Ag News & Events

COMING EVENTS

Join the Landcare email list: Are you interested in hearing about grant programs and new funding opportunities, upcoming virtual events, workshops, and webinars, and receiving educational material like articles or video links relating to healthy and sustainable water and land? Contact Clearwater County Landcare staff @ landcare@clearwatercounty.ca with your email address to be added to the list.

2021 Conifer Tree Seedling Program:  These one-year-old white spruce and lodgepole pine seedlings are available for purchase/ planting in Clearwater County. Seedlings arrive mid-July ready to plant. Application forms available on Clearwater County’s website or by emailing dens@clearwatercounty.ca. Order deadline is June 14, 2021

Hemp Fiber Mats for purchase. Weeds rob tree seedlings of moisture, nutrients and sunlight therefore new plantings may benefit from this form of vegetation management. Available in 12- or 18-inch squares for $0.40 and $0.50 respectively. Place an order with your 2021 seedling order or separately. 

Verbenone Repellent Pouch - to deter Mountain Pine Beetle attackLimited supply of pouches are available and sold in packages of 10 at a cost of $100.00+GST. For more information call 403-846-4040 or contact dens@clearwaterocunty.ca 

Weed Workshops - Virtual Weed Workshops to receive 10% off Clearwater County’s range and pasture herbicides. April 28th 12:00 – 1pm: Corteva range and pasture / Beaver Co-existence.  May 5th 12:00 – 1pm: Bayer *NEW* TruRange herbicide / Mountain Pine Beetle. To register email: Reception@clearwatercounty.ca or call 403 846 4040.

Caring for my Land Funding Program: Do you have a watershed friendly project in mind? Projects that help protect natural surface water will be considered. Some examples include: planting an eco-buffer, shelterbelt or deep-rooted perennial forage to filter/retain water, riparian fencing, off-site watering systems, bridge material for livestock crossings, and beaver co-existence structures. The Caring for my Land program offers 50%-75% funding – for up to $5000 - through Alberta Environment and Parks “Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program”. Call Agriculture and Community Services at 846-4040 for more details.

Clouds of roiling dust and staccato-like hoofbeats fill the air in the wake of a thundering herd of wild Buffalo, intense riders giving chase as they shoot arrows and fire rifles from horseback galloping across a background of endless rolling prairie beneath a cobalt blue sky.

A romanticized version of an 1860s buffalo hunt with the Lakota Sioux, the dramatic scene from the 1990s epic movie Dances with Wolves starred Kevin Costner as Lieutenant John Dunbar.

Having discovered one of the few remaining herds of Tatanka, Dunbar lets the tribe know where they can be found and  helps to hunt them, confirming his assimilation into the tribe as a hero.

Tatanka is a Lakota word meaning “Big Beast.” For the Northern Plains People, the bison was a symbol of abundance and manifestation and was treated as sacred, providing almost everything they relied upon for their livelihood including food, clothing, shelter and tools, to mention a few.

By the close of the decade, total North American bison numbers plummeted from a high of 30 million (some estimates suggest 50 to 60 million) to about 1000 animals, both captive and wild in the U.S. No plains bison (Bison bison bison) had survived in Canada but about 200 wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) remained from an estimated original herd of 170,000.

Plains and wood bison are subspecies within the same genus Bison. Descended from buffalo which originated in Asia, having crossed the Bearing Straight (Beringia) during a glacial retreat 135,000 to 195,000 years ago, and then again 11,000 to 14000 years ago, the two subspecies evolved separately, only occasionally co-mingling and interbreeding during glacial retreats.

Plains bison are the smaller of the two species (1/3 smaller and 15% lighter) but have massive heads with short noses and clearly defined shaggy capes covering the upper portion of their bodies

Wood bison have large triangular heads and less defined shoulder capes and head hair, with more distinctive and bigger shoulder humps.

Various conservation programs and parks were established from the early 1900s onward, resulting in a significant bison recovery, bringing the population up to about 1500 by the 1920s in Western Canada. 

Some mismanagement of subspecies resulted in hybridization until a remote northern herd of wild wood buffalo was discovered in 1957, guaranteeing their genetic purity. 

Elk Island National Park in Alberta has provided most of the bison found on private farms and ranches throughout Canada, currently at about 120,000 head. There are about 350,000 to 400,000 animals in North America on private ranches in total, and about 1500 to 2,000 in conservation herds in Canada.

Canadians are enamored with their pioneering past and the role bison played in the development of the west. The reintroduction of 31 Plains Bison from Elk Island National Park into Banff National Park garnered great public interest. Today the heard has grown to 50 head while contained in a 1200 square kilometer introduction area.   

The loss of a robust gene pool compared to what existed in the 1880s has been a prevailing concern throughout all recovery programs, given the small number of animals from which all current bison in North America have evolved. 

Recently announced, the world’s first bison genome biobank is being developed at the University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence.

“After the near extinction of bison 100 years ago, Canada has led the way in bison conservation, but due to small genetically isolated herds and disease, bison remain at less than two per cent of their historic population. Without conservation efforts, bison as a distinct species would cease to exist,” said team leadeDr. Gregg Adams (DVM, PhD), a specialist in reproductive biology at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

Awarded $6.76 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to help revive the bison population, as well as strengthen the cattle industry, the university hopes to restore much of the old evolutionary robustness the species once knew. 

“A genome biobank provides one of the best opportunities to revitalize the bison species and will serve as an excellent model that can be applied to other threatened Canadian species such as caribou,” Adams said, noting that more than 30,000 animal species are at risk of extinction worldwide.

The work has the support of the Assembly of First Nations and other Indigenous groups.

One of the first projects at the Centre of Excellence will be to develop tools to detect what bison have been hybridized. With plains Bison having been introduced into the Wood Bison population of Wood Buffalo national Park in the 1920s, there may be no true Wood Bison left in the park.

With 50 Wood and 50 Plains Bison kept nearby at Clavet Saskatchewan for the past dozen years, the Centre is in a unique situation to develop a functional and diverse biobank.

If you visit your average Alberta garden, you are probably going to see some variation on about the same ten vegetables. The reason for this is because they are proven, regardless of where you live.

According to Robert Spencer, horticulturist, “We tend to grow things that work for us every year, without fail, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. However, if you are looking to add in some variety, you might have to push the annual vegetable crop envelope a little bit, roll up your gardening sleeves, and work a bit harder.”

Some of the yummiest vegetables require patience and diligence in order to partake of their bounty. This might mean waiting years for the plant to establish, or you might need to provide extra protection from pests. Regardless, the payoff is well worth the effort.

Asparagus is an intriguing vegetable. Most people wouldn’t recognize the “grown up” version of the asparagus plant throughout the summer, unless they’d happened to have seen the new shoots emerging from the soil in the spring. Asparagus spends most of the season as a tall feathery fern, capturing as much sun and energy as it can. This allows it to replenish the reserves of the asparagus crown deep under the soil surface.

Asparagus can be started from seed, either indoors, in a greenhouse, or in a seedling bed, or you can purchase a bareroot crown. If you start from seed, you will have to wait until the seedling is big enough to be planted out.

Spencer says that asparagus plants or crowns should be planted deep. One method is to dig a deep wide trench, with the bottom four to six inches below the normal level of the soil. You can also dig a single wide deep hole if you aren’t planning to plant more than one plant. Place the plants one to two inches below the surface of the bottom of the trench/hole.

“At this point, the long wait begins,” says Spencer. Over the course of a couple of years, gradually fill in the trench/hole a couple of inches at a time. The idea is to allow the crown of the plant to establish well below the soil surface, sending up the new shoots each spring to become a big leafy fern. In order to ensure that the asparagus has the strength to support several weeks of harvesting the tender spears, you have to wait about 4 years before starting harvest. At first, you will only harvest spears for about two weeks. Then, based on the health and strength of the plant, you might be able to increase your harvest period to four weeks.

“It will be extremely tempting to start harvesting after a couple of years,” says Spencer, “but if you resist, you will have a stronger plant that can last for decades.”

Another perennial sort of vegetable is garlic. It is extremely popular and in high demand. Realistically, you need about two seasons to get a decent sized garlic bulb, but sometimes it might be quicker than that. Garlic can be started from a number of different plant parts, whether it is individual cloves, bulbils, or seed. Generally, the larger the starting piece, the quicker you will reach a harvestable size.

Garlic can be started in spring; however, it is more often planted in early fall. According to Spencer, fall planting is advantageous because it means that the garlic starts growing early in the spring before you can even get into the garden and work the soil, giving you a few weeks of growing time. This way, you have the chance to get a harvest at the end of the summer. If things are slow and the size of the bulbs isn’t increasing quickly, you might have to overwinter the bulbs for a second winter and harvest the next summer. Covering with straw might be required to provide a bit of extra protection.

Brussels sprouts grow much like their cousins the cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. However, they will likely need a bit longer to reach maturity, so using transplants is going to be an absolute must. Thankfully, you can leave Brussels sprouts out even when it snows and freezes. They are targets of the ever-present white cabbage butterfly (a.k.a. imported cabbageworm), other caterpillar pests, and things like flea beetles and root maggots, so using thin fabric covers can help protect them from attack from above. You might have to get creative to address any pest issues in the soil.

Spencer suggests that if you find that you just can’t get sweet corn to reach maturity (which makes sense, since they really need time and heat to get there), try using different varieties that can handle a bit colder early on, and use crop covers early on to trap a bit more heat and get them jumping out the ground.

There are lots of other vegetables out there to be tried, if you are willing to cover, protect, and learn their tricks. It is worth a try and well worth the effort.

With the unexpected arrival of an early spring farmers will likely be starting fieldwork earlier than usual.  Oversized slow moving farm equipment could start appearing on highways and back roads throughout the county any day now. 

Distinctly different from the days of the small family farm, today’s farms are larger, and equipment is wider and longer, with more distance between widespread fields.

At the same time, recreation and industrial traffic has increased with each passing year. As national and international travel is limited by pandemic restrictions many more people are camping and on any given weekend. An average of 50,000 people will visit the west-country this season, with numbers exceeding 60,000 expected on long weekends.

Recreational vehicles and trailers or no longer the 3-meter variety of years gone by. Today they are more likely to be 8 meters and larger. Motor homes and trailers are completely self-contained units that are taller, wider, and longer.   

Accident potential grows as irritated motorists and frustrated farmers vie for space on congested highways and backroads. Everybody has an agenda and a place to be, campers hoping to reach their destination to set up before nightfall and farmers wanting to capitalize on good weather conditions while they last.

The situation can be dangerous for everyone using public roads. For the farmer working multiple fields there are no other options when it comes to moving equipment from place to place. 

To reduce the risk most producers move equipment in the daylight during periods of light traffic whenever possible. By preplanning the route, they generally avoid narrow bridges and tight corners as well as the challenge of steep hills and railway crossings.

And yet the Canadian Agricultural Injury Surveillance program (CAIS) reports that 13 percent of farm related fatalities are traffic related and most involve tractors. The most frequent type of accident is a tractor rolling into the ditch because of driving too close to the shoulder of the road.

The most common type of multiple collision is a farm machine being struck as it turns onto a public road. There are also a high number of rear-end collisions occurring at intersections caused by motorists underestimating the size and speed of farm equipment. CAIS reported that the worst time of year for collisions occurs during the busy harvest months from July through September.

Few motorists realize that farm implements are often as large as 4.5 meters wide and 9 meters long, with a combined weight of up to 30 tones, which makes stopping a slow process. All too frequently drivers fail to recognize that stopping quickly in front of farm machinery can greatly increase the potential for an accident.

A lack of maintenance can also be a contributing factor in farm equipment accidents. Implements or tractors with poor brakes, worn or underinflated tires and improper connections can lead to a loss of control. Failure to lock brake pedals together for highway travel may also put a tractor into a dangerous skid when braking.

Farmers should make sure they wear a seatbelt, that tractors have roll-over protection and that they are equipped with rear-view mirrors. Slow moving vehicle signs (warning triangles) must be securely placed on implements and equipment must be clearly visible with the use of proper lighting and signage. Dust covered lights and signs seriously reduce visibility.

Motorists are not usually stuck behind a tractor for long. Using common sense and slowing down will go a long way toward reducing accidents. In the end it boils down to exercising mutual respect for all parties involved by sharing the road in a responsible manner.

It is easy to forget that the farmer a frustrated motorist may be honking at, is in fact the same person who produces most of what they eat and wear every day.

For further information or details regarding farm safety or regulations and guidelines for moving farm equipment, agricultural producers may refer to www.agric.gov.ab.ca.

Do you have a project in mind that would improve water quality and biodiversity on your land? We have a program for you.

Clear Water Landcare is the conservation arm of Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services and continues to help others become the best possible caretakers of land and water, with a focus on education and awareness of beneficial practices, communication of ideas and demonstration of techniques and technologies.

Rural landholders – both farm and non-farm – often have creative and resourceful ideas for protecting the environment around them. Unfortunately funding a project is often a limiting factor which prevents landowners from making positive practice changes. That has the potential to change with the Caring for My Land program.

Recognizing the costs associated with on-the-ground practice change, Clearwater County’s Caring for My Land program is a cost share program intended to assist producers by reducing the financial burden that comes with implementing beneficial management practices on their land.

Funding for the program is provided by the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program (WRRP) and delivered by Clearwater County Landcare staff. The goal of the program is to help improve upland and lowland areas making watersheds more resilient to seasonal runoff or high-water events and periods of drought or water deficiency.

If you live along, or near, a stream, creek, or river or adjacent to a spring, pond, or other water body such as a wetland, you meet the first criteria.

After program evaluation in 2020, the beginning of 2021 came with a few changes to the Caring for My Land program criteria and application form. Eligible Clearwater County landowners will receive 75% cost share funding for riparian fencing along streams, creeks, rivers, springs, and surface water bodies, and 50% cost share funding for all other approved projects and expenses – up to $5000 reimbursement per project.

Determining the environmental need and benefit will help with project selection and planning. Whatever project you may be thinking about doing this year, it is important to keep in mind that ALL projects must directly or indirectly protect natural surface water. This does not include dugouts.

Projects that qualify include (but not limited to): off-site watering systems, bridge material for livestock crossings, beaver co-existence structures, riparian or streambank fencing (with a grazing plan), cross fencing for rotational grazing to distribute nutrients, portable windbreaks/shelters for winter feeding and bedding sites to help distribute nutrients away from runoff areas, development of berms, catchments or filtering buffers to catch runoff and the establishment of eco-buffers, shelterbelts and deep rooted perennial forage to filter and retain water.

Implementing these projects – when associated with nearby water bodies or water sources – can significantly improve water quality, biodiversity and improve fish and other habitat by reducing contamination or sediment loading into streams. Projects like these also help to enhance ecosystems services and support diverse plant and wildlife communities on your land.

In receiving several applications over the years, some of the more popular projects on the land we have seen include: riparian or stream fencing and off-site watering systems, beaver co-existence structures (pond levelers), cross fencing, and eco-buffer and shelterbelt plantings.

Finding landowners who want to lead by example and have a willingness to share their ideas and successes with others are admired and often advocates of the community. Caring for my Land is essentially a partnership between the landowners and Clear Water Landcare.

Every rural resident influences the environment in some way, whether they are involved in agricultural practices or not. How they manage their water and wastewater, soil and vegetation, livestock or natural features on their land is the key to healthy land and water.

If you are a landowner in Clearwater County who is interested but not sure how to get involved or if the project you have in mind will apply, Landcare staff are happy to help and discuss your project ideas.

For more information, contact Clearwater County at (403) 845-4444 or visit www.clearwatercounty.ca under the Clear Water Landcare page to find an application form.

Applying the 5 Soil Principles with the environment in mind

Solar Harvest Farm is the latest recipient of the Clear Water Landcare Environmental Stewardship Award which recognizes those have who made a positive contribution to the protection of land and water. Our past recipients have come from the farm, ranch and recreational community.

John Reid’s grandparents moved to the Beaver Flat district in 1931 and John grew up on that farm. With wife Donna and daughters Tara and Amy, he returned to the farm in 1980 after he and Donna had worked with Alberta Agriculture in the Peace region. 

John has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and a Professional Agrologist designation and Donna has a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics. The farm has now grown to four quarters in size and is managed through controlled grazing principles.

John is always updating his knowledge and practices by attending numerous workshops and conferences and is the first to volunteer if help is needed. The family has hosted tours over the years to share their techniques and insights with other interested farmers.

As local landowner, Mark Bertagnolli explained, “Not only has John helped many local farmers with their own enterprises, but he also takes any opportunity he can to mentor our youth with ideas of sustainability and environmental responsibility, my own son included”. 

In 2019 John had happily volunteered to man the soil station at the Clearwater County Ag Services E.A.T. event (Educational Agriculture Tour) for local grade 4 and 5 students.

The Reid’s believe that it is also important to share agriculture’s story with non-farmers and have encouraged local farms to open their gates to visitors during Alberta Open Farm Days for that reason.

The Reid family strongly values natural eco-systems and consider their own impact on the environment in everything they do, whether on the farm operation or in their personal lives.

They are quite concerned about climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, noting that “while agriculture is a small part of the problem, it has the potential to be a big part of the solution through carbon sequestration. John has often said that “We can each make our contribution on the land that we have been permitted to steward.”

Because their land is split up into three different locations each has its own fencing and watering system. On their farm they do their best to apply 5 soil principles which are as follows:

  • Keep the ground covered with organic material (dead or alive).
  • Try to have photosynthesis happening during as much of the year as possible.
  • Grow a variety of species including grasses, legumes, forbs, and brassicas.
  • Avoid disturbing the soil with cultivation.
  • Avoid the use of pesticides.

John pointed out that the best term he has found to describe what they do is called Multi Paddock Adaptive Grazing. Through controlled grazing and reduced tillage practices, the Reid’s have slowly seen the organic matter in their soil improve, which has been their goal in developing their farming system.

This system not only reflects sequestered carbon, but it also increases the soil’s capacity to withstand extreme weather conditions and to resist runoff and erosion.

In recognizing the paradox of using ruminant animals in a regenerative agricultural system, John says “they definitely emit greenhouse gases but there is mounting impartial evidence that with effective management, ruminants can sequester much more than they emit. We believe that that is what’s happening on our farm”. 

They have also taken steps to preserve and enhance treed and wetland areas all around their farm including the protection of natural shelterbelts from cattle and the planting of 7,000 conifer seedlings.

Throughout the course of developing new farming practices and enhancing the environment, the Reid’s have taken advantage of a number of county services and Landcare programs including buying tree seedlings and hemp mats through Clear Water Landcare and using Ag services sprayers to spot control Canada thistle, Tall Buttercup and Wild Caraway.

In addition, in 2017 the Reid’s received partial financial support from the Clearwater Landcare Caring for my Land program along with the assistance the of the Agroforestry and Woodlot Extension Society (AWES). The Reid’s program reclaimed a benchland above Lasthill Creek, a tributary of the Medicine River in the Red Deer River watershed, where 6800 conifers were planted.

The Reid’s’ continue to attend Landcare and Ag Services workshops, as well as the Cattlemen’s Day event and are planning on updating their Environmental Farm Plan in the near future. As John often states “We are always happy to show people how we do things. The hard part is executing herd movements according to what is growing, where and when.”  

In recognition of his commitment to and leadership in environmental stewardship, Clear Water Landcare is pleased to present its 2020 Environmental Stewardship Award to John Reid of Solar Harvest Farm.

Bob and Billie McNutt, the latest recipients of the Clearwater County Century Farm Award

In a recent interview at their home near Dovercourt Hall, south of Rocky Mountain House Alberta, Bob and Billy McNutt expressed their endless gratitude for the tenacity and perseverance of Bob’s grandparents, who originally homesteaded the land they now farm on.

William (Bill) Robinson came from Nanton in 1906 to homestead the N1/2-12-36-7-W5, leaving his wife Emma and their 6 children behind while he proved-up the land.

At that time women were not eligible to obtain a free homestead in western Canada, but in 1908 the Volunteer Bounty Act came into effect, the primary purpose of which was to benefit Canadian soldiers who had fought in the South African Boer War (1899-1902).

In 1910 at age 41, Emma was fortunate to have been granted the S1/2-13-37-7-W5 (backing onto the N1/2 Bill homesteaded), from Charles Harvey of Springhill, Nova Scotia. Harvey had joined the 4th regiment of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, arriving in South Africa just as the war ended. Though he never fought, he still qualified for the land grant and with no intentions of living in Alberta, assigned it to Emma. By 1917 Bill and Emma had proven-up and gained title to the full section of land.

Today, although they have “cut back some,” Bob and Billie calve out 170 head of fullblood and Simental cross cows, and along with replacement heifers and bulls, feed over 200 head through the winter.

They are fortunate to have help when they need it from sons Brad and Bart, who both work fulltime but live nearby. When the time comes, they will take over the operation of the farm, continuing the tradition for the fourth generation.

Continuing her story of the family history, Billie explained how Bill and Emma’s youngest daughter Mary had married “a handsome devil” from the Clearwater Trading Store area named Ted McNutt.  The McNutt’s had homesteaded there in 1912. Ted and Mary settled on Robinson land south of the hall and had four boys: Richard, Donald, Allan and Robert.

When Bob’s grandfather Bill died, the land was passed on to his son Bill junior, the McNutt boy’s uncle. In the 1950s Robert (Bob) and Donald (Don) McNutt bought the N1/2-12-37-7-W5 from him.  

At 85 come April, Bob is still going strong, the envy of many a younger man. Having worked off the farm for a time in the early years he likes having the grandchildren around and indicated that they are actually a great help.

Commenting on how he likes the freedom of farm life and being his own boss, Bob nodded at Billie with a wink, saying,” Well, some of the time anyway.” When asked about what he was most grateful for Bob chuckled and said, “at my age, just waking up in the morning.”

Youthful at ten years Bob’s junior, Billie decided a couple of years ago that there was more to summers than driving a forage harvester round and round and decided to slow down a bit, turning at least that chore over to the boys.

Some traditions are circular, repeating themselves through generations, like Grandfather Bill, who helped build the Cheddarville School and the Cheddarville Post Office. When the Dovercourt Hall was moved and expanded, Bob and Billie donated the land required for the new hall with room for extra parking.

The hall has been somewhat central to their lives in that they met at a country dance there when Billie was just 15 years old. As Bob put it, “I had to wait a couple of years till she was 19 and old enough to marry.” That was in 1965.

With three of the four original homesteaded quarters still in the family the ranch has expanded and today Bob and Billie farm 1100 acres of pasture, hay, and cropland. Well respected in the community as able ranchers and good neighbours, they have no intention of ever leaving the farm, with Bob adding that he would not quit until he could “no longer walk across the yard.”

