There is the Top News Stories, and then there are the stories which are just plain fun to write. Some educate us about the larger picture of agriculture, some speak to a local aspect of the business which helped inform us better about our regional situation in Southern Alberta. Others were interesting for the details they impart to our readers. In no particular order, these are five stories we truly savoured in 2019.
1. BIO-CONTROL AGENTS UNLEASHED: SOUTHERN ALBERTA LEADING THE WAY FOR TARGETED INVASIVE WEED-CONTROL MEASURES
Ever have a feeling you know less than you think about the living world around you— especially those creatures which crawl along the ground and remain largely invisible to the untutored eye? In this article, we spoke to Robert Bourchier, an entomologist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station in Lethbridge, who is fighting a war which few are aware of: A war against invasive plant species like knapweed and leafy spurge. He is doing this by selectively releasing insect species from the original areas where these invasives come from to help control those weeds spread in Canada. Through Bourchier, readers were introduced to the weird world of weevils and beetles, and learned about how those bio-control measures worked in Southern Alberta.
2. GOATS TO THE RESCUE AS MAGRATH-BASED CREEKSIDE GOAT COMPANY BRINGS A WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE IN RANGELAND MANAGEMENT
Similar to the previous story, this one looked at another tool in the arsenal farmers can use to make an impact in natural areas where invasive species like leafy spurge or wormwood have taken over. Creekside Goat Company owner and Montana cowboy Robert Finck worked 20 years in the field of range management before deciding to relocate his family north of the border and set up his own goat grazing business. He made a compelling case for the use of goats in hard-to-reach and hard-to-spray areas. And, of course, respected photo-journalist Ian Martens captured some compelling images of the goats themselves— critters which have to be among the most photogenic on Earth!
3. THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE IS DATA CONTROL
Futurist Jesse Hirsh spoke to about 200 young farmers at the Farm Credit Canada Lethbridge 2019 Ignite conference back in February. Not only was his talk compelling, delving into various aspects of the new technological age in agriculture such as YouTube farming, Blockchain, Right to Repair and A.I. Learning— he also illustrated the challenges of navigating this new technical age for farmers who are unsure of where they stand in relation to data-control and the big farm equipment companies like John Deere, for example. In the end, Hirsh’s talk made those attending to conference think more deeply about these issues in relation to their agro-businesses, but also allowed our readers to envision a new age of agriculture which in many respects has already arrived.
4.WINTER TALES OF DEATH AND SURVIVAL AS TOLD BY LARRAINE ANDREWS, AUTHOR OF ‘RANCHING UNDER THE ARCH’
To know history is to know context, and see into the landscape around you with more depth than you would if merely inhabiting or dwelling. Author Larraine Andrews explores the world of Alberta’s early ranch pioneers in a way which is personal, revealing and gives new vocabulary to our experiences and impressions of cattle ranching in this challenging landscape. When Ag-Matters approached Andrews to do an interview particularly on the theme of winter in honour of the season, it might have been a daunting mission for some. But for Andrews she knew the subject like another might know the back of their own hand as the title of her book “Ranching Under the Arch” might have foretold to those who understood her vocabulary. Very few in Southern Alberta or Southwest Saskatchewan probably knew what that she meant even though the Chinooks blow freely through on a regular basis. We are grateful to her for enriching our own context.
5. JUST LEAVE BENEFICAL GRASSHOPPER SPECIES ALONE, SAYS LEADING HOPPER ENTOMOLOGIST
It is always interesting to talk with Dr. Dan Johnson about a subject he is no doubt among the foremost experts in the world on: Grasshoppers. This year Johnson warned us that grasshoppers species with a known history of devastating crops were once again on the rise in the Southern Alberta region, but it was his secondary concern that his warnings may be misconstrued, and lead to panic spraying by some to the detriment of beneficial species of grasshoppers, that stuck with us. Johnson made a compelling case for Russian Thistle grasshoppers, whose impact on the hated weed cannot be understated, and on behalf of other coloured wing and “singing” or “scritching” varieties, which are a key dietary component of Prairie songbirds.
“Having grasshoppers isn’t necessarily a problem,” Johnson summarized, “but what you need to do is see if they are damaging vegetation severely. If they are not, then they are probably the ones who aren’t an issue. And like I say, some of them we really do want to see return and say, ‘hi,’ because they keep the birds alive.”