right, and his son Kevin welcomed around 40 visitors to their Dunnville farm last month to demonstrate the successful results of Fence Row Farming. The key, they say, is leaving the soil undisturbed and allowing the worms to do the work.

About 30 farmers from Quebec and six from Huron County made their way to Haldimand County on July 24 to get a lesson on a successful farming technique.

“I love having people come to my farm to see what we’re doing,” said Dean Glenney, agricultural engineer and owner of KLS Engineering Ltd. in Dunnville.

What Glenney is doing on his 200-acre corn and soybean farm is a technique he coined Fence Row Farming – an approach to farming that has given him corn yields of around 300 bushels an acre, which is about double the county’s average.

With a French translator nearby, the language barrier didn’t stop Glenney from captivating his visitors.

They came to Haldimand to learn about the Dunnville farmer’s recipe for growing high yields of corn on his no-till operation.

“Every plant has a secret,” said Glenney, explaining that the secret for corn is to leave the soil undisturbed and the worms to do the work. “The secret is to just get out of (the worms’) way.”

He said Fence Row Farming was a technique he began to discover at a young age while working at the family farm.

Starting at the age of 14, Glenney began noticing the long-term effects that using farm equipment like rototillers or plows had on the soil structure. He also noticed that the crops growing along the fencerow in undisturbed soil were able to flourish much more than the rest of the field.

That’s when the seed for the Fence Row Farming technique was planted, and he decided to store away his heavy equipment and try a different approach.

The idea behind the technique is simple – to duplicate the high yields that a fencerow creates, and to find a way to create a fencerow every 30 inches across the field.

“For the last 20 years, I’ve been planting always on the same row – the exact same spot,” said Glenney.

The challenge behind making that happen was finding the right tools and technique to do it.

During the presentation, Glenney shared a bit about his cropping system and the tools he uses for precision planting, allowing him to seed in the same row every year as well limit traffic from driving over the planted rows.

It took about six years before Glenney saw the soil conditions he was looking for and it only improved from there. The soil conditions allowed the worms to thrive, giving Mother Nature the tools to get down to work.

“There’s nothing you can do with a piece of steel that you can’t do with nature,” Glenney said.

He said it takes work to plant on the exact same row year after year, but the results speak for itself.

“2011 was a very wet year and (the farm) still did fine. 2012 was a very dry year and regardless of the year, it seems to always come through,” he said.

Glenney found that his Fence Row Farming technique allowed the roots to go deeper into the soil. More nutrients were released and the water was used more efficiently, allowing the crops to thrive under drought-like conditions.

Using this same technique landed Glenney at the top of the Pioneer Ontario Corn Yield Challenge in 2010.

“I entered the contest and won the highest yield in Ontario,” he explained.

His highest that year was 283 bushels an acre, and the average was 271 bushels an acre. Ever since then, he said people wanted to know more about Fence Row Farming.

Glenney is not shy about sharing his story. He’s been to Quebec, United States and all across Ontario several times to speak about the technique.

Odette Minard, soil conservationist with the Ministry of Agriculture in Quebec, organized the bus tour to Dunnville.