Both were having a good chuckle about that when Billie noticed that a truck had just pulled up in the yard, driven by the local veterinarian, there to doctor a cow with a prolapse. With that, Bob was up and out the door barely stopping to put his boots on, saying “Gotta go, see you folks later!”

Recent recipients of the Clearwater County Century Farm Award

Visiting the Senkyr farm felt a bit like a country boy’s first time at a rodeo. There was noise, dogs and people coming from all directions. Entering a large well-appointed workshop, the current patriarch, John Senkyr, introduced himself and his wife Jane, followed by his children and all the rest of the extended family. There were a lot of them.

Sitting down to discuss the farm and how it all evolved over the years, everyone had something to say and a story to tell. It was obvious they were all excited because they loved being a part of the farm, its history, and the possibilities for the future.

A decent mechanic and body man, “Grandpa” John proudly pointed out the 1965 Ford Thunderbird he was close to completing a restoration on. D.J. (Devon John), his grandson, who lives in the same yard, talked about buying his first bunch of cows this spring and how he was helping feed and calve out the cows currently on the farm.

John’s son Bobby, who lives on the south quarter of the half section farm, shared how he and his father were planning to buy a bandsaw mill to start sawing logs. Given some health challenges, this way he could make a living working near home.

Bobby’s sister Jennifer shared great memories of racing her father from the milking barn to the house after doing chores when they had a dairy. She also loved gardening with grandma, who had a great sense of humour, once sneaking through the bush breaking twigs and making animal sounds behind her as she was trying to run away from home.  

 And the stories went on as more questions were asked and answered.  

As described in their Century farm application, it all began when John Senkyr, who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1876, immigrated to the United States as a young man. It was there he met and married Mary Vobedya, a widow with four small children in tow. 

Not finding what they were looking for in the U.S., in 1911 Mary and John took the long journey north to the Evergreen district southeast of Rocky Mountain House Alberta, where they took up a homestead on Section 24-37-5-W5. 

They started out by building a small house out of logs they cut and peeled themselves. Two more children were born in their simple home, the oldest named Lenora and the youngest, John Albert. 

As the years passed Auntie Lenora could often be heard telling her family the story of a sick horse her parents had been doctoring in the barn. Key to the farming operation, a healthy horse was a valuable asset.

As Lenora described it, one morning her Father John went out to check on the horse, only to discover it laying on the floor of the barn, stretched out stiff. Highly disappointed, they hooked up their team of horses and pulled the dead horse out of the barn.

Not wanting it to attract scavengers to the yard, John and Mary hauled the horse a half a mile to the muskeg, intending to cover it with brush and burn it. Having an appointment in town, John left before starting the fire. When he returned later, he could not believe his eyes. There, standing by the barn, was the horse eating grass, just as though nothing had happened.

John and Mary’s youngest son, John Albert married June Black from the Condor area in 1941, having taken over the farm after his father’s death in 1939. Together they had seven children named Judy, Marilyn, Donna, Barbara, John Edward (current owner), Randy (passed in 1975 at 17) and Isabell.

John and Mary worked hard on the farm as well as putting in many hours of service at the Evergreen Community Center. June organized Christmas concerts for many years while Grandma Mary lived with them until her passing in 1959.

John Edward worked on the farm with his parents, married Rita Ogilvie in 1972 and took over the farm in 1977, after his father had passed away at 57. Together they had two children, Robert (Bobby) and Jennifer, both referred to earlier in the article. John’s mom June loved to cook and bake. There was always a meal for anyone who showed up at the farm. June passed away in 2017 at the 96 years.

When asked about the hardest times, John spoke of the years when his father passed away and he took over the farm. And asked about the good times he looked around smiling, “Well the peace and quiet of an early morning and having all the family around. “That makes it home. It will always be home.”

In 2018, a series of articles written in this column summarized the latest thinking in ag science circles regarding a possible solution to rejuvenating the world’s ailing soils. Five soil principles were outlined in detail, principles which were viewed by some as the next step to feeding a burgeoning global population, and possibly, the foundation for the next agricultural revolution. 

The five soil principles as defined by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA) are: soil armour, minimal soil disturbance, plant diversity, continual live plant/root, and livestock integration.

Regenerative agriculture is the incorporation of these principles wherever possible and a term which followed on the heels of the organic ag movement and the concept of sustainability.

Sustainable agriculture came about in response to the gradual depletion of soils after decades of synthetic fertilizer and pesticide use.  

Compaction and the loss of soil structure, minerals and organic matter has resulted in poor water infiltration and a loss of soil fertility. Despite productive new plant varieties, continued monocropping has left crops susceptible to disease and pests. Much of the cropland throughout the world can no longer hold the water it once did and overland flooding is the consequence.

With a new awareness of the role of soil microbiology the idea of simply sustaining the soil for future generations has given way to the idea of regenerating it. 

Healthy soils contain a remarkable abundance of microorganisms and a robust microbial community is much more resilient and can perform essential functions under any number of changing climatic conditions.

The introduction of no till and minimum tillage during the green revolution was a tremendous advancement in reducing erosion and retaining soil moisture, particularly in contrast to the dustbowl years of the 1930s.

It has been found that reduced disturbance of the soil and the maintenance of live plants and roots further increases the abundance and diversity of microorganisms, helping to retain more carbon and minerals in the soil.     

As often happens when it comes to the food value chain, manufacturers have recently picked up on the new buzzwords and “greenwashing” or not, have begun using the terms sustainable and regenerative agriculture on their products. General Mills promotes the idea that it has committed to using regenerative practices on a million acres of farmland.

Over the past six or seven decades, society’s direct involvement with agriculture has dwindled, while at the same time, conversations have escalated throughout social media and the food value chain about sustainable/regenerative agricultural practices. 

West of the fifth meridian, local Clearwater County producers have been using regenerative practices for several generations, particularly when it comes to the incorporating livestock. Food consumers may be forgiven for the obvious disconnect between soil principle #5 (incorporating livestock) and the erroneous belief that cattle are major GHG emitters.

The Clearwater County Agricultural Services department continues to carry out trial plot testing of new plant genetics with the expectation of enhancing soil health and expanding plant diversity available to local producers.

2020 and the associated COVID-19-related fears and restrictions was extremely challenging for all of us. According to horticulturalist Robert Spencer though, there is somewhat of a silver lining which carries forward into 2021.

“Gardening is now considered to be cool again. For those of you that already thought gardening was cool, just sit back and soak it in.”

Based on some reports, it is estimated that there were between 16 and 24 million new gardeners in 2020, with many of them under the age of 35. This is significant since gardening has been most often associated with those who are a bit more … mature. With more time at home, concerns over food supply, and a desire to just get outside, people have flocked to their yards and gardens.

A group out of the United States conducts research each year to try and capture some of the biggest garden trends, which they then publish. They are often correct in their predictions. Like all trends, you might agree with some and disagree with others, and some will apply to you, while others do not. Here are some of the trends have been floating to the surface this past year or so.

One of the predicted trends is a return to what is referred to as “broadacre cities”, which is a sort of return to traditional idealistic lifestyles, including lots of fresh air, green spaces, and Victory garden-style designs. Spencer says, “Essentially, it ties in tightly with the COVID-19 lifestyle, where people want to be outside more, closer to family, and have easy access to their things that they deem are essential, such as fresh vegetables, etc.”

Within the whole “broadacre” trend is another trend that has been surging for quite some time now. This is an increasing interest in houseplants, including tropical plants. This might seem strange, until you consider how much time people have spent inside their homes in their home offices in front of screens on virtual meetings. Houseplants add color, fresh air, and a subtle variety to any space. People also want to connect with living things, so plants fill that void. Sadly, like many trends, there are weird variations on it, including new terms, such as “plant parent”, etc.

The surge in new gardeners is also a trend, referred to as the “backyard aficionado”. Many of these new gardeners do not live-in traditional gardening spaces. They are new homeowners, renters, or people that have extremely limited growing spaces. As a result, the interest in small space gardening, balcony, and container growing has increased at a much faster pace than it was previously.

Additional trends within this category also include a surge in interest in food gardening.

“The demand for seeds is extremely high,” says Spencer, “which will make gardeners that have been growing for years a tad frustrated.”

With this interest in food gardening comes a desire to transform the landscape into something that is not only beautiful, but also productive and functional. People are putting in more front yard gardens, as well as planting more fruit trees and bushes.

Another trend is all about adding diversity or in recreating nature in our spaces. There is a high level of interest in pollinators, and in planting pollinator-friendly landscapes. Spencer says that this includes using a wider selection of flowering and native plants. The interest in native plants is also linked with increased interest in environmentally conscious practices, such as reducing water use, pesticide use, etc.

Another trend that was identified relates to tiny plants, the smaller the better. Part of the interest in this is because new gardeners have limited concepts of patience, and so they want results from their gardening efforts as soon as possible. They also have small spaces, which means they cannot grow a massive garden. Small plants, or more specifically those fruiting vegetables that are grown in containers, are very popular. They have the added bonus of producing a fairly high number of fruits per plant.

Overall, trends come and go. Happily, these current trends represent a move towards things that can have lasting impact on us and our collective health.

As March unfolds, most cattle producers are in the thick of, or are just beginning their calving season. Traditionally, March is the month with the heaviest snow fall, is also one of the wettest months and therefore prone to scours in young calves.

Calf scours can be caused by a variety of different agents, some of which may be considered primary pathogens. E. coli bacteria, Rota and Corona viruses, as well as Coccidia, are primary pathogens that have the ability to cause diarrhea on their own.

Parasites such as coccidia and giardia are usually not a major problem unless the calf is already infected with a primary pathogen. In that event, the diarrhea tends to be more severe, lasts much longer and it is usually more difficult to treat.

The calf’s gut is the weakest point of its system. When attacked by infectious agents, the lining of the bowel is damaged, resulting in large amounts of body fluid entering the gut. 

Approximately 70 per cent water at birth, the loss of fluids through diarrhea leads to rapid dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and depletion of energy reserves.

It is the dehydration and/or acidosis that most often kills calves. For that reason, oral electrolytes are often the best tool for returning sick calves to normal function, especially if administered early.

A calf that is 10 percent dehydrated requires about four liters of water just to reach normal levels, not including the extra fluid it requires for daily maintenance. One to two liters of electrolytes per treatment are required and should be administered up to four times a day.

The key to successful treatment is having the ability to promptly identify ailing calves and the severity of the scours. A telltale sign in an ailing calf, aside from evidence of diarrhea, are eyeballs which are recessed back into the head. It may be necessary to roll back the eyelids to verify how far back they are.

Dehydration may also be verified by grasping skin at the neck between the index finger and thumb. If it remains in a tent-like position before slowing slipping back to normal, then dehydration is an issue. 

Calves that are severely dehydrated (eight to 10 percent) will have eyeballs that are obviously recessed. Calves that reach 12 percent dehydration will be close to death.

Another ramification of dehydration is acidosis, a complicated process that results in the calf having too much acid in its bloodstream. Acidotic calves may suffer from varying degrees of depression, often appearing as though in a drunken stupor.

Calves in an advanced state of acidosis will go down and be unable to get back up. Calves that are found lying flat on their side are likely severely acidotic.

Oral electrolytes are inexpensive and easy to administer. If in doubt, administer a dose regardless. Calves with any amount of diarrhea will benefit from electrolytes and often the response can be dramatic.

Whenever possible, milk should only be withdrawn for a maximum of half a day and electrolytes should be continued until diarrhea has stopped.

There are a variety of electrolyte products on the market, however quality can vary, with some products being inferior. Electrolytes should contain enough sodium as calves lose a considerable amount of mineral when they have diarrhea. 

Electrolyte products should also contain adequate glucose as an energy source and acetate, or bicarbonate, to help keep PH levels normal. Check for an expiry date and always follow directions, mixing with lukewarm water.

Scouring calves should be isolated immediately, as early separation reduces the spread of scours to other calves. The area should be cleaned and disinfected to reduce further transmission. Disinfect any feeding tubes or nipples as well as bags or bottles between treatments.

Make sure to use a safe disinfectant as recommended by your veterinarian and ensure that it contacts all surfaces for at least 10 minutes. Use boot dips and change and clean coveralls regularly.

For further information regarding calving and electrolytes, or questions about agriculture or landcare, give us a call at Agriculture and Community Services at 403-845-4444.

Will there be enough water this growing season? Although the Farmer’s Almanac for 2021 states “near normal temperatures” for Alberta, it also comes with a “wintry mixed bag of precipitation”.

There are essentially two types of dugouts – surface water or groundwater fed.  In some cases, a combination provides livestock water. West of the 5th it is rarely just surface water captured.

Surface fed design criteria is important. Slopes are not only designed for safety but also for stability against erosion. Location is important to maximize snow melt or rainwater capture. The inlet and outlet of surface fed dugouts are designed to minimize erosion from fast moving water. Depth is critical to ensure – ideally – a two-year supply.

Groundwater fed has unique criteria. The intent is to protect the groundwater source which may influence nearby shallow water wells. The dugout in this case employs a berm to protect the dugout from surface water contamination especially if the area around the dugout has contaminants (manure) that compromise water quality.

Quality of water, in both cases, depends on other externals like proximity to winter bedding areas or corrals, residual pesticide in runoff which is especially a concern if a dugout is used for horticulture or arboriculture. Even sediment degrades water quality if eroded topsoil enters the dugout.  

Maintaining deep rooted grassed waterways helps with slope erosion. Dugout fencing keeps livestock out of the water source. Keeping bedding areas and corrals downslope of dugouts is essential. Even the soil removed when a dugout is excavated is kept at a distance and well vegetated to guard against sedimentation.

Occasionally the soil profile does not allow for a dugout to hold water adequately if at all. Once excavated the hole may require clay to be packed to create an earthen liner or in other cases a man-made poly liner needs to be considered.

Even the best made dugouts can be subject to unwanted growth that degrades water quality or may even be toxic. Algae is a big concern and even a large surface area dugout does not necessarily allow enough wind action to keep a pond clear. The best advice is aerate, aerate, aerate. Circulating water using wind or solar power is a good option.

Snow capture is a consideration in any year but especially in a winter when snow is scarce. Planting woody vegetation or using existing stands of trees to capture snow is wise. In an average snow somewhere between light fluffy and heavy wet amounts to about 1 gallon per cubic foot. That can really add up in a snowdrift!

There are varying options for distributing the water but the common thread is pump it out to the cattle rather than allowing the cattle direct access. Conventional power or alternative energy are methods.  Wet wells adjacent the dugout may become the pump outsource especially for a winter friendly system. With today’s science and technology there is no reason to allow livestock free run of the dugout itself.

Livestock safety in winter should not be taken lightly. There are cases where a hole chopped in dugout ice is an invitation to a watery grave. It is best to pump the water out to the livestock. Plus, there is no manure on the ice to compromise the water quality.

The key message is livestock perform better with better quality water. Weight gains are greater, herd health is maximized and an ever-increasing public awareness of livestock welfare and food quality is better satisfied.

There are considerations related to the Water Act in Alberta. This is Provincial government oversight and worth checking before digging a dugout, expanding an existing source or if considering the pond for other uses (fish). Full information is available through Alberta Environment and Parks.  

The Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) Farm Water Supply Program has potential funding for farm dugouts. Start with a call to 310-FARM and ask to speak with a Water Specialist to get started. The CAP program is not retroactive so that call is essential before doing any earth work. While the application process can be completed by the farmer Agriculture and Community Services staff may be able to coach through the paperwork.

If you would like to know more detailed information about dugouts, we have copies of Alberta Ag and Forestry’s “Quality Farm Dugouts” which are free of charge.

Sit around the coffee table with a handful of seasoned ranchers and there will be as many different opinions about grafting a calf onto a cow as there are coffee drinkers. About the only two things they might all agree on are that grafting can be a tedious process, and no one wants to have to bottle feed an orphan calf.

Suggestions on how to do it may vary from using a specific perfume on the cow’s nose to block the surrogate calf’s smell, to putting the cow and calf together in a small pen and then bringing in a dog, thus reinforcing the cow’s protective instinct.    

The most realistic answer I have heard so far though, is that it depends. It depends on a variety of factors, such as the age of the cow and how young the calf is. It depends on how hungry and energetic the replacement calf is and how accepting the cow is.

Success can also depend on whether the cow got to lick her dead calf before it was taken away. Which brings to mind the most common approach used by the majority of cowmen, and that is to skin the dead calf and tie the skin onto the replacement calf, thus tricking the cow into thinking the replacement is her own.

The cow knows the smell of her own calf (even if it was dead at birth) as long as she was given a chance to smell or lick it before it was removed. Grafting works best when a cow loses her calf early rather than later.

The mothering instinct is strongest soon after calving due to hormonal changes during the birth process. At this time, she can be more readily convinced to accept another calf in place of her own. After a period of days or weeks it becomes increasingly difficult to convince the cow to accept a new calf.

When grafting, only about half to three quarters of the hide is needed. Holes can be cut near the legs of the replacement calf so that the hide can be tied on there. The tail should be left on the hide as the cow will naturally sniff and lick that area. If there is no tail the cow may smell the replacement calf and reject it.

The hide should be left on for 3-4 days, or until the cow has clearly accepted the calf. Make sure the calf is hungry and eager to nurse before putting it in with the cow. When choosing a twin from another cow as a replacement, always pick the more aggressive one.

With the cow in a small pen, introduce the hungry calf with the hide on, getting it to nurse as quickly as possible before the cow becomes suspicious. Always wait until the calf is hungry before putting it in with the cow. Once the substitute calf has fully nursed a few times it will start to smell like the cow’s milk and acceptance will be easier.

If the cow wants to kick the calf off, or butt it away, then putting it in a headgate and /or hobbling it may be necessary.  More labour intensive, this process will require patience and persistence, but the cow should accept the calf within a couple of days.

If no hide is available from the deceased calf, the process could take two days or two weeks. Commercial products are available to put on the replacements calf’s back to encourage the cow to lick it, which it is hoped will lead to eventual mothering.

An idea with a greater chance of success is to soak a clean towel in the amniotic fluid or afterbirth of the cow and rub the towel all over the replacement calf.  When finished the towel can be sealer in a Ziploc or plastic bag and frozen. If needed, the towel can be thawed and used again.

Another suggestion that might come up in conversation is the use of a tranquilizer. These days a prescription from your veterinarian will be required, along with directions on how to administer it. A partial dose of tranquilizer will make the cow feel sleepy and mellow. Too much tranquilizer and the cow will just lie down and go to sleep.

Given the correct amount, the cow will be far less resistant to the calf nursing and when it does, it will stimulate the production of the mothering hormone oxytocin, reinforcing the bonding instinct. Oxytocin also stimulates milk let-down and can be prescribed by a veterinarian.

Usually after a few days, even stubborn cows will settle in and let the new calf nurse. Once the cow starts to show a change of heart, mooing at the calf and licking it, looking for it when it is not nearby, then the pressure is off and there will be another happy pair ready to hit the grass.

Let’s explore four reasons “why” an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is important, but before we do here is what an EFP is.

It is a plan, and savvy individuals know that a plan is how we get to a preferred place. It is a plan for the farm that helps the farmer evaluate how they are doing. It is a farm plan that is environmental in focus, meaning that the questions asked about various farm subjects bring awareness to the best environmental way to do things.

It does take time to thoughtfully complete but, with an open mind to learning, it is a way to reinforce the environmentally beneficial activities already being done, or to consider the kinds of changes that can be done for the better.

Now, the four reasons “why” an EFP is paramount.

An EFP makes good business sense.  

Walk into a grocery store meat department and farms and farmers are showcased that have an environmental story – a track record so-to-speak of being environmentally responsible. These stories are told because consumers are looking for evidence that farmers care about their livestock, products, neighbors and nature.   

There is wisdom in knowing who is buying what you are selling.

Each chapter in an EFP lets the farmer see their operation through that environmental lens. More importantly, the farmer becomes aware of where the operation can improve. The result is being in a better business position.

An EFP makes good environmental sense.  

In an episode from the old radio show “Tales of the Texas Rangers” a ranger comments on a run-down ranch: “when a man makes a living from the land, you’d think he’d take better care of it.”  

Chapter topics in an EFP include questions about manure, silage, pesticide and fertilizer, predators, invasive species, soil, water, wastewater, crop, pasture and bush. In each case, the goal is to evaluate and manage environmental risk.

Say you are planning a trip in an older model vehicle. You check the engine, transmission, steering, tires and brakes. You tune up or replace as needed.

An EFP is like that. You look at manure, silage, pesticide, fertilizer storage. You check soil, crop, pasture, bush and water sources. You consider the impact of predators and invasive plants. You do all this to manage risks.  

An EFP makes good growth sense. 

Fact is environmental improvements also make money. Yes, there is an initial cost but there is significant payback. Learning where to improve helps make wise decisions. It is the pay-me-now or pay-me-later scenario.

Learning about future environmental cleanup cost – say silage leaching, fuel spillage – or the consequences of damaging surface or groundwater – say fines, replacement costs – pays back down the road.  

Learning to manage soil, grass and crops better protects the resource and the commodity with the potential to use less fertilizer and still optimize growth.  

Learning the value of clean water is a human health benefit but also a herd health and wellness matter (improved gains). 

An EFP makes good succession sense.  

Just like the check up for a vehicle you own, an EFP is a means of buying, selling or even transferring a farm.  

If you are new to an EFP, it gives you a glimpse into the nature of the farm operation. If you are a seller, imagine the advantage to showing the realtor and the prospective buyer the environmental advantages of the farm.  If you are involved in a succession plan with the next generation, an EFP can become the foundation for the next farm family to create their own EFP.

If you have completed an EFP in the past, it would have been a binder version. The EFP has changed and moved towards an internet delivered Web Book with no more binder print runs in the future. EFPs also now have an expiry date of 10 years, requiring an eventual renewal for everyone. The spirit of the original was to be continually updating an EFP and keeping track of your certificate, or more recently, your completion letter.

Delivery of the EFP is optioned out through individual Counties. The ARECA organization does provide the direct tech support to deliver these EFP’s. Clearwater County has two environmental farm plan technicians available to help assist producers in starting, updating or completing an EFP.

Clearwater County has chosen to offer this support so that producers can be best positioned and current in their environmental awareness, as well being eligible for current and future Canadian Agricultural Program Funding (CAP).


Cold stress and a lack of colostrum are two of the leading causes of early calf loss, taking a toll on both the calves and the cowman. And when calves come all at once, as they often do, the calving process can become exhausting, making it difficult to stay on top of everything that is happening at all times.

