At Ag-Matters we have certainly had the privilege to speak with many interesting people in local agriculture over the past year. The diversity of the agriculture business in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan is absolutely amazing. So here, in no particular order, is our top five picks for the most fascinating local agriculture or agriculture-related stories we covered in 2017.
Thacker Specialty Crops exemplifies southern Alberta’s quest for new agriculture horizons
Back in our April 10 edition, Ag-Matters spoke with Dale Thacker, founder of Thacker Specialty Farms near Bow Island. Thacker told us of his exploration of crops as diverse as spearmint, dill, hemp, Monarda, French tarragon, hyssop and hops.
“We are always looking for the next thing on the horizon,” said Thacker at one point in our interview. “We have little test plots of all sorts of different things going all the time. If you want to make money, you have to put extra effort in. That requires research, growing things correctly or innovating new pieces of equipment or techniques to make that happen.”
Hilda dinosaur find and transport
Before the heartbreak of the Hilda wildfires of Oct. 17 took centre stage late in 2017, the area’s biggest claim to fame was probably its Hilda Mega Bonebed. A treasure trove of ancient dinosaur remains, the gem of the finds so far has been the full skull of 75 million-year-old Chasmosaurus kaiseni discovered and dug out painstakingly over five summers by Canadian Museum of Nature researcher Jordan Mallon.
Mallon finally finished the job in 2017 by completing a helicopter transport of the one-tonne fossilized skull up to prairie level, and from there by flatbed truck provided by a local landowner onto the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller before making its way to Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. As Mallon said last August finding the frilled and horned skull was a once in a lifetime “Eureka” moment for any dinosaur researcher.
Yak-crossed beef anyone?
Springridge Ranch near Pincher Creek provided an interesting backdrop for one of the oddest locally raised livestock species Ag-Matters has encountered since we started publishing in 2016: Yak-crossed beef.
The hairy, large-horned creatures have made a good home for themselves under the watchful eyes of Russ and Melissa Friesen, who own the ranch and have been raising this breed for the past 25 years.
“The meat is just excellent,” said Friesen during our interview. “People rave about it, both our customers and when we serve it to guests. When they go to try it, people tend to think it is going to taste like something wild, but it’s not. It’s quite a mild tasting meat, and I think it is the way beef wishes it could taste.”
Friesen also spoke of two successful by-products of the animals, in selling their highly sought after skulls for decorative purposes and their hair, which is in demand for film and television props here in Alberta.
Short Grass Ranches Ltd. wins business of year award at Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce
When talking to Randy Lehr, co-owner of Short Grass Ranches Ltd. near Medicine Hat, back in October, one got the sense of talking to a person and a company at a different level in local agriculture than most. The diversity of its operations, its successful application of corporate principles, successful fusion of technology into its daily business, and its use of progressive marketing research gave a very strong insight into where prairie agriculture is going in the near future.
In fact, for many large operations like Short Grass Ranches Ltd. that future is already here today.
“It has kind of come to light the last few years since the downturn in the oil and gas industry how vital agriculture is to the Medicine Hat economy and the area,” said Lehr in a sage moment during our interview. “As one local welding shop said to me recently: ‘We have come to understand the agriculture is our bread and butter; oil and gas is the gravy.’”
Green Prairie competing on a global scale
With the Green Prairie International Inc. Hay Plant located near Lethbridge, it really wasn’t the main commodity of trade (hay) which was of interest to us, but rather the scale of its operations and global size of its ambitions which commanded our attention.
Green Prairie gave Ag-Matters unprecedented access to its site and operations back in August, and discussed candidly the challenges facing its business competing in the international high-end livestock feed market and in the small bale pet food industry.
“This is a challenging business, and it’s very rewarding to see the diversification of product for the farmers to grow,” stated the company’s director of market development Edward Shaw at the time. “It’s another niche for farmers, and I think it is something where Canadians can fill a void in the world market around forages.
“The developing markets are requiring a higher quality of protein, and the demand for forages is increasing almost logarithmically in the world,” he added. “Canada is in a really good position to meet those needs.”