With February just around the corner, early intervention may be the key to success when it comes to calves challenged by cold wet weather. It can be easy enough to tell when a calf is chilled but there can be uncertainty as to how long or how serious the condition is.

Some seasoned ranchers may be successful relying on past experience, but a digital thermometer is a relatively inexpensive and a very handy tool to accurately determine temperature variations in an ailing calf. 

Most problems with hypothermia occur in newborn calves, since they do not have the ability to regulate body temperature efficiently when first born, especially in the first few hours of life.  

Mild hypothermia begins to occur as the calves’ body temperature drops below normal, or below 37.8 degrees C (100 degrees F). With a wet coat in cold temperatures, sometimes aggravated by a difficult birth, calves’ may be unable to get up right away or do not have the strength to suckle, allowing cold stress to set in. 

If a calf does not suckle then it will not get much needed colostrum, compounding the problem of cold stress and considerably reducing chances of survival. Most cattle producers know that colostrum is a critical source of antibodies and specialized proteins that provide protection against infectious diseases.

This transfer of passive immunity should occur in the first hours of life, as antibody absorption decreases over time, with essentially no absorption possible after 24 hours following birth. When considering frozen colostrum keep in mind that quality can vary among cows, breeds and farms.

The mother’s colostrum is always the best option and the calf should receive at least one liter within four hours of birth and another liter within 12 hours of birth. Colostrum not only provides 2 to 3 times more fat than mother’s milk, but also warms the calf from the inside.

If a calves’ temperature is between 35 and 38 degrees Celsius, then it is still possible to warm it up in a hot box, the truck cab, or a warm room. Tubing it immediately with warm colostrum provides additional warmth and helps to ensure passive transfer of antibodies and a greater chance of survival.

For calves with a temperature below 35 degrees C time is truly of the essence. The hot box or a warm environment will not effectively warm the calf as their core temperature is so low that a dry hair coat only acts as an insulator to keep them cold.

In this instance the best method to enhance survival is to immerse the calf in warm water at 38 degrees C, or warm to the touch. As the water rapidly cools it will be necessary to continually add warm water to the bath. At the same time, the calf should be tubed with warm colostrum.

Early intervention is the key to survival for high-risk calves that have trouble getting up due to a difficult birth, are low on oxygen, or weak. Making sure they get adequate colostrum as soon as possible will make it less likely that they suffer from cold stress and will give them the strength to begin sucking on their own right away.

Using a thermometer helps to immediately determine the appropriate treatment so the calf gets what it needs as soon as possible. Given adequate colostrum, a dry coat, and the strength to suck on their own, it is amazing how well calves can do even in the coldest weather.

The value of a whole systems approach.

These days it is common to hear buzz words like holistic, regenerative farming and natural, but what do they all mean? 

Today we have the freedom to access an abundance of information online, in the news and through research, that can quickly become overwhelming.  Not always verifiable, the onus is on us to discern the true from the false.  

As a result, it becomes more important that we think critically about the information in front of us while keeping in mind its adaptability to the world we live in.

It never hurts to consider how different methods or way of doing things can be incorporated into your current operation or system which in turn may result in more benefits then expected.

The philosophy of Permaculture was founded in the 1970's by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist and University of Tasmania professor along with David Holmgren, then graduate student at the University of Tasmania. 

Originally permaculture meant ‘permanent agriculture’ and stemmed from a sustainable agriculture movement. It eventually expanded to include ‘permanent culture’ as it was found the social aspect is an essential part of a sustainable system. 

Mr. Mollison defined Permaculture as “The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing the diverse collective of farms, ranches, and acreages within Clearwater County. In some cases, integrating principles of permaculture into one’s agriculture operations or backyard gardens may be a good fit and result in many benefits. 

Permaculture is a whole system approach where natural patterns and characteristics are replicated or directly used as seen in the surrounding natural environment.  Growing trends such as regenerative agriculture utilize many of the design principles originating from permaculture, ultimately integrating a more holistic approach to agricultural operations. 

To better understand the philosophy of permaculture the following 12 guiding principles were developed:

  1. Observe and interact - Taking the time to observe what is happening in our surroundings from a social and environmental perspective.
  2. Catch and store energy - Capitalizing on favourable weather conditions in turn providing a fruitful harvest. 
  3. Obtain a yield - Adjusting your systems and methods to maximize production and reward.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback - Being open to criticism and feedback allowing for improvements in the operation.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services that produce no waste - Doing what one can to be more sustainable in day-to-day life.
  6. Design from patterns to details - Taking time to understand natural and social patterns and integrating them into your system.
  7. Integrate rather than segregate and use and value diversity - The idea of allowing things to work together for greater gain. 
  8. Use small and slow solutions - Although not always possible the focus is on smaller scale that is manageable with the resources at hand. 
  9. Use edges and value the marginal - The idea of valuing land that is not well utilized in turn allowing for more diversity resulting in a more resilient system.
  10. Creatively use and respond to change - Being flexible and adjusting to the ever-changing world around us.

After gaining more insight into the guiding principles of permaculture it becomes clearer that it is an integrated approach where the land, resources, people and environment aim to work together collectively for the greater good.

Implementing permaculture principles is something that takes time and typically is done on smaller scales. This allows for the work to be manageable and a set up that is likely to be sustainable in the long term. 

Although there are varying philosophies and ways of doing things, they all have their time and place. Sometimes large-scale operations with rapid results are better suited and needed to accommodate the needs of the world we live in today. 

Though implementing every one of the principles above is not feasible or possible for many, it does allow us to gain a new perspective and think about how we may be able to integrate some of these principles into our current systems and operations.

For the most part we would agree that there is always room for some adjustment or improvement, and sometimes the best path is to take a slow and steady pace. Some things will work within your system and others will fail but that is all part of the fun in trying something new. 

If nothing else, it gives some ideas and tools to think about how we currently live on the land and how we can work more in sync with our surrounding natural ecosystems. 

Simple changes can help the native species a lot

Now that winter has settled in, bees might be furthest from your mind. These pollinators have great survival skills, but humans can help them through the winter. 

While honey bees may be the poster kids of pollinators don’t underestimate the populations of other bees. Approximately 90 percent of the roughly 970 bee species native to Canada are considered “solitary”, with the sweat bee and the miner bee the most plentiful.  

Solitary bees live a much quieter life. Mated females are responsible for building their own nests which consist of a narrow tunnel with nectar and pollen supplying brood cells into the following season. These bees are only active for a few short weeks throughout the summer. 

Sweat bees are one of the smallest species and often mistaken for a wasp. Other Sweat bees are a metallic green colour. They specialize in pollinating smaller flowers.  Nests are vertical holes in the ground with side chambers for eggs. Their name comes from a curious habit of landing on people for the salt in our sweat.

Mining bees, while solitary, are sociable in that they tend to nest close to one another in mostly bare, sandy soil. They are effective, like bumble bees, in early spring pollination. They also remain active in cooler weather.  

Then there is the mason bee. In the past, Clearwater County has offered in person workshops learning about solitary mason bees and building nesting boxes. Have you been successful in attracting mason bees? Did you harvest cocoons, and if you did, what were the results the next spring?

Speaking of harvesting mason bee cocoons, now is a great time to do so.   

A local landowner once harvested about 50 cocoons from just one box. Among the few different nesting box styles, this one in particular was a plate-style box, which allows the cocoons to be lifted out intact.

Part of giving mason bees a hand to thrive, is washing the cocoons to rid them of mites and other destructives. There is plenty of good sanitizing information available to make sure you are careful and thorough.

A great individual to learn from is Dr. Margriet Dogterom, who founded BeeDiverse which is a company dedicated to mason bees. Her advice is that cocoons must be harvested and cleaned to ensure a healthy, sustainable population. 

Some other simple changes to where you live could help the native species a lot.Choose plants that supply plenty of pollen and nectar, avoiding and thus protecting pollinator nesting sites and ensuring safe, appropriate application of pesticides.

Eco-buffers are diverse plantings designed to mimic nature more closely. Plantings of trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs should meander like a stream, rather than in a straight line and vary in width according to the contour of the land. The more, the merrier!

Even simple grassed waterways and straight shelterbelt rows are sufficient. Consider distance between habitat places. Not all bees are equal, after all, there are over 300 species of bees in Alberta alone. Some are marathoners and some are sprinters. Stamina varies. 

Using lighter weight mulch and not over applying, will still manage weeds and allow ground bees to find places to nest.  

Raspberry canes and other hollow or pulpy stem plants can be bundled and placed horizontal in an elevated, sheltered place as habitat for solitary bees. Cow parsnip – when dry, only for safety sake – or sunflower, can also be used.  

Weekend woodworkers can try boring holes in untreated wooden blocks of spruce, pine or aspen. The holes are starter homes for solitary bees.

More adventurous wood enthusiasts can build wood frames, stacked with routered plates, to simulate living tubes. These are the structures cocoons can be harvested from.

This information is not just for the farm. Pollinator habitat can be incorporated into acreages, hamlets and urban areas.  

Although there is snow on the ground, it’s a great time to start thinking about what you have for habitat and about what you can do to improve it. 

The innumerable population of bee species will applaud you and help you with food and flowers. In fact, quoted from an Elite Daily News ‘humans-needs-bees-to-survive’ article, “One third of our global food supply is pollinated by bees. Simply put, bees keep plants and crops alive. Without bees, humans wouldn't have very much to eat”.

Available nutrients may not be what you think they are

2020 was a productive year for agricultural producers in Clearwater County. Plenty of spring moisture made for some tough seeding but crops and forages flourished as a result. Hay stands were the best many had seen in years, resulting in lower prices, but no shortage of feed for livestock.   

As rain persisted sporadically through the summer, moisture on cut forages caused some leaching of nutrients like soluble carbohydrates, proteins and some minerals. In alfalfa, the browning resulted in leaf loss, the plant portions that contain the greatest amount of nutrients.

Intermittent wet weather also created a greater risk of heating and mold growth in bales, which can promote mycotoxins. If forages were damaged by hail and harvested too soon thereafter, nitrate poisoning could also be an issue.

Feed analysis and ration balancing are always a good idea.  Nutrient composition can vary widely, even in forages harvested off the same field in the same year, depending on environmental conditions and cutting time.

Low quality forages have less available nutrients so supplementation will be required in many situations. Generally speaking, if the forage is green in colour then it is likely higher than seven percent crude protein. If it is brown in colour then the crude protein is probably less than seven percent.

As a rule, cattle require a minimum of seven percent protein from forage without supplementation. Pregnant cows generally require a minimum of nine percent while lactating cows require 11 percent.

The rumen is full of micro-organisms that need to be fed to unlock nutrients. Those micro-organisms require the nitrogen found in protein to digest forages.

If there is a lack of nitrogen in the rumen then microbial efficiency will be reduced and digestion will slow down with less energy released. The result is that cows lose condition and become prone to other ailments.

Relatively inexpensive, feed analysis is the only way to accurately determine forage quality and nutrient composition. Forage fiber content is the primary detractor to high intake and nutrient availability and the single best method to determine feed quality.

A short description of the factors most commonly analyzed are indicated below.

Moisture and Dry Matter:  Percent moisture indicates the amount of water in the feed. Dry matter is the balance of the percentage out of 100. For example, if the forage sample is 12 percent moisture, then the dry matter will be 88 percent. Most labs will indicate nutrients on both an “as fed” (water in) basis and “dry matter” (water out) basis.

Protein: Crude protein is a good indication of quality. It is determined by multiplying the analyzed nitrogen content and multiplying it by 6.25 percent. Available protein is crude protein minus heat damaged protein.

Fiber: The detergent feed analysis system is used to determine fiber or total cell wall content of a forage or feed. The portion insoluble in neutral detergent is termed neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and contains the primary components of the plant cell wall.

As a plant matures the NDF content will increase. A good measure of feed quality, an NDF below 40 percent in legumes and below 50 percent in grasses, would be considered good.

Energy: Another measure of fiber is acid detergent fiber (ADF) which contains the poorly digestible components and is used to predict energy content. The higher the number the lower the quality with a goal of less than 35 percent ADF in grass or legumes.

Relative Feed Value (RFV): is indicated by a single number calculated from ADF and NDF excluding protein. Having no specific nutritional meaning it simply allows for easy comparison between forages.

Minerals: Calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and potassium are the elements commonly included. If more precise mineral results are required, then additional testing using wet chemistry may be requested.

Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN): The concept of total digestible nutrients comes from the old system of measuring available energy of feeds and energy requirements of animals involving a complex formula of measured nutrients. TDN values are usually quoted as percentages for feeds and as amounts per day for requirements.

Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services provides forage sampling tools to local producers free of charge along with lab sample request forms. Ag staff will also suggest appropriate sampling methods and assist with interpretation of test results.

In addition, a free CowBytes ration balancing service is also available to help local livestock producers determine the appropriate nutritional requirements for their animals. Feel free to give us a call at 403-845-4444.

Document what went right during your growing season and build upon it

Winter is here and now you have a number of months to lay out your plan of action for next year. Even though November and December represent the front side and upward slope of the annual hill leading towards another growing season, the months before the new year are actually a time of opportunity for gardeners. The past growing season experiences are still easily enough recalled so as to be of use. The hiccups and the snags are still fresh in the mind, as are the successes and wins.

Former NBA coach, Pat Riley, described the process of learning and preparation fairly well. He said, “You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.”

When planning for the next growing season, you need to make plans that build upon what you experienced and learned this past year.

Robert Spencer, horticulturist, suggests that you follow a series of steps. He says, “Take a few minutes to draw out what you already have in place, as well as what you did this past season. Consider what your space is like and how it is laid out. You might draw a rough map showing your yard and the layout of your garden, including open growing areas, flower beds, trees, etc.”

From there, you can start to build a baseline of what happened, in general terms. Look at what vegetables and annual flowers you grew or tried. Did you plant any trees, shrubs, or perennial flowers or did you add any other elements to your space? On your map and list, indicate which elements are permanent, and which are annual. Document the different types of maintenance activities that you did, including fertilizing, adding soil amendments or applying pesticides to either the garden or the grassed areas.

Spencer continues, “After you’ve framed out what you did, document what went right. When you look at the yard and garden, what plants grew or yielded well, or which plants really stood out from other plants? What were the showcase parts of your yard or garden? Did one variety of vegetable perform better than another?”

At this point, you can now focus in on problem areas. Identify any particular plant or area that did poorly, as well as any clear reasons that might have resulted in that poor performance. When you look at your annual vegetables, did any of them not ripen or mature before the fall frost came? Did you notice any sickly plants, and was that sickliness temporary, or did the plants eventually recover? If you can, identify any issues that you might have had related to moisture, light, soil, air flow or temperature.

Spencer says that once you have a firm grasp on the good, the bad, and the ugly, you are now ready to adjust and plan.

“From the list that you made, select the things that are permanent and look at each of them against your right and wrong list. If something permanent isn’t working, can you think what can be done to make it better (assuming you want to keep it), or what needs to change?”

Look at the annual or temporary elements in your yard or garden and choose things that you want to repeat. As you do, can you foresee any issues, or are there things that need to be moved around? You might look for opportunities to swap in something new this year.

For annual vegetables, calculate roughly how long each crop needs to grow, and then determine if there is anything special that needs to be done to ensure that you can grow it the length of growing season that you have.

Spencer says, “You might need to start seeds early indoors, or you might have to make a spring shopping list for the garden centre. Look at the garden itself to see if there are things that you can do that might speed things up, such as using wall-o-water or a plant cover to give you a few extra days of protection, or a boost in growth.”

Early winter is the time for looking through seed catalogues and garden magazines for ideas, both to add new things, or to give you ideas on fixing your issues. Make your plans now, but keep in mind what you learned previously.

A reevaluation of life’s priorities might be just the ticket to an easier way of living

It occurred to me while writing this article that I have never seen a job description written for the position of a farmer. I have noticed “Farm Help Wanted” ads, but never a “Farmer Wanted” position advertised in the local newspaper, posted online, or passed on by word of mouth among friends.

If by chance I did stumble across a posting, I wondered about the job requirements and the perks. The first question that came to mind was how much would the job pay? And secondly, what about the benefits; drug plan, dental and chiropractic care? Would there be a union and union dues to pay? And what about safety, a retirement plan, or holidays?

These are normal questions when considering any new job position. But they are rarely asked when one thinks about being a farmer. In fact, as we all know, there is no union or union dues to pay, and only you to look out for yourself and your family’s safety and wellbeing.

There are no paid holidays, no dental plan, and no sick time or maternity leave. And about getting paid, well, that depends on a multitude of factors, most of them beyond the farmers’ control. There is no guaranteed basic income. You pretty much sink or swim on your own.

As for the hours and working conditions, well, it can be at any time, at all hours of the day and night, in all weather conditions and throughout every season of the year. Long hours in isolated working conditions are common and can foster loneliness, fatigue, and depression.

Most farmers thrive on work. They live, eat, and breathe work, taking great satisfaction and a sense of self-esteem from how well they do their job. To a degree, the more they work the better they think they feel.

Studies indicate however, that the correlation between work and happiness is an inverse relationship. That means the more we work the less happiness we experience.

The farmer also faces the same life challenges as other members of society. That can include relationship struggles, family challenges and health issues to mention a few. Added on may be multi-generational farming disputes and problems with farm transitions.

Farming is a stressful job that creates a lot of ongoing anxiety, due in part, to the existence of far too many unknowns. Yet the responsibility of success or failure is all on the farmer’s shoulders. So, what happens if something goes wrong?

What happens in a not so sane world, when the pressure, the anxiety, and the worry become magnified to the point where it all becomes too much to handle? Just the thought of that much anxiety can make one feel short of breath.

A 2016 survey of 1,100 Canadian farmers indicated that nearly half of the respondents suffered high levels of stress and 35 percent met the criteria for depression, numbers that are much higher than in the general population.  

Unfortunately, the farming community overall, and the farm family in particular, can make it culturally difficult for an individual to acknowledge their psychological challenges and seek out support and services.

Canadian farmers have a strong tradition of being independent and self-reliant, preferring to work things out on their own. Given the job description, that is no surprise. This characteristic, combined with the natural human tendency not to openly talk about “our problems,” means that they do not look for help in a timely manner.

Farmers are still predominantly male and have traditionally been taught to suppress their emotions and not to open up and talk about their feelings. Doing so is perceived as a weakness, so they push it down.

Ironically, opening up to another caring human being builds strength and allows for a tremendous release of confused, bottled up emotions. Talking about it creates an opportunity to get off the cyclical, mind numbing, hamster wheel of negative thinking, while laying the groundwork for a more objective perspective on how to take life’s challenges in stride.

During a busy harvest with looming thunderclouds on the horizon, few farmers would hesitate to call a specialized Ag mechanic who could quickly resolve a machinery breakdown and get them back in the field. It just makes sense.

So, does calling a professional to help sort out our feelings when they become overwhelming and darkness is closing in. A reevaluation of life’s priorities might just be the ticket to an easier way of living.

One of the most common regrets expressed by people in palliative care is that they wish they had not worked so hard all their lives. Looking back, they wished they had spent more time sharing with family and friends. Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is, do we live to work or work to live?

Life is short and time is precious. It is never too late to pick up the phone and call that specialized individual that has the knowhow to get you back in the field running smoothly. In the process, the gift of a new design for living may present itself, one that brings greater happiness and personal satisfaction.

Septic system maintenance and function

Often the neglected system on a farm or acreage, the typical septic disposal system is frequently taken for granted until it suddenly stops doing its job. Considering that the average person puts 340 litres of sewage through a septic system every day, or that a family of four in a two bedroom house produces 1360 litres per day, a little regular maintenance can go along way in limiting costly maintenance down the road.

Not only can neglecting a septic system be costly, it can also have negative impacts on the surrounding environment and possibly become a public health issue. Aside from faulty septic fields or poorly located outflow systems that can overflow and seep into ground water, pathogens or disease producing bacteria found in sewage can produce spores able to withstand extreme cold or dry conditions.

A properly functioning septic system accomplishes its purpose through the digestion of sewage by anaerobic bacteria that are present in body wastes. They thrive in an environment which is warm, wet, dark and devoid of fresh air. They establish themselves spontaneously in a properly functioning tank, helping to break down the solids in the primary compartment.

The most common tank design is composed of two compartments, with the job of the primary compartment being to allow solids to settle and break down, while retaining scum and other floating materials from entering the second chamber. This second chamber releases effluent, devoid of solids, to the field, mound or outflow.

The Alberta Private Sewage Systems Standard of Practice (2015) provides the performance, objectives, design standards and material requirements related to onsite systems.  

Designed for the normal use of household chemicals, detergents, drain and toilet bowl cleaners, overuse can harm the bacterial action in a septic tank causing more rapid development of solids to collect in the primary compartment. Use of garburators are discouraged as they contribute to sediment load while water softeners using Sodium Chloride can negatively affect the system through excessive backwashing and reduced permeability in field soils.

Sediment buildup is primarily determined by the size of the tank and amount of use. Given that the bacterial action is a slow process, sediment will collect over time, requiring removal. For a household of 3 or less, a cleaning once every two years is usually acceptable while yearly cleaning is generally necessary for larger households.

A common misconception is that a “starter” should be added to the system to initiate bacterial growth following cleaning. The use of yeast or similar products is discouraged and can actually cause harm to the septic field. In the case of a newly installed septic tank, filling it with hot water before use will usually be enough to initiate bacterial growth.

Being aware of what goes down the drain and how it may affect the integrity of your sewage disposal system, as well as how it functions, together with regular cleaning and inspections, will go a long way toward guaranteeing that there will be no unnecessary inconvenience or expense.

Not only is it crucial to be aware of what goes down the drain but also whether your system is functioning to the standard it needs to be. A malfunctioning septic system is said to be the third most common source of ground water contamination; therefore, proper use and maintenance protects your drinking water, your neighbors drinking water as well as water for many recreational and agricultural users downstream. If a system is not maintained or functioning properly, it is at great risk of becoming an environmental or public health issue, which can have detrimental effects.

For information on specific guidelines for installation of new systems, design or regular maintenance contact Alberta Municipal Affairs at www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca. For questions or concerns regarding sewage systems, you can call the Safety Codes Council at 1-888-413-0099.

A fungal pathogen that only takes one infected plant to spread

It is a sad truth that you cannot go far in any town or city in Alberta without noticing a tree that has some disgusting-looking black, swollen lumps on its branches. According to horticulturist Robert Spencer, what you are seeing is one of the most common and pervasive diseases present in rural and urban tree and shrub plantings.

“It’s Black knot” says Spencer.

Black knot is a disease caused by a fungal pathogen which only affects plants within the genus Prunus. In Alberta, that includes things like chokecherries, Mayday trees, Amur cherry, Nanking cherry, pin cherry, sour cherry, plums and almonds.

Spencer says, “Although there are other diseases out there that might make you think of Black knot, it is highly specific to this group of plants, so, if it isn’t Prunus, it is not black knot.”

Black knot is a problem because it only takes one infected plant to spread spores throughout a neighborhood, infecting any other host trees in the vicinity. Spores are released from mature galls in the spring, infecting the growing points at the ends of twigs, branches, or fruit spurs. Over time, a gall forms, first as a small, olive-green swelling, gradually transforming into the characteristic mature, black, tar-like galls observed throughout the canopy of the tree.

Sadly, the pathogen also spreads internally within the branches, spreading outward from the galls. Black knot galls can also form on larger limbs and the trunk of the tree, either spread through pruning, or internally from a gall.

Over time, the galls constrict the branch growth, causing the tree to become deformed, weakened, and die. While mature galls are relatively easy to see when the leaves are off the tree, the smaller, immature galls are nearly invisible.

According to Spencer, this is what makes complete management of this disease harder. “It is definitely a multi-year endeavor.”

As the galls mature, they turn black and erupt or rupture, growing to about six inches in length. Over time, galls stop producing spores, but a mature gall that is producing spores and one that is not producing spores are basically identical to the naked eye. In some cases, galls may become colonized by other types of fungi, some of which are brightly coloured. These galls will not be active. Unfortunately, by this point, the tree is probably pretty loaded with galls, so this is a small victory.

Black knot is mainly controlled through removal of the mature galls through careful pruning when plants are dormant. Spencer says, “Pruning is done in the winter for a number of reasons, but the main one is convenience. Since you must see a gall in order to remove it, it is simpler to wait until the leaves have dropped off to plan your pruning.”

Pruning must be carried out with care, both to preserve the shape and structure of the tree, as well as to ensure that you are not spreading the disease further throughout the tree as you make cuts. Generally, it is recommended that you cut at least six inches (15 centimetres) beyond the visible edge of the gall that you are removing, preferably back in healthy wood, and at an appropriate junction point. If you cut through a gall, or wood that is infected, it is highly likely that you will transmit the disease the next time you make a cut, which in not the goal.

The earlier that galls are removed, the better chance you have of protecting and cleaning up an infected tree. If a tree is loaded with active galls and ends up having infections on the trunk or in the larger scaffold or structural limbs, clean up and salvage of the tree can be challenging, if not impossible. At this point, complete removal might be the best and only option.

Galls that are pruned out should be removed from the site and/or destroyed, either by burning or burial. It is not recommended that galls be left on the ground or in the vicinity of the tree, as theoretically they could continue to produce spores for some time.

There are some suggestions that pruning tools should be disinfected between each cut, but this can be pretty impractical, particularly for things like chainsaws. However, if you are in a high-transmission-risk situation, a dilute solution of Lysol can be used.

Spencer says, “Even if you prune out every gall that you see, it is likely that some will be missed, or smaller, immature galls will mature and become visible the next year.”

It is important to remain vigilant and do the best that you can to keep things as clean as possible. It will go a long way to reducing the overall population. If everyone tries, it is possible to keep things fairly disease-free.

Malignant catarrhal fever can kill mature bison

In the Ag. extension business reading is part of the job. At this desk it usually involves a dozen or so prairie farm weeklies, a few monthly livestock publications, a smattering of trade periodicals, some favorite web sites, and the latest news. It is an enjoyable necessity that helps us keep up with the ever-evolving technology and shifting trends in agriculture.

In a recent article in a Glacier Media publication, Alberta veterinarian Roy Lewis – a regular and timely contributor – wrote about how bison and sheep need to keep their distance. Really? How come?

Well, it turns out that sheep are often carriers of a nasty disease-causing herpes virus, herpesvirus-2 (OVHv-2) m, that causes malignant catarrhal fever (MCF) in bison. Although carriers, sheep themselves do not suffer any ill effects, but shed the virus through nasal and ocular secretions.

Although not common to North America, another type of the same virus causing MCF is also found in wildebeest. Closer to home, a herpes virus was recently discovered that causes malignant catarrhal fever in white-tailed deer.

It is likely there are other undiscovered members of the ruminant population with viruses that may or may not cause disease. Roy Clark tells us that the MCF family of diseases is seen in 33 different species.

Clinical signs of MCF in bison are a high fever, lethargy, and weakness, with ocular and nasal discharge, almost always leading to death, usually in a few days. Infected animals often develop a blue and/or ulcerated eye.

The MCF virus attacks the blood vessels in multiple organs so clinical signs can be quite variable. Death can occur quickly, sometimes preceded by a short period of depression, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, but often with no apparent symptoms at all.

Bison pick up MCF through direct contact with sheep or shared facilities, or the virus can become aerosolized (airborne) and travel with prevailing winds. Because of the potential for airborne distribution, prevention strategies need to be developed to eliminate potential risks.

If Bison and sheep are being raised in the same area then prevention strategies should take into account factors such as the proximity of species, what class of sheep they are (age), whether the bison are downwind or upwind and whether there are any “biofilters” (windbreaks, trees or brush) between the two species.

Ideally, about three kilometers between species is recommended to minimize risk although no studies have been done to indicate appropriate distances. Regardless, that sort of space requires a good neighbour approach to setting up any new ag venture that involves sheep or bison.

One often recommended strategy to be considered at the initial stage of planning a new bison operation is to place internal fencing six to seven metres inside property lines while establishing a thick, fast-growing windbreak next to the perimeter.

MCF can occur at any time throughout the year, though it appears more prevalent during the winter months. Young lambs tend to contract the virus from their mothers shortly after birth and become the major shedders as they come of age (six to nine months), which is traditionally during the winter.

Other diseases such as BVD (bovine viral diarrhea), Johne’s and Samonellosis can be mistaken for MCF so all suspect cases should be confirmed with proper laboratory diagnostic tests. In live animals, PCR (polymerase chain reaction-testing for DNA) can be done with a blood sample while a carcass is confirmed by using PCR tests on the tissues.

Currently there is no MCF vaccine available as the virus has not been isolated. Due to the limited knowledge of the virus itself and the small size of the bison industry, along with previous failures in manufacturing a vaccine for the wildebeest, pharmaceutical companies have little interest in conducting further research.

With no effective treatment, isolation of animals is recommended although doing so may not influence the outbreak. When it comes time to market finished animals, the potential for contact with sheep in the sales barn should be considered before transporting bison.

In the final summation, it is all about good communication. Cooperation between sheep and bison producers can be achieved through considerate grazing rotations that ensure the maximum distance between species.

The same consideration can be applied when processing or transporting sheep in the vicinity of bison. All producers have a vested interest in the success of the livestock industry, recognizing that all sectors have a niche role to play in providing the consumer a variety of quality products.

Opportunistic hunters that contribute to around-the-clock pest control

Accomplished hunters with a short list of natural enemies, owls have a great view from the top of the food chain. Owls can assist with pest problems in the field and on the farm or acreage while contributing diversity to the birds of prey community.

Owls are opportunistic creatures, meaning that they are not too picky when it comes to dinner. An owl’s diet can include a variety of creatures such as spiders, earthworms, snails, fish, birds and small mammals. Given the option, different owls species will focus on particular prey. Barn owls, for example, prefer to hunt mice, voles and shrews where Screech owls typically feed on insects.

Most owls are nocturnal, which means they are active at night, hunting prey that are also active at this time. Hawks and other birds of prey, such as falcons and eagles, target species that are active during the day (diurnal). While there is some overlap to the species preyed upon, the combination of owls and hawks within the bird community can contribute to around the clock pest control.

What makes owls unique in comparison to other birds of prey is their eye placement. Where most birds have eyes on the sides of their head, giving them a greater field of view, owls have eyes that face forward. This difference gives owls binocular vision (the ability to see an object with both eyes at the same time) and precise depth perception as a result of their ability to see objects in 3 dimensions.

With enhanced vision comes a highly developed eye structure which inhibits owls from moving or rolling their eyes, allowing them only to see straight ahead.  This alone would create several limitations but an owl’s skeletal system is constructed in a way that allows the bird to turn its head up to 270 degrees from a forward facing position (left or right), and almost completely upside down.

Owls can hear a range of sounds, but are also able to tune into certain frequencies, such as their prey sneaking through ground cover below. Some owls even have asymmetrical ear openings, giving the nocturnal species an additional advantage in complete darkness. Sound in the left or right ear at different times tells the owl which direction the sound came from, left or right and above or below.  

Owls become a triple threat as their flight is silenced by wing feathers structured to muffle the sound of movement in the air. Owls then have the ability to listen for prey mid-flight as well as sneak up on them.

Owls, and other birds of prey, play an important role in many ecosystems. If there are issues at the top of a food chain, this is often an indication of imbalance down the line.

Impacts to the environment and life existing below birds of prey on the food chain, or within the more complicated web caused by human disturbance and contaminants such as persistent organic chemicals, rodenticides and pesticides, can create a cumulative effect.

Throughout the 20th century, there were sharp declines in the number of birds of prey species due to hunting, human disturbance such as land development and environmental contamination. Entire ecosystems have been impacted as well. It can happen quickly and it can happen quietly. It can also occur so slowly that we do not notice the ramifications until it is too late. 

Increased education and awareness have been a benefit to the recovery of some bird species but there is still room for improvement. It is important to keep in mind that nature is a series of interconnected webs, never isolated.

Horse owners feel relief after worrisome summer 

With the arrival of autumn, central Alberta horse owners are breathing a sigh of relief.  Cooler weather means the risk of their horses getting Potomac Horse Fever (PHF) has dropped dramatically.

That was not the case this past summer. Along the highway 22 corridor from Cochrane to Drayton Valley and east, where there is more moisture, virtually every veterinarian clinic dealt with at least one case of the disease.

Potentially fatal, with as much as a 30 percent fatality rate, PHF is caused when Neorickettsia risticcii bacteria finds its way into the digestive tract.

In part due to plenty of media attention, horse owners now know that the symptoms of PHF include diarrhea, depression, intestinal problems, colic-like symptoms, and high fever. Laminitis can appear in more severe cases, usually in the absence of diarrhea.

The disease is seasonal with the highest incidence of PHF appearing in mid to late summer between late June and early September.

PHF was first identified in 1979 in the eastern United States near the Potomac River in Montgomery County, Maryland, but has since been identified in 42 states as well as Alberta and Ontario.

Initially thought to come from blood-sucking anthropoids such as ticks, 20 years of research has proven otherwise. In fact, the bacteria N. risticii has proven to be the cause of the disease. The bacteria go through 2-life stages in intermediate hosts that spread the disease.

Infected trematodes (flukes) parasitize freshwater snails, and during periods of warm water temperatures, infected cercariae (larval stage of fluke) are released to infect the second intermediate host, usually aquatic insects such as caddis flies, mayflies, damsel flies, dragonflies, and stoneflies.

An abundance of aquatic insects is likely responsible for most infections in central Alberta. Horses grazing near water bodies often inadvertently consume insects along with grass. Insects may also be attracted to building lights where they accumulate in feed and water.

The PHF incubation period varies between one and three weeks. Once a horse becomes infected the target area is the gastrointestinal mucosa, creating lesions throughout. The most severe lesions develop in the large intestine, resulting in tissue death.

Reproducing in the cells and tissues, eventually the bacteria ends up in the circulatory system where it reproduces in the horse’s blood.

The loss of fluid, protein and electrolyte is likely caused by mucosal injury and the effects on enterocyte fluid secretion due to the inflammatory response.

Some horses appear to be more susceptible to getting PHF than others, likely in part due to higher stress levels that cause disruptions in the plethora of good bacteria colonizing the horse’s gastrointestinal tract. Anything that changes the harmonious function of the gut creates the potential for something else to take over.

Early treatment improves the chances of survival. The recommended treatment is typically oxytetracycline administered twice daily for five days plus an increased focus on hydration. A response to treatment is usually seen within 12 hours. In animals that exhibit signs of enterocolitis, fluids and NSAIDs should be administered.

Vaccination is the best prevention and should be timed to just before peak insect hatch, usually mid to late summer. It can be challenging to select the correct strain of N. risticii and many horses do not have a strong antibody response to vaccines, while antibodies can be short lived. More frequent vaccinations may be necessary in endemic areas.

Once a horse has contracted the disease and survived, it will no longer be susceptible to the disease a second time. 

As next summer arrives horse owners may want to limit their horse’s access to pastures with potential contact to water bodies, especially during high risk periods. It is also a good idea to turn off all night lights around stables and pastures.

Keeping your horse healthy and in good condition, while minimizing potential stressors, will bolster its immune system and give it a fighting chance to counteract the disease. As always, regular consistent time spent in the presence of your equine will alert you to any changes in temperament or demeanor and allow for a quick response to possible infection.

For more information on PHF or information on our many programs and services, feel free to give us a call at 403-845-4444, or drop by the Agriculture and Community Services office and have a visit.

Ensure that plant roots are healthy and functioning

Almost every gardener grows tomatoes, however the degree of success that they will have in this endeavor varies considerably from person to person and year to year.

According to Robert Spencer, horticulturist, other than the major influence of the weather, there are three issues that are common in garden-grown tomatoes.

Spencer says that the first (and most common) is a physiological problem, although it looks very much like a disease. “Blossom End Rot is somewhat improperly named, as it is not truly a rot, or one that is initially associated with a pathogen.” Spencer says “BER is characterized by a darkening and sinking of the tissues on the blossom end of the tomato fruit. It starts as a slightly tan coloured area, becoming quite dark and progressively more sunken and larger.”

BER can cover as much as half of the fruit. Although the tissues look quite water-soaked and soggy, the tissues are actually dry (at least at first).

Blossom End Rot is caused by localized nutrient deficiency, where a lack of sufficient calcium in the developing tissues of the fruit results in a death of the tissues. Eventually, the tissues may be invaded by a secondary pathogen, and then the rotting truly begins.

Spencer says, “The common thought is that a calcium deficiency must be due to a lack of calcium in the soil or growing medium and that it should therefore be solved by a generous application of a source of calcium.” However, Spencer says that this is not necessarily the case. Most Alberta prairie soils have good levels of calcium due to their calcium-rich parent material.

The deficiency typically occurs when fruit (or plant) growth rates outstrip the calcium supply in the plant. Alternatively, deficiencies occur if the flow of calcium into the plant is slowed or obstructed. Spencer says that this can happen if roots are damaged and are therefore unable to take up nutrients.

If soil conditions prevent nutrients from being taken up, you will also see insufficient calcium. This happens if elevated salt levels in the soil mess up the ability of plants to draw in water and nutrients, or if high levels of nitrogen or magnesium compete with calcium for entry into the plant.

Spencer says that the best way to prevent BER is through ensuring that calcium uptake is not interrupted, mainly through managing water intake and ensuring that soil moisture levels are not excessive or insufficient.

“Ensure that plant roots are healthy and functioning.” In some cases, a foliar application of calcium prior to the appearance of symptoms can help prevent issues from developing.

The second common issue that appears in tomatoes as they age is a fungal disease known as Early Blight. It is caused by a pathogen called Alternaria solani. It is recognizable by its brown lesions with yellowed edges that form concentric rings as they enlarge on the leaves. It does not move past larger veins. It is most common on older, lower leaves, particularly if they are in contact with the soil, and if there is a fair bit of moisture. If the disease increases a great deal, the plant canopy can die down.

According to Spencer, in most cases, Early blight is not a major deal for tomatoes, however, if you notice levels increasing, it should be dealt with as best as you can. Ensure that there is good airflow around the plants, that there are limited amounts of rain/water splash onto plants, and that plant debris is incorporated at the end of the season so that it can break down.

A third issue that has shown up more and more in recent years is damage and distorted growth caused by herbicides. Most herbicide exposure is inadvertent and unintentional, but the effects can be quite dramatic. Symptoms can include twisted or curled leaves, leaves that have shortened margins or that are long and stringy. In extreme cases, plants can die.

Herbicides can reach the tomatoes in a few ways (other than direct application). Soil residual herbicides can move from treated areas in soil water or in soil, composted or composted manure (from treated plant sources). Some herbicide can reach tomatoes through the air, either through drift, or through low level exposure to volatiles (off gassing) when products are applied nearby.

Gardeners should be careful when applying broadleaf herbicides to lawn areas adjacent to gardens or greenhouses, as there can be some gassing off of the product. Some formulations are less prone to this, but in general, just be careful.

For each of these problems, management is more about prevention than curing a problem that appears.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is usually the diagnosis

Overweight horses and ponies tend to develop fatty tissue deposits along their body that when left unaddressed, may evolve into a condition known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS).

EMS includes a range of metabolic derangements and endocrinopathies with clinical signs that include obesity, regional adiposity (fatty deposits), insulin resistance and laminitis.

The start of EMS is not specific, but the cause is usually diet related combined with a genetic predisposition that tends to appear most frequently in middle-aged “easy keeper” type horses.

A crested neck has proven to be a good indicator of metabolic issues that can be measured by the thickness of cresting. The cresty neck score (CNS) ranges from 0 to 5, with 0 indicating no cresting and 5 applied when the crest is so thickened and enlarged that it has shifted permanently to one side.

Many horses with crested necks are susceptible to low-grade inflammation of the laminae within the hoof capsule resulting in them being stiff gated or tender footed. If left unchecked horses will experience a decline in hoof quality and functionality leading to permanent lameness.

Following ten years of study, a recent breakthrough at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia was the discovery of what causes laminitis in ponies. When ponies overeat on energy rich pasture or grains, which release a lot of glucose, the pancreas pumps out even more insulin in an attempt to balance bodily sugars.

It was found that toxic levels of insulin break down the connective tissue in the ponies’ feet causing lameness. The research team further discovered that a drug developed to treat metabolic syndrome in humans could prevent laminitis in equines.

Velagliflozin belongs to a family of drugs developed by the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim. Velaglifozin works by causing the kidneys to excrete more glucose into the urine, thus reducing pressure on the pancreas and lowering insulin levels.

Clinical trials of Velaglifozin are currently running on farms in Europe and when there are enough cases to prove its efficacy and safety before being approval by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority’s (APVMA).     

In the meantime, once horse owners become aware of the significance of cresting it can be used as a valuable management tool to monitor health issues like laminitis. A noticeable hardening of the crest tissue has been found to coincide with the onset of a laminitic episode.

The foam like structure of the adipose tissue in the crest is very sensitive to electrolyte and water fluctuations in the horse’s body. As the tissue takes up water it becomes harder, resulting in a subtle electrolyte imbalance.

Electrolytes are minerals dissolved in bodily fluids that can be directly influenced by the content of the horse’s feed intake, particularly on pasture. When electrolyte imbalances are corrected excess fluid returns to the body and the crest softens.

Pasture related laminitis is a much bigger story than the traditional belief about high sugars in spring grasses and fall regrowth. Pasture mineral profiles are subject to a wide variety of influences, in particular weather, which drives growth. Mineral profiles can change daily and directly affect the horses own mineral and electrolyte profiles.

Aside from CNS, a diagnosis for EMS requires a physical exam and laboratory tests. Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism have similar symptoms to EMS so testing must be done to rule out these disorders.

Though there is no cure, corrective shoeing, oral medication, cryotherapy (icing) and long acting shots can help relieve the discomfort. At some point however, the process becomes a balancing act between cost and the continued wellbeing of the horse.

As temperatures dip close to freezing and the growing season draws to a close, potato tops start to die down, and potato harvest really gets underway.

Rob Spencer, horticulturist, says, “Often, it is as potatoes are being taken out of the ground and put into storage that people start to notice some problems with their potatoes.”

Unfortunately, most of the problems that manifest themselves at or after harvest cannot be fixed or managed at that point in time. However, Spencer says, by recognizing the problems when you see them, you have the chance to try and manage the problems next season.

One of the most common problems that growers of potatoes encounter is a disease called Common Scab. This disease is typically introduced to the soil on the seed tubers however it could also arrive on soil, manure (from cows fed scabby potatoes), or in potato debris.

Spencer says, “Once scab is present in the soil, it tends to stick around for an extended period, lasting well over a decade, even without potatoes present.”

Scab is aptly named, with the pathogen causing round, irregular brown lesions on the potato skin, which resemble scabs (hence the name). The severity of the disease can vary quite a lot, depending on the variety and the specific conditions in the growing location. Small amounts of scab can be more of a nuisance than a major problem, as the scab does not spread in storage, but can be a pain in peeling. As the severity increases, moisture loss can increase.

Spencer suggests that there are also a couple of insect pests that are only really noticed due to the holes that are discovered when examining the tubers or during peeling.

The tunneling action of wireworms looks like something has made a random hole in the side of the potato. The width of the hole tends to be about 5 mm. The depth of the hole varies but can be up to 25mm.

“The tissues on the sides of the holes tend to be healed over by the time that you find it, and the pest is nowhere to be seen”, says Spencer.

Tunneling by the threadlike tuber flea beetle larvae results in very fine, shallow tunnels right under the surface of the skin. Spencer says that when you are peeling the potatoes, these tunnels might look like brown spots or light brown streaks, and a couple of layers of tissue might need to be removed to get past them. The discolouration that you see is wound tissue, not any remnant of the larvae.

Some of the other problems that may be noticed at or after harvest include various physiological issues, including types of bruising, hollow heart, or other tuber diseases.

When it comes to managing scab, wireworm, and tuber flea beetle, it is not always simple and straightforward.

There are many suggestions for managing scab, including altering soil pH, using clean seed, and rotating between crops, but Spencer says that there are only two that are practical and effective in almost every growing situation. 

The first strategy is to choose a variety that is resistant to the scab pathogen. Historically, most varieties were considered at least somewhat susceptible to scab, but there are more varieties available now that have some good resistance to it. Spencer suggests that you do a little bit of research on the type(s) of potato that you want to grow and see if you can find a variety that checks all the boxes.

The second strategy is to ensure that moisture levels are not allowed to fluctuate. It is particularly important to ensure that there is good moisture around the time that tubers are first starting to form. Spencer says that this is often signaled by flowering, typically 4-6 weeks after planting.

Managing wireworms and tuber flea beetles can be challenging, partly because the damage occurs long before you notice it and there are limited controls. 

With wireworms, avoid planting in ground that had grasses/cereals growing within the recent history. You can try to lure wireworms to bait stations (pieces of cut carrots or something similar) but it can be hit and miss.

Feeding by the small, brown/black adult beetles (which jump when disturbed) during the growing season results in shot holes in the leaves. You might try and control the adults when you see them, or perhaps cover the crop in extreme cases, to prevent adults from getting onto the plants and laying eggs. Rotating to other crops can help knock things back a bit, but it is not a guaranteed solution.

The overall message is to watch your potatoes and note when things are not entirely right, then work the next season to try and correct things. Spencer says, “In the end, while having a few holes and scabs can be frustrating, most of the damage is superficial and can be worked past when peeling.”

The Critical Importance of Soil Testing

As land and machinery continue to increase in price over time and cereal crops bring bigger returns, forage stands will likely need to increase yields to remain competitive in the long term. Three of the most limiting factors in forage yields are old stands, poor establishment, and low soil fertility.

Aside from breaking up old stands, fertility management is one tool that is often overlooked and underappreciated. Forage crops remove a lot of nutrients from the soil and so have high soil nutrient requirements. As a result, there is a wide range of fertility levels in hay fields throughout the county.

Research has shown that yield loss can be significant when one or more critical nutrients are deficient. The yield curves at low soil test levels are steep as production drops off. The alternative is to manage those nutrients while increasing production and prolonging the age of stands.   

Soil sampling is not only a valuable management aid for determining fertilizer requirements, but it is also a way to identify problems or soil changes due to cropping practices.

Soil sampling is usually done in early spring when it involves annual cropping, but fall is an ideal time for sampling forages. The factors that cause variations in mineral content in the soil throughout the season are based on mineralization of organic matter.

Warm and moist conditions will cause increased mineralization and a consequent boost in nitrogen in the soil. Mid October when soil temperatures are less than 5 or 6 C, is an ideal time for consistent sampling.

Problems that occur when soil sampling are mostly due to a lack of consistency and proper knowledge in how to carry out the process. With so much rolling topography locally there can be considerable soil variability making it a challenge when deciding how to take representative samples.

If a field is relatively uniform, then random sampling works best, and representative samples may be taken throughout the entire field while avoiding unusual areas. In fields with variable soil and topography, representative samples should be taken within each different zone, either randomly or benchmark sampled.

Benchmark sampling involves sampling a one or two-acre area that is representative of the field or zone. When choosing different crop zones, it is highly beneficial to make use of the resources that will help to identify different soil zones. Aerial photos, topographical maps and soils maps can in most cases be obtained from the province and local municipality.

Using a core sampling tool, a minimum of 20 soil samples should be taken from each field or zone. The more sampling sites the more representative of the overall field. It may be hard to believe, but if the top six inches of a 160-acre field weighs 320 million pounds, then a two pound soil sample is not really that representative of the entire field.

At a minimum, samples should be taken at zero to 15 cm and 15 to 30 cm. Sampling three depths (30 to 60 cm) will give a better picture of the amount of nutrients and the location of nutrients in the profile. While some may not bother with the 30 to 60 cm samples, without deeper samples there is no real clear idea of total nitrogen and Sulphur as they are more mobile in the soil than phosphorous and potassium.

Cores should be placed in clean pails or plastic bags and then cores from the same depths in each field or zone can be mixed together, breaking up large lumps in the process. Keep samples taken from individual depths separate from one another. Remove half a kilogram from each composite sample and air dry at room temperature by spreading a thin layer of soil on clean paper or plastic sheets to stop nitrate build-up.

Samples should be placed in clean plastic bags for submission to the lab. Each sample should be labelled with name, address, postal code, field, and depth sample was taken from. Provide complete information on each sample on the sheets provided by the laboratory.

For assistance with soil sampling, interpretation of results, or the equipment to do the job, please feel free to give Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services a call at 403-845-4444.

Maintaining and sustaining a safe water supply

Turning on the rural water tap is often accompanied by the idea that the water is safe to drink and the supply is secure, but this may not be true.

Many Albertans depend on water that comes from a groundwater source which may be accessed from drilled, driven or hand dug wells, depending on age. Each of these well types has inherent needs related to maintenance, monitoring and upgrading.

The responsibility of the landowner, routine and required maintenance is a good idea if one wants to keep their well running for a significant period of time. 

Have a monitoring program in place. Being able to identify changes in water levels and quality will help in becoming aware of changes before they become serious problems.  

A secure cap on your well is a must to keep creatures large and small from entering the casing. Casing at a proper height is also necessary to stop overland runoff from entering the casing. Likewise, well pits, once common but now not to code, are high risk points of contamination. The actual installation of the well may have been substandard or damaged later on, causing aquifer contamination.

A neglected septic system is an immediate red flag. Private wastewater systems also require monitoring and maintenance. Tanks are sized differently and require pumping depending on the degree of usage. If a system is older it may not meet today’s standards and pose a greater risk to groundwater.  Occasionally the setback distances or even the topography threaten the groundwater source.

It is important not to over pump a water well. Pulling water out faster than recommended happens when the demands of household and/or livestock watering does not allow the well to recharge (refill) adequately. The underground material, possibly sand, may be pulled into the well from the water bearing formation and compromise the well integrity by damaging the pumping system or plugging the casing intake holes, slots or screens.

Water testing is one of the often-neglected necessities. Alberta Environment recommends testing domestic water twice yearly and shock chlorinating once per year.  

Alberta Health Services offers bottles for do-it-yourself sampling for bacteria and chemistry. They can be contacted to obtain sampling bottles along with information as to how and when to return samples.

Shock chlorination is a disinfecting process that can be a do-it-yourself activity or performed by a licensed water well driller. As far as tackling the process yourself, there are some key pieces of information needed to create a bleach to water formula.  

Drillers are required to submit a driller report to Alberta Environment and leave a copy with the original well owner. This important data is entered into a database for future reference and is useful for subsequent landowners who may not have this information. The website http://groundwater.alberta.ca/WaterWells/d/ will get one started to find a driller report.

Some precautions are necessary including the age of the water well and the frequency of previous shock chlorination. It is always recommended that a water test be done first and that the well owner obtain some qualified coaching. As always, being armed with some knowledge of the process is important when engaging the services of a well driller.  

When a well is older and particularly pre-1970, a report may not be available. A bit of detective work may also be needed. A current landowner may not know the original well owner therefore a search may be done by legal land location.  Occasionally all the best sleuthing does not yield a report. A well driller may be able to assist based on knowledge of an area or with specialized equipment. 

Water wells are a costly investment. Drilling costs vary among licensed drillers and it is important for a landowner to have an informed discussion with a driller so that they know what to expect from the drilling process.

For assistance with managing your water well or to take advantage of our water well chlorination system, give Agriculture and Community Services a call at 403-845-4444.

Saskatchewan farmer designed fluffer/aerator that works for crops or hay

Watching local producers put up hay around the county for the past few weeks adds value to the adage that timing is everything. Having the latest hay tools to work with certainly does not hurt either.

Farming has come a long way since hay was cut with sickle-bar mowers, then raked and free stacked with teams of horses. Today air-conditioned tractors pull high speed disc mowers that condition the hay as it is cut and drop it in neat windrows.

A seemingly infinite variety of rakes and tedders are available to help fluff and dry the forage before baling it in large tight bales that are net-wrapped in seconds. Moisture content is shown within the tractor cab and if it gets a little tough, inoculant can be applied to inhibit molding.

Key to the whole process, both today and a hundred years ago, is to dry the hay before harvest to under 15 percent moisture so it will keep through the winter without spoiling.

Experience plays a role, along with intuition, ingenuity, patience, luck, and a crystal ball to predict the weather. Producers with a lot of acreage to roll up rarely have the luxury of choosing the one or two dry windows that usually come along every summer.

It is often those same producers who are continually on the search for new tools that will speed up the drying process and shrink the time between cutting and baling. While reading the Western Producer last week an article by Ron Lyseng introduced a new hay conditioner called the Aerow.

Combining the words “aerate” and “row,” the northwestern Saskatchewan farmer designed Aerow is from an area that is notorious for its wet conditions. Ryan Sommerfeld puts up about 1000 acres of hay annually and insists that rakes, inverters and modified balers are too slow and do too much damage to the crop.

Wanting to dry hay swaths by gently lifting and moving them without losing valuable leaves and stems, in 2018 Ryan took his drawings and some retired swather parts to a local machine shop. When the project was finished, he had a swath management machine that did what he wanted.

In the fall of 2019 Sommerfeld joined forces with his neighbour Ben Voss, together designing a more advanced prototype in the Voss shop that they tested in the tough spring harvest conditions of 2020. It handled the challenge better than expected, developing growing interest among the neighbours.

Using desiccants to dry down crops may soon be a thing of the past. Fewer grain companies are accepting desiccated crops and a return to swathing could be on the horizon. That will mean dealing with green, uneven crops and weed growth.

A 42’ swath is a real monster windrow that doesn’t dry down very well. The Aerow can handle those big swaths by lifting and re-fluffing them, so the air gets through and allows the windrow to dry quickly.

With a unique patented design, unlike conventional spring teeth that rotate through steel bands as in a baler pickup, Ryan has mounted teeth onto a pipe then added six inches of baler belting onto the front face of the teeth so the mountings are covered. Four inches of exposed teeth are enough to pick up the swath.

When fluffing hay, it seems the belting acts as a fan blowing the hay back into the machine. As Voss says, haying is where the machine shines. Because the hay is well fluffed up it feeds more smoothly into the machine with less resistance or plugging.

The Aerow operates much like a hydro swing haybine except it is on turning wheels, allowing the steering tires to change the angle of the rotor relative to the direction of travel. Steering allows more, or less aggressive crop handling and angling narrows or widens the swath.

Voss and Sommerfeld plan to run Aerow Manufacturing themselves while contracting out the building of the machines. The steel is precisely laser cut and will be assembled using self-fixturing. Tabs and notches snap together to create the basic machine. Anybody with a MIG welder can put it together.

Requiring a minimum of 50 horsepower and 15 gallons a minute hydraulic flow, features include a PTO hydraulic pump, electric controls, speed display and flotation tires. If a $25-$30,000 price tag fits your budget, then keep an eye out for one in a field near you.

Pruning is the removal of various sized branches in trees and shrubs. Pruning is done to improve the shape, size and branch configuration of a tree or shrub, or to remove diseased or damaged materials.

Rob Spencer, horticulturist, says “While pruning that is timed and carried out correctly can keep a tree or shrub in good health, improper pruning can create bigger problems than what you started with.”

“Pruning is done for a number of reasons”, says Spencer. “For most people, it is done to remove damaged, diseased, or weak branches, but it might also be done to open up the canopy to allow for better light penetration or air flow, or to rejuvenate a shrub.”

Pruning is also done to remove branches that pose a safety risk for a property, to change a plant’s structure, to increase the productivity of a fruiting plant, or the appeal of a flowering plant, or to raise the head of a tree (a.k.a. raising the height of the lowest branches).

The pruning of smaller trees and shrubs can be done by almost anyone in their own property, with the right tools, following some basic guidelines, and with some careful planning.

However, once you start climbing anything, or are working above your head, the risk levels go up and you should start considering hiring a professional. Spencer says that while it might seem simple to climb the ladder and take off a branch, or to drop a tree into an open space, you should use care. A professional has the special tools and training that will make a job quicker and safer. “Don’t be a hero.”

The most asked question of horticulturists and arborists is about when a tree or shrub should be pruned. Unfortunately, the answer is not entirely straightforward.

Coniferous plants can be pruned at any time of year however, winter, or early spring are the best times. For deciduous trees and shrubs, the timing depends on the species and the desired end-use feature you are hoping to conserve, such as flowers, fruit, or foliage.

Elms should only be pruned from October to March, to avoid wounds that attract disease-carrying insect pests. Hardwood trees like aspen and ask should be pruned in the winter when plants are dormant. Birch and maple trees have heavy sap flow in the late winter and spring, so pruning of these should only take place in early summer once leaves are fully emerged.

Spencer says that there are some general rules of thumb to follow when it comes to pruning. The first is to use the right tool for each pruning task. Use loppers, secateurs, or small pruning saws for working with small, fine branches and twigs. Larger tools are required for larger branches and should be used with care.

The second rule is to always protect yourself with the proper gear, including eye protection, gloves, protective head gear, boots, etc.

The next rule is to always assess the task carefully prior to jumping into it. Spencer says that if you feel some hesitation or concern, you should hire a professional to do the work. There is no shame in having someone else do the work.

When removing branches, never leave a stub or partially sawn limb on the tree. Cut branches flush to the trunk or back to the nearest appropriate junction point. This allows the tree to properly heal. Spencer says, “A stub will just rot and is a big hole waiting for infection to enter.”

Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT good (or necessary) to treat cuts with paint, tar, or other compounds. Leave wounds open to allow then to heal naturally and not trap spores inside the wound.

Pruning is not too complicated but is hard work and requires careful thought and planning before you start. Taking a few extra minutes to plan out your cuts can save you from having ugly or poorly structured plants.

Consumers can now buy on-farm slaughtered animals directly from the farmer

In the works for some time, the loosening of Alberta animal slaughter regulations is good news for agriculture and the public. Not only will the new regulations help to ease the backlog at slaughter plants due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they will allow new opportunities for on-farm sales.

As residents of Clearwater County have noticed this summer, visitors from far and wide can be seen travelling on County roads in numbers never previously experienced. Random camping in the west country has exploded to the point where it is near impossible to find a camping spot on most weekends.

When viewed from the perspective of potential consumers that will likely return soon, the possibilities for increased farm gate sales could be a boon to the local economy.    

Prior to the end of July, the provincial government had restricted the consumption of meat from animals slaughtered outside of government inspected plants to farmers and their households. Farm gate sales of uninspected meat were strictly illegal.

Now in line with meat inspection regulations in other provinces like British Columbia and Saskatchewan, the new guidelines allow animals to be killed by mobile butchers and farmers licensed to carry out uninspected slaughter and sold directly by farmers to the public.

The meat from the animal is uninspected and is for the consumption of the customer and the customer’s immediate household only and is not to be sold or further distributed.

Having consulted extensively with industry, the new regulations are a return to common sense guidelines while reducing a lot of red tape and streamlining the system.

The changes continue to protect animal welfare and, in some situations improve it. Allowing for video pre-slaughter inspections in emergency situations, abattoirs no longer need to wait for an appointed inspector to arrive in person if animal welfare is at stake.

Consumers with animal welfare concerns about a stressful slaughter can have an animal killed and processed on farm in a humane manner.

Alberta butcher shops have experienced a surge in demand since COVID-19 and now, provincially licensed meat facilities can expand into markets that use meat by-products for human consumption, pet food and wildlife bait.

The new regulations should provide a boost to the local food movement while also building a stronger relationship between urban and rural neighbours.

People today want to know where their food comes from. Having the opportunity to spend a little time on a farm, shoulder to shoulder (two meters apart) with a farmer, tends to dispel a lot of misconceptions about agriculture.

Allowing for more farm slaughter also provides new opportunities for local businesses and clubs like 4-H to fundraise and promote animal husbandry while building relationships with consumers both urban and rural.

For those interested in marketing on-farm, an Uninspected Slaughter Operation License can be obtained from the province for just $100 and is valid for 5 years, available at www.alberta.ca/uninspected-slaughter-operation-licence.aspx.

 The license will enable a livestock producer to sell a live animal to a customer and the customer can have the animal slaughtered on the farm. An individual can also apply for this license if they own land and want to enable on-farm slaughter activities on their property.

For those interested in pursuing mobile slaughter and butchering, the Mobile Butcher License may also be obtained through the province, available at www.alberta.ca/mobile-butcher-licence.aspx.

Some new visitors unaware of appropriate backcountry use

Clearwater County residents have directly felt the vast increase in the number of visitors to the West Country over the past few months, especially compared to previous years. And there is no doubt that the unforeseen coronavirus pandemic has played a significant role in the increased numbers.

Travelers and holidaymakers from Edmonton, Calgary and everywhere in between, have been making their way west to enjoy the beauty of public land near Nordegg, Abraham Lake and surrounding areas along the eastern slopes.

For decades, locals and tourists have respectfully enjoyed camping and hiking in the West Country. However, recent reports of an excessive amount of improperly disposed of garbage, feces and camping equipment, left behind in our “backyard,” are truly concerning.

The area is truly unique and breathtaking, whether camping, hiking or just sight-seeing. As such, it is imperative to keep in mind that there are still rules to follow when accessing public land for vacationing.

In late July, Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers had to trap and euthanize a black bear in the Abraham Lake area, due to food having been left out at a campsite. A fed bear most often leads to a dead bear. This preventable incident prompted the Alberta Government to temporarily shut down the area until the bear was removed.

For everyone’s safety, it is extremely important for people visiting bear country to be aware of the danger’s wildlife can pose. It is important to dispose of and manage any potential attractants when in the West Country. Essentially, pack out what you pack in.

In 2013, with the hope of educating the public on responsible backcountry use, Clearwater County launched the Sasquatch & Partners Initiative. Through a memorandum of understanding it has been adopted by adjacent municipalities that include Yellowhead County, Brazeau County, Mountain View County and Greenview County.

Sasquatch & Partners is an educational initiative to help promote environmental stewardship and responsible recreational activities in the West Country, so that users “tread carefully” and enjoy our backyard with respect.

The initiative was started in response to local citizen concerns about environmental degradation because of recreational activities in the West County. The slogan and main message behind the initiative is “Welcome to our Backyard. Please enjoy it with respect”.

Clearwater County holds the copyright to the Sasquatch brand and spearheaded a number of educational projects over the years which include: a children’s activity book, retail and non-retail merchandise, brochures, road signage at major access points and local advertising in various outdoor magazines. The underlying message is “leave no trace.”

Clearwater County currently has sasquatch merchandise such as t-shirts, brochures, stickers, and activity books that are distributed every year through the Visitor Centre’s in Sundre and Rocky Mountain House as well as Caroline Supplies and the Nordegg Museum. There is also a significant web and growing social media presence.

The Sasquatch initiative has been a great journey so far and most importantly, has been making steady progress in educating locals and visitors to tread carefully on public land for now and the future. With the high volume of visitors we are seeing this year, the Sasquatch program seems more important than ever!

For more information on Sasquatch & Partners, the important messaging behind it and the general rules to follow when visiting the West Country, please visit Clearwater County’s website at  www.clearwatercounty.ca/backyard or contact Landcare staff at 403-846-4040.

The ability to bale hay at 20+ percent can expand the harvest window

It has been said that all things move in cycles and that certainly appears to be the case when it comes to local weather. Except for the draught of 2018, it feels as though summers have gotten cooler, with more precipitation that carries into the fall, and warmer nights that have lengthened the growing season.

Excessive precipitation may have been an issue in the eighties too, a time when hay treatment equipment mounted on balers was a common sight. For whatever reason, (perhaps the weather) the use of hay preservatives fell into decline.

Given the continued wet weather this summer, some farmers have wrapped their early season bales for silage giving them a jump-start on the season. If they have not already, others are considering equipping their balers with inoculant applicators, that can extend the baling period and reduce drying time.

With input costs for fuel, fertilizer, machinery and maintenance so high, it is increasingly important to be able to produce quality hay whether for market or feed. High quality forage not only provides the most nutrient value for the dollars invested but reduces the need for expensive supplements.

Hay preservatives such as acids, bacterial inoculants, enzymes and other compounds allow hay to be bailed at higher moisture levels (as high as 30% or more) thus decreasing field drying time. Baling at higher moisture levels also reduces infield dry matter and leaf loss.

Locally, due to frequent rain throughout the month of June and ongoing thunder showers in July/August it is often difficult to bale hay at the optimum time. Being able to bale earlier in the season would help to improve protein and nutrient levels.

While preservatives don’t add anything to nutrient value, they do prevent heating and mold development if hay is baled above safe moisture levels. Preservatives work by inhibiting or reducing the growth of aerobic (oxygen requiring) microbes in moist hay. If microbial growth is eliminated, then heating, dry matter loss and a decline in quality and digestibility, does not occur.

There are several different preservative compounds which may be used alone or in various combinations. Organic acids and their salts are the most common and effective agents for most applications.

They act as fungicides by producing an acid environment which is not conducive to mold, yeast, or bacterial growth. Propionic and acetic acid are naturally occurring acids in the rumen and are safe for all types of livestock.

When used in their pure liquid form, these products can be dangerous to handle and can be corrosive to machinery, which may be another reason why they fell out of use in the 1980’s.

To overcome these problems manufacturers now supply them in a ‘buffered” form with labeling that specifies that they are neutralized, or pH balanced. With a pH of 5.5 to 6 they are much less corrosive and safer to use, albeit more expensive. Machinery should still be washed off after use to avoid corrosion.

Bacterial inoculants are another alternative that were originally developed for silage but may also be sold as effective for hay preservation. There are similar biological products that have been specifically developed for hay treatment. These inoculants promote good fermentation and forage quality and are either enzyme or bacterial based, or a combination of both.

Containing lactic acid producing bacteria and /or enzymes, these products promote plant cell break down allowing cellulose and starch to be more accessible to desirable acid producing bacteria. They respond best to crops cut early when sugar levels are high.   As a rule, they are not as effective at reducing mold as organic acids, nor can they be used as successfully at higher moisture levels.

The use of hay preservatives becomes an economic decision when the cost of the preservative and equipment are factored in. At $5 to $10 a ton for inoculant and equipment starting at a basic $1,500 uninstalled and as much as $5,000 for a quality liquid applicator, the numbers need to work.

For the most part, the best success is achieved with early season high value forage. Organic acids or biological agents can open the harvest window by reducing drying time thus preventing rain damaged hay. Organic acids are likely the best choice for use with rained on hay, but some users have noticed a loss of green color in the forage.

As a routine harvesting procedure, the economics of using hay preservatives are more questionable. If producers are in a position to put-up high-quality hay without using preservatives, then that would be the better alternative.

Balancing the environmental benefits versus crop and pasture damage

It has been said that in Alberta beaver problems occur wherever there are trees and water. And yet as the largest native rodent in North America these semi-aquatic animals play a valuable role in the plant and animal community.

Beaver also contribute to the stabilization of water tables and help reduce rapid rain runoff. Their dams improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion while providing habitat to a variety of species including fish.

Rich in plant and animal life, beaver ponds offer recreational opportunities like hunting and fishing. But what about the damage that beaver activity can cause?

Most producer conflicts occur in the aspen parkland region of Alberta which includes more than half of the province’s farmland. Dam building often results in the flooding of cultivated land, hayfields, pastureland, and roadways, sometimes restricting or altering water flow downstream.

With a lifespan of five to ten years, some living up to twenty years, and averaging 19 to 25 kg, males can be as large as 40 kg. As a result, the beaver has few natural enemies.

They produce an average of four to six kits a year between April and June and research has shown that they can be trapped at an annual rate of 30 to 40 per cent and still maintain or increase their numbers. Harvesting of beaver was a major source of income to Alberta’s fur trade industry and accounted for 30 per cent of total revenues.

Most agricultural producers may have had little interest in the potential added income, being most concerned with land loss and flooding. Assessing a beaver problem fairly and objectively before taking any action is critically important.

Often the presence of beaver is seen as a problem when in actuality the beaver are causing little or no harm. Much can be gained by matching the most appropriate and cost-effective controls to the type of damage or problem the animals may be causing.

Control methods generally boil down to three choices: prevention, live trapping, relocation, or destroying the beaver and removing the dam. Relocating beaver tends to be cost prohibitive and results show that they tend to return to the original site or do not survive.

Because beaver provide so many environmental benefits, Landcare staff feel compelled to ask landowners “why destroy the beaver if there is a way to co-exist?”.

Removal of beaver dams can negatively affect fish and fish habitat by stranding fish upstream and releasing sediment or large volumes of water that can be devoid of oxygen, particularly in winter. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for protecting fish and fish habitat under the Fisheries Act and sets strict guidelines for beaver dam removal.  

A few preventative measures immediately come to mind, such as fencing off a treed area, or individual trees can be protected by wrapping them in metal or chicken wire. Fencing must go down into the ground .5 m and should be a meter high.

A beaver pond leveler structure can be installed to control water flow in the dam without removing the beaver. By digging a hole through the beaver dam in line with the stream flow and installing a pipe, the height of the pond can be regulated.

The pipe diameter can be any size from 10 to 25 cm, with about three quarters of the pipe in the dam, about 30 cm extruding from the downstream side of the dam and at least 2m of perforated pipe extending into the pond. With a .5-meter elbow on the end of the pipe in the pond, or upstream side, the beaver cannot block the inlet and are unable to figure out how to stop the loss of water.

A single pipe can handle the normal drainage from an 800-hectare area and in some cases, multiple pipes can be used. A “beaver pipe” provides a long-term solution to control water level and is a viable compromise between producer needs and environmental concerns.

These are simple and cost-effective solutions in which landowners can co-exist with beaver! As well, these projects can be covered at a 50/50 cost-share through Landcare’s Caring for my Land program.

Whatever your choice may be in terms of beaver management, recognizing the broader ramifications to the environment and effects on downstream flow should be a major consideration before taking any action.

For further assistance in determining the best management practices appropriate to your situation feel free to call Agricultural and Community Services at Clearwater County @ 403-845-4444.

Fortunately, late July through early August is an ideal time for control

The seemingly endless rain this spring has saturated the ground, allowing moisture to reach long dormant, inactive roots and give them new life. Suddenly, Canada thistle (Ct) is appearing everywhere, even in well controlled places where it has not been seen for years.

It may be the emblem of the Scottish nation, but in Canada, it is a weed plain and simple. It is prickly, unsightly, and grows into large patches that choke out beneficial vegetation and reduce grazing and environmental diversity.

Whether the control method used is based on mowing, tillage, herbicides, or timing relative to the cycles of the moon, the deeply rooted and prickly Canada thistle can be a wily adversary.

Back in 1907, shortly after Alberta became a Province, one of the first pieces of legislation enacted was the Provincial Weed Act with Canada thistle at the top of the list.

Ironically, the species is not even native to Canada, but was named so when US residents of New England blamed its appearance on French traders from across the border to the north.

Ct was likely introduced to both Canada and the U.S. at about the same time in the early 1700s, likely originating in the eastern Mediterranean.

The troublesome weed grows best on land suited to annual crop production but will also inhabit roadsides, turf, gardens, wasteland, rail-beds, pastures and the margins of woodlands and wetlands.

Surprisingly, the perennial weed is not a prolific seed producer and its seedlings are not competitive. It is the roots that make the plant so difficult to control. They can spread laterally up to six meters in one year and can go down as deep as 4.5 meters.

Canada thistle is so tenacious that within 19 days of emergence seedlings can still regenerate after top growth removal.

Root thistle shoots can start from root pieces as small as eight millimeters (about 1/3 of an inch) in length and are still viable for up to 100 days. Because Ct rarely starts from seed, but more often from lateral roots or root pieces, there are not many genetically original plants in most fields.

Root spread can be very prolific, and it is at the root level that control of Canada thistle must take place.

The plant stores energy in its extensive root system both to survive the winter and to fuel the plant’s reproductive drive through the following season. Initially it produces a taproot that penetrates to depths where consistent moisture is found, at which time it begins to send out lateral roots which produce a colony of genetically identical clones.

Systemic herbicides are usually most effective because they circulate through the entire plant, including the root, resulting in better long-term control. By allowing the plant to grow to the bud stage it is at a weak point in its life cycle and more susceptible to herbicide.

At this stage, the ample foliage allows for good uptake and the circulation of sap carries the herbicide to the roots with the stored sugars.

Control in the fall can also be reasonably successful as the plant is actively moving reserves to the root system. Results may be risky and inconsistent due to frost though. Thistle can easily survive a light frost, but the plant needs to have adequate time to recover and be actively growing with new leaves to absorb herbicide.

Tillage at any time of year can be effective but is also expensive because it needs to be consistent. Tillage also runs the risk of spreading root particles further and starting new infestations. It is most successful when incorporated with the use of herbicides.

With Canada thistle just beginning to flower throughout the county, the timing is ideal for optimum control to achieve the best results. For assistance with herbicide selection or the use of our broad selection of rental spray units please give us a call at Agriculture and Community Services @ 403-845-4444.

 “In any giving growing season, you might encounter dozens of insects. There are many different insect pests that feed on the plants in our yards, gardens, fields, or forests” says Robert Spencer, horticulturist. “Some of them are subtle about it, sneaking around the fringes or hidden from our view most of the time. Some pests congregate together, having an “in-your-face” smorgasbord with their entire family group.”

Some insects leave obvious signs of their presence, even if you do not see the pest themselves, whereas others nibble away without many outward signs. Some pests are easy to recognize and perhaps easier to control than others.

The most obvious defoliating insects tend to be caterpillars, or the larvae of butterflies and moths. This is a large group of insects, but their common denominator, says Spencer, is that they are “voracious leaf munchers”. As they get larger, the amount that they consume increases. They might consume all or part of the leaf. Some are solitary, hanging out alone, eating their way towards maturity. Others cluster in groups, either in a writhing nest, or just in a large assembly. Caterpillars range in colour, hairiness, striping, etc., with some being showy and others inconspicuous.

“Early signs that you have one of these pests would be the gradual thinning of the canopy of the plant, or perhaps the disappearance of small seedlings” says Spencer. Individual leaves may be partially or entirely consumed. “You might notice the product of their eating, as they are not house trained, and will leave their frass (a fancy word for poop) lying around.”

Some, such as the Forest Tent Caterpillar, may be first recognized by their distinctive egg clusters/rings around the host tree branches or trunks. Once the larvae emerge, they will be a vibrantly coloured group of caterpillars of varying sizes, rapidly removing the leaves from trees across a large area. They tend to have “nests” or webbed groupings or “home bases” as well. In outbreak years, the caterpillars can be found moving across roadways to new feeding areas, resulting in a messy, slippery wave of larvae.

A common garden defoliator is the Imported Cabbageworm (sometimes referred to as a Cabbage White), which is easily recognized by its distinctive white butterfly adults that flutter around the Brassica species in the garden as mid-summer arrives. They have a few black markings on the wings and do no damage as adults. The larvae are not all that showy, but they are green and feed in an around the various types of heads of this group of vegetables. They eat lots of holes and leave a lot of poop behind.

“Cutworms are chubby plant assassins,” says Spencer, “as you rarely see them on the plants, and the main sign of their presence is the gradual disappearance of the seedlings.” If you do see them, it will only be in the evenings, or if you dig under the soil surface. The adults are moths, but the larvae curl up in a C-shape when disturbed.

There is another group of caterpillar-like larvae that are significant defoliators. They are not true caterpillars, but sawfly larvae can give caterpillars a run for their money when it comes to stripping a plant of its leaves. There are several sawflies that show up regularly and might be familiar. While on the surface, sawfly larvae and caterpillars might not differ appreciably, it can make a big difference when it comes to controlling them.

Spencer suggests that the easiest way to tell the difference between a caterpillar and a sawfly is to count the number of pairs of legs. “If you can spell out SAWFLY on the legs of the critter, you know what you are dealing with.”

Some insects only consume the blade tissues of the leaves, leaving a skeleton behind. Some insects feed within the safety of a rolled leaf, or a group/cluster of rolled leaves. Suddenly seeing the visible area of foliage reduced can be startling.

Leafminers tunnel between the upper and lower leaf surfaces, chewing out a pocket of emptiness, and filling it with their debris. Some leafminers chew in a winding or serpentine pattern, whereas others start at one spot and just expand their feeding outward. Over time, the areas where feeding has occurred will fade and turn brown, and leaves will often fall off.

“There is little doubt that you will run across some sort of defoliator in your yard or garden” says Spencer. Even before you identify the exact name of the culprit, attempt to determine the severity of the pest. In many cases, for most big trees, most of the feeding is cosmetic. In most cases, you observe/recognize and identify problems in one year, and then come up with a management strategy for the next year. For smaller, annual plants, a quicker reaction may be required, but you will have to watch carefully to get ahead of the damage.

Preventing invasive weed and pest spread is everybody’s responsibility

Diseases, pests and weeds are the most costly and significant threat to both agricultural productivity and environmental biodiversity. They negatively affect the quality and quantity of agriculture and horticulture and threaten our natural ecosystems.

As we reach mid-summer, many invasive weed species have already set seed, ready to be transferred to new locations via human and animal activity, most often unbeknown to the carriers.

The majority of weed and pest transfer occurs because of summer activities.  And while control has been traditionally focused on the agricultural industry, the spread of invasive species involves all aspects of human activity.

Often overlooked, cars, trucks, motorbikes, ATVs, boats, earthmoving equipment and even firewood are common carriers of invasive species. Contaminated soil and plant and animal material can easily lodge in a variety of locations on vehicles, equipment, footwear, clothing and pets.

When one realizes that virtually any area of the globe can be reached within 72 hours it is easy to understand why new invasive species continue to be introduced into areas where they have no natural predators or competition.

Avoiding weed, disease and pest spread is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent loss of habitat and biodiversity while saving time, money and irreversible damage.

The first step in taking personal responsibility begins with the awareness that human activities are a vector for spread. The second step is achieved through self-education as to the pests, diseases or weed species that may be encountered during any given activity.

Some may argue that weeds are everywhere, so why bother worrying about them. By doing our part to reduce spread, we become part of the solution and not part of the problem. A lack of awareness is hardly acceptable in today’s information age where details may be found at the tip of a finger.

Aside from agricultural damage, one of the hardest hit areas in Clearwater County is the west country where invasive species are seriously impacting riparian areas. Frequently used as travel corridors and campsites, creeks, rivers, wetlands and lakes often have the highest biodiversity within an ecosystem.

When it comes to being part of the solution, making a visual inspection of anything that could be a carrier should become standard practice, especially after leaving an infested site. Begin by checking all footwear and clothing, pets, backpacks, ATVs, UTVs, trailers and campers.  

Agriculturally, most farmers are aware of a hygiene problem but on occasion, in the rush to get the job done, may overlook the ramifications of neglecting to clean off equipment. Still others view machinery hygiene as a fall chore, while weeds and pests are carried from field to field inadvertently throughout the growing season.

It is not uncommon to see new infestations appear at the entrance to fields where debris is deposited as equipment comes off the road. Clubroot of canola is a growing example of poor machinery hygiene, as this pest steadily creeps into Clearwater County from our northern and eastern boundaries.

Some effective cleaning options include washing, air pressure, vacuuming and physical removal. It is not always possible to wash equipment on site but even a portable pressurized spray tank can be used to clear hard to reach areas, especially when equipment is dry.

Portable vacuums offer a quick and easy way to clean out cabs. Carrying a brush and or broom and a scraper will help to remove larger deposits in more accessible areas.

Machinery should be cleaned from the top down and include the undercarriage, springs, axles and tires. Whenever possible, detergents should be used to remove grease, dirt and mud.   

Footwear should also be cleaned along with socks and clothing. Using the same site for cleaning will allow for monitoring of volunteer weed growth which can be easily controlled.

Contaminated material should be disposed of in a manner that ensures all removed weeds, seeds and pests will not grow or continue to spread.

Establishing management practices that reduce the spread of invasive species is everyone’s responsibility. It is the environment and agriculture that ultimately suffer because of poor hygiene that allows for the transfer of invasive species.

For more specific details on potential pest, disease or weed problems in given areas, please feel free to call Agriculture and Community Services at 403-845-4444.

View the standing crop before it is harvested

Now that spring has come and gone, and summer is officially here, you can look forward to a bit more sunshine, heat and plants that grow and change rapidly. As plants grow, signs that plants are not operating at 100 percent may start to appear. In some cases, plant health can decline rapidly, with plants going from healthy to dead in a matter of days.

Rob Spencer, horticulturist, suggests that there are several “early warning signs” for gardeners.

“However rapidly the plant declines, things rarely develop so quickly that you won’t get some earlier indicators that all is not perfect in paradise.”

Once the garden is planted, under “normal conditions”, Spencer says that you should start to see plants emerge within less than 2 weeks.

“If you are watching where you planted things and nothing emerges, or there are big gaps, that might be an indicator that there is a germination problem or something affecting the emerging seedlings. Keep in mind that there is always variability in seed health and vigor.”

Human error can lead to differences in seed spacing and depth, so be patient for a few days before raising the alarm. Once plants are up, watch for whether they continue to grow. If you suddenly notice that plants are missing from one day to another, or plants have collapsed or started to waste away, this might be an indication that something is either preying on them (e.g. cutworms) or something is attacking the seedlings (e.g. soilborne fungal pathogens)

Plants have limited ways of communicating their issues to us. Spencer says that one of the ways that they “speak” to us is through colour change, specifically changes that occur out of season.

“If you see a gradual fading or weakening of colour, gradually turning more and more yellow, this can be an indication that the plant isn’t getting the nutrition it is needing, either due to damage below the soil surface, or due to deficiencies in the soil.” He adds “If you see a sudden colour change, such as a shift from green to purple or red, this is another signal that things aren’t functioning properly.”

Where the colour change occurs is also important. Are the older, lower leaves turning colour, or is it the young, new leaves? Is everything changing colour, or just specific parts of the leaves? For example, are the veins staying green, while the rest of the leaf turns yellow?

If you start to see little holes or missing edges from your leaves, that is likely an indicator that something is chewing on the plant. Look for the culprit under the leaves, in the top layer of the soil, or right on the leaves. Spencer suggests that the nature of the damage, as well as any pest life stages that you might find, will give you the clues that can help in identifying and dealing with the culprit.

If there is an accumulation of sticky fluid on some part of the plant, either associated with a wound or a hole, you might find something infecting that location. You might find a colony of aphids (guarded by ants) pumping out sweet “honeydew” or plant juices during their feeding, or you might find some light webbing on the undersides of leaves, along with sand that moves (mites).

Sometimes, you will find a point where the leaves, stem, or some other plant part have a strange growth or swelling on them. It might be tiny or could be quite sizeable. If it is not really obstructing growth, you can probably ignore it. Or, if you want to unveil the culprit, you could cut it open and see what is inside. In many cases, you will not find anything, simply because the swelling is a response by the plant, stimulating tissues to divide rapidly, essentially cordoning off the point of infection or attack.

Fungal pathogens typically have some sort of visible stage where they are growing on the surface of the plant, whether it be spores or other structures. It might have a different colour and may or may not be associated with rotted tissues. If you see fuzz or growths, look closer for the possible cause.

You can sometimes see that plant tissues are starting to act strangely. You might see them twist and curl or swell. If the plant suddenly starts growing oddly, look closely for what might be going on.

Spencer says, “Much of the art of diagnosing issues in a yard or garden is really about recognizing change.”

You cannot see a difference if you have never established a baseline to compare things to from the start. It is critical to continue to reestablish that baseline as the season progresses. In short, “Watch your plants!” says Spencer.

View the standing crop before it is harvested

There are many advantages to sourcing forage for winter feed during the summer rather than later in the fall. Key among those advantages is the ability to identify invasive weeds in a standing crop, that if purchased, could require serious control issues later.

Early season discussions with the hay producer can also help lock-in adequate forage supply while providing an opportunity to negotiate cost before the annual fall frenzy price increase.

Finding a new infestation of invasive weeds where winter feeding took place the previous year or two can be extremely upsetting. Not only are invasive species difficult to control, but they entail plenty of frustration, money, and time to eradicate.

If contaminated forage is fed, most weed seeds will survive the digestive tract and be deposited elsewhere. In the case of leased land that may mean the introduction of invasive species to neighbouring pastures or sensitive recreational areas, even if the contaminated forage is not fed there.

Increasingly, both federal and provincial parks are requiring visitors to feed only processed hay cubes or certified weed free forage to their equines. A growing problem of invasive weed species overtaking native range is reducing the food supply for native ungulates in these areas.

The Alberta Certified Weed Free Hay Program, based on the standards of the North American Weed Free Forage Certification Program, certifies producers who meet the inspection criteria. Increasingly popular, the certified hay usually sells for a premium.

Noxious weeds threaten beneficial land uses, cost millions of dollars to control nationwide and jeopardize environmental diversity. In Clearwater County, Tall Buttercup alone costs over $750,000 annually in lost production and has grown to cover a total area of more than 25,000 acres.   

It is much easier to spot weeds in hay fields before harvest than it is to identify them after the forage has been baled. Buying locally whenever possible, provides the advantage of personally inspecting fields prior to purchasing forage while applying knowledge of local weed issues.

Invasive weed species frequently grow in patches, or monocultures, that can be cut and baled separately. In such cases the infested forage may be retained by the landowner and fed in a contained environment where control of the potential spread is more easily achieved.

It may not always be possible to visit the area of production, particularly in years when shortages due to drought or other circumstances require that baled forage be trucked long distance.

It is prudent to ask questions as to the presence of weeds and the location of where the forage was baled. The primary queries about composition, quality and moisture content are integral, but the potential presence of noxious weeds is equally important.

In addition to speaking to the producer, a call to the agricultural department of the local municipality will usually provide a wealth of information about local conditions, average price of hay, predominant weeds and even the specific weed status of the location in question.

The spread of invasive weeds occurs because of many factors aside from infested hay. Seeds hitch a ride on livestock and wildlife and are transported because of farming, recreational, industrial and environmental activities.

Machinery hygiene is often overlooked as equipment is moved from one area to another, unknowingly spreading weed seeds to new locations. Recreational ATV use is also a vector for the transfer of invasive weed species, particularly in the West Country.

The Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services Department administers the weed free hay program locally and can certify producers who meet the requirements. For further information regarding the program, certified producers in the area, or assistance with herbicide application or weed identification, call 403-845-4444.

Destructive pest of pine continues to encroach on private land

If you or your neighbour have pine trees within or bordering your property, it will be worth taking some time to check for a Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) attack. Doing so could save your woodlot, shelterbelt, or the trees in your yard. 

A 400-kilometer flight on strong winds in 2006, brought an invasion from central B.C. to the Grande Prairie and Peace River area, reaching as far east as Slave Lake and Whitecourt. Since then MPB hitchhiked aerially into the Bow Valley corridor, putting Canmore on alert. 

In 2017, Jasper National Park was mass attacked and in 2018, MPB made its presence known in Clearwater County.

For those not familiar with MPB, this seemingly insignificant insect, no bigger than a short grain of rice, carries a blue stain fungus that is fatal to pine trees if enough beetles successfully attack.

As an incoming beetle attempts to create an entry hole into a tree, the tree fights back, trying to pitch the beetle out. Hence, the appearance of a cluster of ooze called a pitch tube, extruding a wad of gum-like sap.

The beetle carries the fungus, but it also chews and lays eggs in a distinctive J-shape tunnel. Larvae from hatched eggs eat then lateral tunnels, eventually growing into another generation of beetles.

Mature beetles synchronize a flight to attack other pine trees and continue the cycle of destruction of older, mature pine. An overwhelming successful attack means a blue stain death is assured after only 10 days.

There might not be any signs of death on the outside surface of the tree until a longer period of time has passed. Dead trees maintain green needles in the first months after death but give way to a yellow/red appearance the following year. Eventually all needles drop leading to a grey/brown appearance.  

One approach commonly used by forestry companies is to use Verbenone Repellent, pouches that mimic a naturally occurring chemical pheromone, that leads invading beetles to think “this tree is full”, thus warding off an attack on uninfected trees. These verbenone pouches are hung one per tree between June 15 and July 1 at a 5-metre distance between each pouch. If you would like to purchase pouches for your property, contact Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services Department. 

While verbenone has been shown to be successful at low to moderate beetle population pressure, it is not 100 percent effective when the pressure is high. Even under low and moderate beetle pressure, complete protection may not be achieved. 

To maintain longevity, pouches should be stored in a sealed freezer bag in a freezer not used for food, or in a cool area before deploying. Splitting a package with a neighbor is encouraged if you have only a few trees to protect. 

Here are some steps residents and visitors can take to stop the spread of MPB:   

  • Be careful with firewood. If you bring firewood home from an infected tree you risk passing MPB on to trees on your property and in your neighborhood.
  • Know the signs of MPB and make sure the tree you are dealing with is truly a pine and not another kind of conifer. Information factsheets and some “show and tell” items are available at the Agriculture and Community Services office to help illustrate what a MPB attack looks like.
  • Keep pine trees healthy, as any tree stressed by a lack of moisture, poor pruning, trunk or root injury and topping, are at greater risk.  
  • Diversify your wooded areas with non-pine species. Always be planning for the next generation of trees.
  • Be realistic about life expectancy. Every tree is ultimately terminal.  An end-of-life strategy for trees includes knowing when to remove them. Assess your pine trees before they become a problem.  
  • Take responsibility for trees on your own property. The provincial government only has the authority to look after trees on Crown land.  

Owners of private land are responsible for pine trees on their own property. Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services Department is available to help identify the pest and coach landowners as to their best options. For more information, contact Clearwater County at 403-845-4444.

If you find them on your land, there is no charge for control

Weed designations can sometimes be a bit confusing, especially when provincial and municipal designations are interchanged. But when it comes to weeds in Alberta, the two categories most frequently applied to determine weed invasiveness are “Noxious” and “Prohibited Noxious.”

Under the Provincial Weed Act, Noxious weeds are to be controlled by the landowner so that they do not spread to nearby properties. Prohibited Noxious weeds are those which must be eliminated by the landowner so that none survive.

Whether due to a lack of knowledge or simple confusion, some landowners have referred to common weed species as “obnoxious.” They certainly can be obnoxious, but the term is not a part of Provincial Weed Control terminology or municipal classification.

Some might ask how the municipal designation of “Eradicable” fits into the overall scheme of things. The concept originated from Clearwater County’s Agricultural Service Board (ASB), which directs the activities of Agriculture and Community Services as they relate to provincial legislation.

The ASB creates an annual list of invasive weeds that it believes are small enough in number, to be completely eradicated from the County.

Some of Clearwater County’s Eradicable weeds are on the provincial Prohibited Noxious list and some are not. The ASB determines what it considers to be appropriate species. If landowners discover any species on the “Eradicable” list on their own property, then they will be controlled at no direct cost by Agriculture and Community Services staff.

Even though there is already Provincial legislation in place to deal with most weed concerns, the ASB felt there were several invasive species not designated under the Weed Control Act that were of concern.  

Orange Hawkweed was not regulated prior to 2009 and Bladder Campion is yet to be regulated. All invasive species on Eradicable list dramatically affect the environmental balance by reducing native diversity and natural habitat.

Based on the annual list of eradicable weeds, Ag Services staff will record infestation data such as severity and growth stage, GPS the location, and then coordinate eradication at no direct cost to the landowner.

Staff will also attempt to determine how and where the infestation came from and follow up on control results.

Early detection and rapid response are key factors in preventing weed spread. Like a prairie fire, it is far easier to put out a small one, than wait until the fire is burning out of control.

Knowing that landowner resources are limited, the ASB has recognized that by supporting residents in the identification and control of eradicable weeds, that they will be more committed to early detection. Although a greater number of sites may be identified initially, the chances of total eradication will be considerably enhanced.

The species which are included on this year’s list are Meadow and Orange Hawkweed, Common Tansy, Yellow Toadflax, Field Scabious, Leafy Spurge and Bladder Campion.

Clearwater County residents who are aware of the existence of any of the species on the Eradicable list are asked to contact Agriculture and Community Services.

Imagine what Clearwater County would look like today if Tall Buttercup and Wild Caraway had been eradicated before they spread throughout the region.  Picture the incredible benefits in improved pasture and herbicide savings alone!

As previously mentioned, early identification is critical in accomplishing eradication before an invasive species spreads out of control and negatively impacts our environmental landscape. Call Agriculture and Community Services at 403-845-4444 with any of your weed questions.

“Extreme winter conditions can be hard on the plants in our yards and gardens,” says Rob Spencer, horticulturist with Spencer Horticultural Solutions. “Even plants that are rated as hardy for our zone can sometimes struggle to stay healthy and productive and may suffer slight to severe injury in some years.”

Environmental factors such as fluctuating temperatures, dehydrating winds, varying precipitation and snow loads, as well as plant-related factors (such as age, health, etc.) can influence whether plants are damaged or not.

As winter conditions leave us, sometimes reluctantly, we eagerly look for signs that for our woody and non-woody perennials are waking up. As the snow recedes, Spencer suggests that you look for specific signs of life.

“In general, you will see buds start to swell, rounding out the pointy parts on sticks. Trees will start to produce their flowers and seeds, depending on the type. Perennials will show fresh new shoots at the base of the plant, pushing past any old growth that remains. Grass will start to turn from brown to green and new growth will be evident on evergreens. It is a great time of year!”

However, Spencer warns that as plants wake up, you might start to notice signs that not everything came through the winter intact.

“Signs that plants may have experienced slight to severe damage at some point during winter range from subtle to obvious. Not all damage is caused by the weather, but simply happens in wintertime.”

Patience is required when looking for damage. Spencer points out that some plants take longer to wake up than others, and things like an insulating layer of bark mulch, a cooler, shadier location, or a stretch of cold weather can slow things down.

“It is easy to think that something is dead when, in fact, it is just taking its time. So, be patient,” he explains. “For woody plants, look closely to see if buds are swelling and becoming more rounded, if bud scales are starting to separate, and if other signs of life are evident. Compare plants to others around it, looking for similar species and judging the progress of your plants compared to those plants.”

For perennials, Spencer says that you have to consider the effects of the local microclimate on the plants, as this will directly affect how quickly the soil warms up and how quickly plants start to grow again.

“Some plants emerge from below the soil; if you simply cannot wait, gently move the soil aside from the surface, looking for new growth. Sometimes perennials will surprise you. A few warm days and they will practically jump out of the ground.”

Dead plants will pull easily out of the ground, have black, rotted parts, and never send up new growth.

One sign that plants are not 100 percent is when the stand is thin and weak. You might notice that where there should be a fairly solid block of plants - as noted in years past- there might be holes and gaps.

Spencer uses strawberries for an example. “If you have an established bed of strawberries, maybe there are plants missing, or the plants that are there look small, weak or generally unthrifty. You might notice that some plants are green and growing and other are brown/black and are doing nothing. To connect the final dots, you might look back and remember that the insulating layer of snow was thin, or that bed was a bit exposed, or it was an older planting and went into winter weak.”

Sometimes damage stands out because of the contrast between normal, healthy growth and a dead or damaged area.

“If you notice that an entire branch of a plant fails to bud or leaf out when the rest of the plant does, that is a fairly good sign that that part of the plant is injured or dead. Look for dry, brittle, gray branches, or darkened areas.”

Sometimes you will observe physical damage to the plant, often by some external force, whether animal or something else.

“Broken branches can occur due to sudden, heavy snows. Split trunks can be evidence of exposure to winter thawing by direct sunlight in some species, or something else. A visit by hungry critters can show up as gnawed bark or nibbled twigs, giving plants the appearance of a bad haircut,” he says.

Spencer says that ultimately, the most important part of recognizing winter injury is noting normal growth for a comparison.

“When damage or injury is noted, gather as much information as you can, to eliminate different causes, and get closer to a solution.”

Time to gear up for control and get the jump on invasive plants

Last week’s soaking rain was like money in the bank for local farmers. Forages shot up virtually overnight, bringing with them the promise of well germinated crops for the start of a new growing season.

Unfortunately, when conditions are good, then everything grows, even the weeds. It is the time of year when landowners are faced with the distasteful, often costly job of controlling foreign invaders bent on taking over the landscape. But it must be done.

The alternative is to leave the hardy aggressors to their own devices, allowing them to alter our ecosystem, reduce biodiversity, eliminate native species, and ultimately change the way we live. Some things in life we must settle for, but invasive species are not one of them.

The first piece of legislation ever introduced in the Alberta legislature was the Provincial Weed Act (1907) in which invasive weed species are designated as either noxious or prohibited noxious. By law, noxious weeds are required to be controlled by landowners while prohibited noxious weeds must be eliminated altogether.

Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services has had a long-term mandate to assist residents and landowners in their effort to comply with legislation and control or eliminate invasive species as required. In that regard Ag Services has developed a variety of services and programs, many of which are free, or available at a nominal charge.

To make control options easily accessible, Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services retails competitively priced herbicides appropriate for use by both acreage owners and agricultural producers.

In the past, attendance at a weed workshop guaranteed a 10 percent discount on selected herbicides purchased through the county. Since all public events were cancelled due to Covid-19, today’s option is to watch a short video and answer a few questions to receive the discount.

Discount link: http://www.clearwatercounty.ca/p/herbicide-discount

A complete line of rental spray equipment is also available at our local shop for a nominal fee. Seven large boom-less pasture sprayers are available for use at no charge by local farmers and are located at various locations throughout the county.

In addition, five seasonal employees have been hired to facilitate the weed control process. Ryan Jeffery is back for his third year as Weed Management Coordinator for the north region. Brooklyn Smith has returned for her second summer and will be managing the south region. Also returning for her second year, Edith van Ginkle will be responsible for assisting residents in an expanded central region.

Bailey Eklund is back for her third season with Clearwater County and her second as Eradicable Weed Coordinator. Community Weed Control Coordinator for her second summer, Laeken Kinch assists residents of the Arbutus/Alhambra and Everdell weed control programs.

Agriculture and Community Services continues to sponsor the Eradicable Weeds Program. Believing that some invasive species are at low enough numbers that it is possible to eradicate them entirely, county staff will control these weeds at no cost to the landowner. The program has proven very successful with residents having identified many of the invaders themselves.

We are all stewards of the land, playing an important role in the healthy evolution of our environment. Our diligence in dealing with invasive species helps assure environmental diversity while fostering the continuation of native species, providing for wildlife habitat as well as agricultural productivity. The decisions we make today will help determine the future for generations to come.

Agriculture and Community Services provides a tremendous amount of material, equipment, and education to Clearwater County residents, to support agricultural producers while aiding in the protection of our shared environment. Feel free to give us a call about your weed concerns @ 403-845-4444.

Diagnosing plant and insect problems

A platoon leader, legend has it, said to his troops in a particularly difficult spot, “the enemy has us surrounded… don’t let one of them escape.”

Sometimes that is what it feels like in field, forest, yard and garden.  The pest enemies are everywhere, and the task is daunting to manage them.

The University of Manitoba offers a horticultural course known by the acronym “IPM”.  To most, IPM stands for integrated pest management.  U of M took a different approach.  To them, IPM was integrated plant management. 

The premise was to place the focus on the health and needs of the plant instead of just reacting to a pest.  The grower then builds a plan to have healthy soil, adequate nutrients, water and, hopefully, robust plants.  Within this, the grower keeps in mind the uniqueness to every growing season and the flexibility needed when planning for healthy plants as conditions change from year to year. 

One underutilized tool is a soil test to help identify strengths and deficiencies.  For example, instead of fertilizing Saskatoon bushes using the same recipe year after year let the soil and the plant speak.  

Another constant is attention to how much water is needed, when and how to apply it.  Sprinklers are not beneficial for everything.

Then there are the nutrient robbers like undesirable plants.  Some, by law and for good reason, must be removed.  Others usurp what your plants need in light, water and nutrients.

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, of Washington State University, might be the best authority in busting horticultural myths.  Her books “the Informed Gardener”, The Informed Gardener Blooms Again” and, most recently “How Plants Work” are must haves for the yard and garden enthusiast.  

Check out her works at:  https://puyallup.wsu.edu/lcs/ or visit the open Facebook group for posting by Dr. Chalker-Scott and others:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors/ 

Suzanne Wainwright-Evans is an ornamental plant entomologist affectionately known as “the Bug Lady”.  There are few better at balancing the use of synthetic and organic pesticides.  She advocates a measured response to plant health and pest problems.

One key observation Wainwright-Evans makes is that organic is not necessarily safe and in some cases is as or more dangerous than a synthetic counterpart.

The Chrysanthemum flower is used to extract pyrethrum which is used in organic pesticides and typically labeled as pyrethrin.  While dynamite on bugs the mode of action is an attack on the nervous system and brain of living things.  Hmm.  

Another observation made by “The Bug Lady” is attention to applications of nitrogen.  Those lush, green, dense canopies of foliage can be breeding grounds for pests.  Greenhouses have found reducing the amount of nitrogen still results in a healthy, productive plants but with fewer pest problems.     

At this time of year, our staff are asked how to deal with a garden, flower bed, lawn, tree or, shrub attacker.  The answer is not always simple. The solution to a unique or severe pest problem sometimes lies with an expert in pest identification and control.

Here is a typical scenario.  Someone brings us part of a plant or a container of insects.  We usually need more information.  The more you can provide the better chance of finding out what is wrong.  Before you come to us write down as much information as possible.  Think of the five W’s when making notes.   

Land history and recent activity, age of plants (especially trees), soil amendments and sources, water source, source of seed, and growing conditions (greenhouse, open garden, density of planting) are all helpful.  So are comments about extreme weather. 

While samples are great, in some cases it is not practical.  Digital cameras are the next best option.  The more high-quality pictures the better.  Be careful not to under or over expose your shot, digitally alter the colors or blur the images. 

Other times the samples are in poor condition.  While we expect the sample to be less than perfect, plant tissue or insects left in a hot vehicle often inhibit identification.  Insect or plant tissue color, stem shape, seed head and more help us narrow down a diagnosis.

It is also important to keep in mind what is normal and what is abnormal.  The defense mechanisms of plants kick in with prolonged heat and some plants drop blossoms in response to cool nights.

Remember that every bug is not bad.  There are many beneficial insects who effectively take on aphids and more.  That is a subject for a future article.

Written pasture agreements are critical and should include some key clauses 

Most local cattle producers are wrapping up calving and taking advantage of recent good weather to get some field work done. Others may even be harvesting last fall’s crop, but either way, back of mind, they are all thinking about what the year will bring for summer pasture.

The draught of 2018 was a reminder of how quickly weather can alter the best laid plans. Having run out of grass, many producers had to pull their animals from depleted pastures part way through the grazing season or risk damage to forages.

Over the past decade, an aging farm population and a shrinking Canadian cattle herd have made more rental land available. As producers retire, added availability provides younger farmers with an opportunity to get a start and existing operations to expand.

Since 2011 calf prices have been relatively high, fueling higher pasture rental rates. As of late though, falling cattle prices and the effects of Covid-19 will likely put downward pressure on rates as producers tighten their belts, anticipating lower calf prices this fall.

With so many variables involved it can be difficult to figure out a fair price for rented pasture. Local availability, demand, quality of the pasture, carrying capacity, water, fencing, and travel costs are all part of the equation.

Per acre pasture rental agreements are often used in crop rental situations but are not suited in pasture situations as they tend to foster overgrazing.

More common are pasture rates based on animal unit months (AUM). Originally, calculations were based on a cow weighing 1000 lbs. but today’s commercial cows are much larger. They average about 1300 lbs., or 30 percent heavier, a big difference when it comes to forage consumption.

A 1000 lb. cow, with or without a calf, requires 26 lbs. of dry forage daily, or 780 lbs. based on a 30-day month. Alternatively, a 1300 lb. cow requires 1,014 of dry forage a month. The result is that larger cows may require a lower stocking rate or a shortened season to maintain healthy pasture.

A fair rental rate balances both renter and landlord interests while maintaining the health of the forage and allowing for efficient use.

Rental rates should take into consideration who will be supervising the cattle and what they are responsible for. With the use of rotational grazing systems and their requirement for more hands-on management, supervised pasture has really come into its own. Improved rates of gain in calves have boosted supervised pasture rates to $5.00 to $8.00 a month per AUM.

If only for the sake of the many variables involved these days, pasture agreements should be written not verbal. Arrangements decided over a few drinks often lead to misunderstandings and confusion. A hand-written agreement, worked out over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, will go a long way to ensuring clarity while reducing the potential for hard feelings down the road.

Aside from stocking rate, start date and cost, the contract should include right of entry so the landlord can inspect the rented property at any time. It is also a good idea to include an arbitration clause so that a third party can resolve any potential disputes.

Often overlooked, this is a great time to discuss either an option to purchase, or alternatively, the right of first refusal, which allows the tenant to match the terms and conditions offered by another purchaser.

Include a “pull clause” in case of drought, indicating the conditions under which cattle should be removed to reduce overgrazing or pasture damage. If overgrazing occurs, then no one benefits. The landowner is out of pocket a few years income while the pasture regrows, and the renter loses out on pasture.

Since 1975 Alberta Forestry and Agriculture has annually surveyed custom rates used by producers and custom operators. The information provides rental cost information that is intended to be used as a guide to help livestock owners make better farm management decisions.

For information on the annual provincial survey, that will assist producers in determining what other farmers are charging, google Alberta Forestry and Agriculture pasture rental rates, or give us a call at Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services at 403-845-4444.

A backlog of market-ready livestock is driving prices down

The temporary closure of two Alberta meat processing plants, and the reduction to one shift at a third due to COVID-19, will hit ranchers hard as costs rise and livestock prices fall. Local producers should steel themselves for a bumpy ride over the next few months.

Even though plant closures may be temporary, the backlog of market ready livestock is piling up with nowhere to go, creating bottlenecks throughout the protein supply chain. Losses of $600 to $700 per head are already being felt in the feed lot industry.

Many are holding fat cattle on maintenance rations and not filling pens with cattle from backgrounding operations. The result is that the economic pain spreads further down the production chain, affecting all sectors of the beef and grain industry.

The fall calf run will likely take a hit, so local ranchers should be prepared to streamline operations, perhaps by background some, or all the 2020 crop, stockpiling feed resources and retaining more heifers.

Reduced demand, particularly from the fast food and restaurant industries, and an abundant supply of protein, assures that consumers need not worry about meat shortages in the near future. However, livestock producers will have to ride out falling prices until COVID-19 is resolved and demand improves.

Two recent Alberta beef processing plant shutdowns come on the heels of three Ontario beef plant closures, along with closures and reduced processing in the hog and poultry sectors. Reports indicate that Canada has likely seen more than a 40 percent reduction in overall processing capacity in the last month alone.

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is currently investigating both the Cargill and JBS plants regarding any potential issues of non-compliance that may have affected the health and safety of workers at the facilities.

The two plants make up 70 percent of Canada’s beef processing capabilities while Cargill alone normally processes 4,500 head a day.

While Harmony Beef at Balzak is slated to re-open soon, Cargill’s High River operation will likely remain closed for at least 14 days or longer, depending on the outcome of the OHS investigation.

JBS’s plant in Brooks is down to one shift, but the union representing federal meat inspectors says it is only a matter of time until JBS is forced to temporarily stop production.

One temporary closure due to COVID-19, Olymel’s hog slaughter and cutting plant in Yamachiche Quebec, temporarily shut down its operation March 29 and was up and running again 14 days later. Time will tell how the Alberta plants fare, depending on the timeframe and recommendations of the OHS investigation.

At a recent news conference, Canadian Cattleman’s Association (CCA) President Bob Lowe indicated that even short-term closures create difficulties for ranchers, as increased costs for processing, longer transport distance (more shrink) and extra feed, come off the top of the price they get for their product.

Lowe said that the glut is large enough that it would take months for plant closures at multiple locations to cause a possible shortage for consumers.

Having seen a 30 percent drop in prices in the past week alone, he predicts the industry could lose more than $500 million in revenue by the end of June. It can be difficult for farmers, especially younger ones with large debt, to go to lenders for additional help when product value is dropping, and no one knows where the bottom is.

The CCA has been lobbying the Federal government since the early stages of the outbreak with a number of recommendations, one of which includes reinstating a version of the successful BSE set-aside framework, which would be implemented in a critical situation such as a significant reduction in packing capacity.

The program allows cattlemen to delay selling cattle when processing capacity is not available, stretching marketing over a longer timeframe based on existing capacity until normal slaughter rates can be regained.

The CCA has been emphatic in their suggestion that something needs to be done now, not later, noting that the beef industry tops all agricultural sectors by contributing $17 billion to Canada’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). There has been no response from the Federal Government thus far.

Farmers live on a strong faith in the future, and while many local beef producers have had some challenges with scours during spring run-off, the weather seems to have turned for the better, perhaps allowing some to start combining what is left of last year’s crop and begin spring seeding, or both.

With a little luck, the Federal government may even take the CCA suggestions to heart and make appropriate program changes to support one of the biggest suppliers to the food chain.

A look at over two decades of livestock watering

Reflecting at the end of an agriculture extension career, former Landcare Supervisor Gary Lewis talked about the history of livestock watering equipment.

“It’s amazing how far we’ve come”, Lewis reminisced. “We’ve made progress in many areas and technology has become our ally in watershed preservation.   There’s still plenty of room for adopting better ways of watering critters.  Some of those ways are not so outdated.”

Let’s explore livestock watering options for a healthier, productive and more valuable herd.

Solar watering

Marvin Jackson started Sundog Solar two decades ago envisioning a future bright with solar and other alternative energy source possibilities.  

Sundog Solar created the first portable solar wind combined pumping station for livestock producers.  Marvin incorporated his geo-thermal tank option realizing the ability to water 40-650 animals in temperatures as cold as -40 degrees with no outside power or heat sources. 

One of Sundog’s kudos is the environmental advantage of protecting sensitive areas through riparian-friendly means.

Bettina van Nieuwkerk, Landcare Supervisor with Clearwater County added, riparian areas are crucial for maintaining ecosystem services and surface water quality which is why it is so important to protect these sensitive areas. Off-site solar watering systems are a great alternative to watering livestock while maintaining ecological integrity. These systems prevent from having to rely on conventional electric watering systems or from livestock watering directly from a natural water source. 

Wind and aeration

At a West Country Ag Tour a few years ago, Alberta Ag water specialist Brandon Leask was asked how to manage dugout water quality.  Brandon’s astute response was, “aerate- aerate-aerate”.  

Whether using a conventional windmill or a solar powered alternative, aeration is a secret to success managing pond water quality.  Water movement mixes the dugout water column, introduce life-giving oxygen and helps combat algae and other pond vegetation problems.

The best aeration system on the planet needs to be combined with livestock access management.  Pump the water out to the livestock should be the producer’s mantra.

As retired farmer Ken Pattison put it: “we took the water to the cows instead of taking the cows to the water”.  Simplistic?   Maybe, but Ken called it “no doubt one of the best decisions made in our operation”.

Nose pumps. 

One of the older yet viable means to water is using nose pumps.  Cow power as Frost Free Nose Pump (FFNP) inventor Jim Anderson might say.

A check of Jim’s FFNP website and you find a unique way to winter water livestock from a wet well including a new addition to his energy free nose pump lineup for watering calves.

Even the basic nose pump (NP) in a spring to fall grazing application works.   Local farmer Bob Aasman has been using nose pumps for years and sings their praises.

Talking with Bob, his introduction to NP’s came about twenty years ago when he inherited one each of three different brands.  He liked them right away and added more along the way.

One brand was an Eider from Germany.  It’s been a workhorse that he continues to use.  The only recurring issue is replacing worn out diaphragms.     

Another was an Aquamat, also from Europe, which he still uses.  Other than a minor repair to the aluminum housing it’s been issue-free including the original diaphragm still functioning.

From the summer perspective, the AquaMat brand now has a version with a side bowl for calves.  Current U.S. pricing for this brand is around $400.  Use that number and it’s about $20 per year before maintenance.  

The third pump came from UFA and remains serviceable. His most sage advice was to buy what Co-op or UFA sells to ensure parts are available when needed.  

Bob mounts his pumps in, at minimum, pairs on home-built skids, anchored in place with rebar.  Using camlocks for water lines from his dugouts, he can position the skids where needed.

When the herd runs about 100 cow-calf pairs, he uses a trio of pumps which satisfies the needs of the herd.  An average NP produces about one liter of water per pump stroke.

Conventional NP’s provide about 20 feet of vertical lift.  The FFNP is designed for 40 feet of lift.  Subtract about one foot vertical for every ten feet horizontal.

Speaking of old techniques revived the same goes for some archived nose pump information.  Check out pages 8-9 in the 2001 edition of “Forage First” a publication of the Peace River Forage Association. http://www.peaceforage.bc.ca/newsletters/Forage_First_29_2001Oct.pdf 

There may be cost-share funding for livestock watering systems if they protect naturally occurring water bodies like sloughs and creeks.   Contact Bettina van Nieuwkerk to discuss – BvanN@clearwatercounty.ca

Excess moisture, variable temperatures and a long winter, take their toll

Forage experts are warning that cold wet conditions through the fall and winter, combined with temperature vacillation between warm and cold this spring, will result in a lot of injured alfalfa plants once the snow melts.

Ice sheeting from melting snow refreezing, collects in low areas and smothers plants. It also causes moist soil to rapidly cool and frost heave, breaking tap roots and forcing plant crowns out of the ground, exposing them to weather and disease.

High soil moisture levels last fall reduced hardening and predisposed stressed alfalfa plants to winter kill. Given the circumstances, the best way to find out if alfalfa stands took a beating, is to get out in the field as soon as the snow melts and have a look.

It is easy to start the investigative process by doing a healthy plant count. Once sprouting has begun, count the number of live plants in a square foot, in a few different areas. Alfalfa plants get bigger as they age, so the number of plants will be fewer in older stands

Newly seeded alfalfa should have 20 or more healthy plants per square foot while the first production year might be 12 to 20 healthy plants. In the second year 8 to 12 plants may be expected, and the third year perhaps 5.

While out counting healthy plants, it is probably a good idea to dig up a living root and have a good look at it. Cut it open and examine the colour. If it is yellow or brown inside, then it is likely due to rot. The inner root should be the off-white colour of potato flesh. A ropey or stringy texture indicates an unhealthy plant.

Scouting early and often can help overcome production loss. In a way, spring investigation can be thought of as an early warning system, averting potential disaster by being proactive early enough to still have time to implement alternative measures.

As spring advances, it is possible to come up with an estimate of potential yield based on stem count per square foot. Counts of 55 or more stems per square foot will yield the maximum genetically possible, before disease and insects appear. Counts of 40 to 50 might yield 75-90 percent of capability.

If you have lost a much as 25 percent of yield right off the bat, then it may be time to turn that field over to the next rotation. If the crop has less than 40 stems per square foot, then it may be time to either remediate thin areas by seeding in some complimentary varieties to get through the season or terminate the crop and reseed.

Most hayfields suffer from a lack of nutrients and that is why regular soil testing is so critical. A lack of appropriate nutrients leaves plants less able to resist disease, pests, drought or winterkill, which tends to increase with the age of the crop.

Low potassium in the soil is one of the major factors leading to loss of alfalfa stands. Lack of potassium hinders the storage of carbohydrates in the root system necessary for the development of a winter-hardy condition. While clay soils have a good potassium supply, sandy and loam soils tend to be deficient unless a balanced fertilizer program has been utilized.

Keep in mind that an appropriate fall rest period is always recommended for the last four to six weeks of the growing season. A lot happens during this critical period as reduced day length and temperatures spur on developmental and physiological changes.

This is the time when plants accumulate root reserves, initiate crown buds and develop cold hardiness. These changes increase the plants ability to tolerate low temperatures and other environmental stresses.

For those county producers who do stretch a leg and get out for a look at their alfalfa stands, hopefully they don’t find too much damage. Let us know how things look! For more information regarding forage management or other ag concerns please give us a call at 403-845-4444.

The boreal region and forest are anything but boring

According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), our counties boreal region is unique and vital in many ways.  That’s worth exploring considering some of the southern reaches of this vast zone are part of Clearwater County. 

The name Boreal comes from the Greek name given to the mythical Boreas, the so-called god of the North Wind. That’s our first hint at the untamed nature of this land mass stretching from Newfoundland to the Yukon. Though rugged, it’s the chosen home of a few and the destination of others interested in what it has to offer.

The boreal is massive. The boreal zone rings an upper portion of the entire northern hemisphere just south of the Arctic Circle. The Canadian portion amounts to 28 percent or about 1.5 billion acres. 75 percent of all the forested land in Canada is found in this zone

The boreal is misunderstood. It’s not 100 percent treed. Yes, there are many trees, including birch, poplar, larch, lodgepole and jack pine and white and black spruce plus a host of shrubby species.  

There are tracts of treeless land where you find wetlands, lakes, rivers and streams and higher elevation areas mostly void of trees. There is an estimated 200 million acres of surface fresh water in Canada’s boreal. 

The boreal is multi-national. Its non-human population includes a wide variety of wild inhabitants. Some are permanent citizens and others transient.

About half the approximate 300 bird species found in Canada reside there. Some migratory birds rely on the boreal for their journey to and from the Arctic while others make it there summer home.  

Approximately 80 percent of waterfowl, more than 60 percent of finch types and more than 50 percent of warbler species breed in the boreal. Populations during breeding season range up to three million and up to five million after young hatch.

There are 85 species of mammals that thrive in the boreal. Large animals like moose, bison, elk and deer, along with another majestic resident, the woodland caribou call this place home.  Caribou, unlike their Arctic cousins, prefer and in fact need the forest protection of the boreal against predators. 

Then there are the smaller species, like otter, muskrat, beaver, hares, squirrels. In between these are foxes, martin, lynx and wolverines.

The boreal is multi-purpose. Most of its permanent inhabitants live in remote communities making up only 13 percent of Canada’s population. For Aboriginal residents, the land is tied to many traditional lifestyle purposes. For other permanent citizens, it provides a way of life in blue- or white-collar ways.

It’s also a region of economic change as natural values, sometimes described as environmental and social amenities, are sought after. Discussions are ongoing as to what intact land does for water filtration, water storage, air quality, for other industries such as eco-tourism and for rural quality of life. 

There are many reasons why people choose to work or play in the boreal. There is a long history of natural resource harvesting and extraction – especially forestry, oil and gas and mining. On the recreational side there are various outdoor pursuits including eco-tourism.

Many industries are evolving to include world-leading advances in reclamation and reforesting.  

The boreal is multi-functional.  The boreal zone has an incredible capacity to capture carbon.  Comparisons to rainforest show the boreal stores twice the carbon of its tropical equivalent.  

In tropical rainforest more than 50 percent of its carbon is in the trees themselves. In the boreal, 95 percent is below the ground in the peat soils which dominate.  An amazing contrast.

Five of the largest river systems on the planet are in Canada’s boreal along with an estimated 25 percent of our wetlands.  It is a freshwater reservoir unlike anything else in the world.  

The boreal has been called the “lungs of the earth”, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.  Maybe that trip to the forest to take a deep breath is more than a psychological lift. 

It’s incumbent upon us to take care of this amazing place.  For more info, check out “Hinterland Who’s Who” for an audio visual journey to the boreal: https://www.hww.ca/en/wild-spaces/boreal-forest.html

Not much has really changed

While researching this article, it quickly became apparent that day old news was, well…no longer news, it had lost its relevance. On a fast-changing world stage, humanity has ventured into the unknow where mankind no longer determines the timeline, a new virus does.  

Since the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19), humanity finds itself in new, uncharted territory. The future can no longer be reliably counted upon, even anticipated beyond a day, or even a few hours. And that has created uncertainty and worry about what lies ahead.

Monumental efforts to implement emergency measures to contain the virus and “flatten the curve” are lauded by a populous willing to accept short term hardship for the benefit of all.  

A variety of income and support programs and deferred or reduced payment options will ease the blow for much of the population and some businesses, but a recent Federal announcement left many in the industry wondering where the meat was in the agricultural support stew.

With a story book image of farming, most of the population are unaware that agriculture is a highly competitive global industry that often receives special attention from governments around the world to ensure farmers survive. This support takes many forms: subsidies and protectionism, or a commitment to research and export market development.

As a global industry, the last few years in Canadian agriculture have been profitless to say the least. In Alberta, particularly since 2015, changing trade agreements and protectionist tariffs, coupled with low oil prices and derailed infrastructure projects have decimated the economy. 

 Still struggling over the effects of the ongoing Huawei debacle, which drastically reduced Chinese trade and hit canola producers particularly hard, Canadian farmers have taken the brunt of lost markets and tumbling prices.   

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau rolled out a series of new measures that for farmers and our primary food producers, would boost Farm Credit Canada support from the Federal Government by an additional $5 billion in lending capacity to producers, agribusinesses, and food processors.  

Eligible farmers with outstanding Advance Payments Program (APP) loans due on or before April 30, will receive a Stay of Default, allowing them an additional six months to repay the loan. 

To quote, “The Stay of Default will provide farmers the flexibility they need to manage their cashflow when facing lower prices or reduced marketing opportunities.” 

Farmers who still have interest-free loans outstanding can apply for an additional $100,000 interest-free portion for 2020-2021, as long as, their total advances remain under the $1 million cap.

The announcement might have left the general populous with a good feeling about providing money for our struggling farmers, but in reality, there was no support for food producers beyond extending and expanding credit.  

In contrast, in 2020, a third round of the MFP (Market Facilitation Program) is being discussed as a part of the U.S. trillion-dollar stimulus which would include $50 billion in funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).

The MFP provides assistance to farmers and ranchers with commodities directly impacted by unjustified foreign retaliatory tariffs, resulting in the loss of traditional export markets. Payment rates range from $15 to $150 per acre, depending on the impact of unjustified trade retaliation in that county.

To their credit, the Alberta government has fished $153 million out of its emergency disaster fund to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and help hard-hit farmers.

The province is also handing an additional $74.7 million to the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) to help cover insurance claims and pay income support for producers. The boost is a nearly 25 per cent increase from the $279 million in provincial funding allotted to AFSC in the 2019 provincial budget.

With U.S. farmers receiving large Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments and Canadian producers, larger loan programs and expanded debt that must be serviced, it is a wonder how Canada can compete on the world stage.

Based on how the U.S. and Canada support of their farmers differently,  there is a concern that if this divergence goes on much longer, Canada will gradually become less competitive, while the U.S. continues to push the boundaries of the WTO, giving its producers a chance at longer term success.

But this really is old news. While in the midst of calving, attempting to salvage unharvested crops, getting ready for spring seeding and still hoping for limited supply chain interruptions, resilient producers will find a way to keep up food production, for now at least, because it is what they do. 

Appearing in the back 40 somewhere near you

Most producers probably haven’t been thinking much about gophers recently, but they will all remember 2002-2003, when excessive populations caused major problems for local farmers and ranchers.

18 years ago, one of the biggest contributing factors to Richardson’s Ground Squirrel (RGS) proliferation was drought, which traditionally occurs every decade or so and lasts for a few years. A drought keeps grass low and favors ground squirrels because they prefer to live out in the open.

Ground squirrels will begin to appear in hay fields and pastures throughout the county in the next few weeks. As spring unfolds, the early appearance of the RGS tends to come as a surprise, leaving rural folks unprepared, yet now is the time when control methods are most effective.

As with most pest concerns, potential issues tend to go unnoticed until population growth begins to become a serious problem. The traditional human approach is to look for the harshest poisons that will have the greatest immediate impact.  

One of the leading authorities on the Richardson’s ground squirrel, Dr. Gilbert Proulx, Director of Alpha Wildlife Research and Management has suggested that, “…when the population erupts and reach[es] very high population densities, this is not the time to start to say, ‘well, maybe I should have controlled them.’ You have to do it when the populations are at normal population densities.”

He has expressed concern that in the past the use of poisons has not only killed the ground squirrel but their predators as well. He maintains that the use of a long-term integrated pest management plan (IPM) is the most effective, emphasizing that control should be an ongoing process rather than a reactionary one.

In a 2009 study of the factors that contributed to the epidemic levels of ground squirrel populations in Western Canada around 2001, Proulx identified several influences that synergistically combined to create ideal conditions for RGS proliferation.

Drought conditions, poor grassland management, low cattle prices due to BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), inefficient rodenticides, reduced number of predators and the loss of family-sized farms to large scale operations all contributed to the outbreak. 

The relationship of drier weather to ground squirrel outbreaks has been well documented in past drought periods, most evident in the 1910-1920, 1930-1939 and 1980-1989 droughts.

Along with the rapid growth of the Canadian cattle herd from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s came a significant increase in feed and forage crops which are preferred by the ground squirrel.

With the arrival of the 2001 drought the depletion of hay and pasture led to serious overgrazing to keep a much larger cattle herd fed. The problem was further exacerbated by BSE as the oversupply of unsalable live cattle on pasture created ideal environmental conditions for RGS expansion.

Dr. Proulx suggests that the RGS outbreak could not have been controlled by liquid strychnine alone and that there was an obvious lack of control measures available at the time. In 1993, 2% strychnine was banned but the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) allowed the sale of ready to use (RTU) strychnine treated oats as a replacement toxicant.

A subsequent study carried out between 2007 and 2009 showed that the RTU bait was basically ineffective in the control of ground squirrel populations but killed non-target species and predators feeding on poisoned animals. At the time the use of alternative poisons did not, as a rule, achieve effective results either.

Proulx maintains that not only did the loss of predator’s aid in the expansion of RGS numbers, but a 19% increase in average Canadian farm size between 1980 and 2006 and a corresponding drop in farm population, were factors as well. In effect, there were fewer and fewer people to monitor and control growing RGS populations.

The 2001 drought was recorded as one of the driest in Canadian history and another one is inevitable soon, underlying the need to develop an IPM program where monitoring, preventative cultural practices and mechanical, physical, biological and chemical methods are coordinated.

Richardson’s ground squirrels are integral members of the prairie ecosystem. Their burrows create protected habitat for other prairie species such as burrowing owls, salamanders, and bumblebees. They are a food source for hawks and other large birds of prey, badgers, and many other carnivores. If RGS were exterminated, other species native to the prairie habitat would be affected.

Spring monitoring helps to identify where RGS concentrations exist so that further expansion can be stopped. Vegetation height has proven to be a factor in colonization. Where vegetation is over 30 cm there is virtually no activity. Where vegetation is less than 15 cm, special attention should be paid to stocking rates to maintain heavy grass cover and seeding of improved grass mixtures should be considered.

Cultivation may be needed to disrupt heavy breeding populations along with kill traps or shooting. Chemical control should be used judiciously in order to minimize harm to non-target species and to maintain healthy populations of birds of prey and terrestrial predators. A pair of hawks for example, can consume a prodigious number of ground squirrels, especially while feeding their young.

Interested producers may consider establishing nesting and/or roosting stands near areas of high RGS concentrations to assist flying predators with control. Examples of various platforms have been erected on the county north quarter as part of an ongoing study and are available for viewing.

For further information on various recommended IPM strategies or about the habits of the Richardson’s ground squirrel please feel free to give us a call at Agriculture and Community Services @ 403-845-4444.

Hawks and other aerial hunters an ally in rodent control

One of the finest sights in the natural world is the hunting expertise of birds of prey. A hawk for example, can single out a meal for itself or its offspring, with the precision of an expert pilot in the capture of a ground dwelling creature.   

Not always fully appreciated is the value of having birds of prey nearby. Consider some of the species that call Clearwater County home, or at least pass through for a visit.  Many of these are already prowling the skies, perched like snipers.

The Northern Harrier prefers natural regions and is common around wetlands. Unlike other hawks, the male and female have distinct appearances (think how male and female ducks differ). Nests are found in reeds and grasses, so wetland habitat conservation is crucial for the Northern Harrier to thrive.

The Ferruginous hawk is the ‘big daddy’ of hawks and the female can be one third larger than the male. The identifying feather of this hawk is its rust colored back. The name comes from the Latin word ferrugo. Preferring open spaces, the Ferruginous hawk would be rare, except perhaps on our eastern fringes. 

Osprey are about the same size as the Harrier and are easily distinguished by stylish markings. Think of them as sleek jets. They prefer areas close to water, which again shows the importance of habitat. They may nest in tall dead trees, rock points overlooking water or atop telephone poles. Like eagles, osprey return to the same nest annually.

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most conspicuous in our region. Mid-size between the Ferruginous and Harrier types, the Red-tailed has a distinct uniformly coloured tail, red above and pink underneath.

Red-tailed hawks prefer a high vantage point, perched versus hovering, to identify their prey, making tall shelterbelts along field edges great launch points.

The Swainson’s Hawk is mostly a prairie dweller but does occasionally visit open areas in the foothills or parkland. Nests are found in trees or taller shrubs. The Swainson’s hawk thrives where ground squirrels are present.  

The Rough-legged Hawk is closer in size to a Ferruginous. A distinguishing feature is a feathery covering over the legs to the base of the toes.

This hawk will only be found passing through our area heading to or from its Arctic nesting grounds. Like a welcome guest at a roadside diner, the Rough-legged hawk consumes ground squirrels and other rodents.   

The Peregrine Falcon is on the smaller side and although highly adaptable, is also vulnerable. They typically nest near wetlands but are also featured on webcams atop buildings. Peregrines target rodents and insects and take down pigeons. With only about 60 breeding pairs in Alberta, they are considered a species at risk.

The Gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcon family and makes its primary home in the Arctic.  In winter months, the Gyrfalcon slips south and may be seen in open or sparsely wooded areas. As a winter hunter, its rare but appreciated presence helps control voles.

The American Kestrel, a smaller falcon, is an aggressive hunter. The Kestrel will perch on a power line between hunts and has a diverse seasonal appetite, ranging from caterpillars, large insects including grasshoppers and mice or small birds. 

The Kestrel nests in abandoned woodpecker holes or other cavities. A Kestrel pair may reside in a farm or acreage yard and defend their nest vigorously.  

Another small bodied falcon, the Merlin, resides in mixed wooded areas near water and nests often in abandoned abodes of larger birds, such as magpies. Like the Peregrine, the Kestrel will capture its food in flight and occasionally treat it as “to go” by eating it while in flying.

The Richardson ’s ground squirrel is the favoured prey of many hawk species, particularly Red-tailed, Swainson’s and Ferruginous hawks, making up more than 80 percent of their diets. 

It is estimated that hawks reduce ground squirrel populations by about 15 percent. A nesting pair of Ferruginous Hawks eat more than 400 per season.

The diversity of diet is as important as the diversity of birds of prey. With some preferring more variety, including insects, having several members of the hawk and falcon family in our region is beneficial. 

All birds of prey are protected in Alberta and need our attention to thrive and survive.  Habitat preservation and enhancement is crucial. Wetlands and wooded areas should be viewed as a benefit and not a nuisance.  

In the absence of natural high nesting places, people have been known to erect a homemade platform with some success.   Build it and they will come – hopefully.

Better management and awareness can help keep calves disease free

Scours is a blanket term used in reference to calves that have developed diarrhea, usually as a result of exposure to a range of pathogens that can be bacterial, viral, mycotic or protozoal.

With March temperatures hovering at or below the freezing mark, mud and moisture have not been an issue in pens and corrals. With warmer spring weather not far off though, things will change.    

Often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, scours can be devastating to neonatal calves. For the most part the problem can be reduced through better management practices as it is primarily attributed to a lack of initial colostrum, environmental stress and exposure to organisms.

At a young age, the calf’s gut is the weakest point in its system and when attacked by infectious agents, the lining of the bowel becomes damaged, resulting in large amounts of body fluid entering the gut. With approximately 70 percent water at birth, the loss of fluids through diarrhea leads to rapid dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and depletion of energy reserves.

Primary pathogens can cause diarrhea on their own. E. coli bacteria, rotavirus and coronavirus are examples of primary pathogens.

Parasites such as coccidia and giardia usually are not a major problem unless the calf is already infected with a primary pathogen. In that event, the diarrhea tends to be more severe, the scours last much longer, and it is usually more difficult to treat.

Pathogens generally survive in adults and are shed in the feces in low numbers serving as a source of infection for the newborn calves. Infection may occur when a calf inadvertently eats manure from the cow’s leg or udder while attempting to find the mother’s teat.

Once the organisms are ingested, they can colonize the intestinal lining of the newborn causing diarrhea in a number of ways. Some may stick to the intestinal wall and produce a toxin that causes the intestinal cells to secrete copious amounts of fluid into the intestines.

Other organisms may attack and destroy the intestinal cells which cause fluids and blood to flow from the calf’s tissues and bloodstream to pour into the intestine. More often than not there is a mixed infection and more than one process occurring at the same time.

Viral infections account for approximately 42 percent of infections while 40 percent are bacterial. Parasites are responsible for 14 percent of infections; one percent are mycotic, and three percent are due to unknown causes.  

Environmental factors have a major influence on whether a calf will develop the disease. Crowded, cold, wet or muddy conditions can cause stress and lower the calf’s resistance to viruses and bacteria. Ideally a calving area should be well bedded with fresh straw, provide plenty of space and be located on a well-drained sloping hillside with protection from wind and inclement weather.

Calving heifers in a separate area away from older cows will reduce susceptibility as their calves typically have lower immunity than those of older cows. Calving sheds should be moved and cleaned out periodically. Cow/calf pairs should be moved to clean pasture or other well bedded area as soon as possible after birth.

It is highly recommended that producers isolate any scouring calves immediately; in addition to cleaning  and disinfecting the environment as early separation reduces the spread of scours to other calves. Immediate treatment with fluids in the form of electrolytes of at least 10 percent of body weight twice daily is critical, as is making sure that newborn calves receive adequate amount of colostrum.

Antibiotics to treat scours may not be helpful because the specific cause of the illness is usually unknown. Vaccinating the herd at three and six weeks prior to calving and keeping cows and heifers in good body condition, with a sound nutritional program, will assure that calves are born healthy and strong.

When dealing with calves that may be experiencing scour-like symptoms, early intervention is the key to successful recovery and a call to the local veterinarian may pay dividends, especially given the record high prices paid for cattle this year. For further information or assistance in dealing with herd health, call Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services department @ 403-845-4444.

Ways for landowners to combat Mountain Pine Beetle

In one of the opening scenes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, Bilbo Baggins receives a series of unexpected door knocks from visitors with odd and unusual names.  While Bilbo’s visitors turned out to be friends not every visitor does so.  

Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) is one such unwelcome visitor.

2019 ended with MPB confirmed at several private land locations with more in the first quarter of 2020.  Landowners are responsible for their own forested land including the task of removing trees.  What options exist to help with the beetle flights of this summer and beyond.

No Solicitors.  No sign will keep MPB from soliciting your woodlot, so nothing beats a watchful eye with basic MPB knowledge.  Look down, around and up.  

Look for telltale pitch tubes oozing resin that look like a bubblegum wad. “Pitch” refers to the tree’s attempt to pitch beetles out.  Weak trees do not defend themselves as well, but even healthy trees may not withstand mass attack.

Look for entry holes at the pitch tube sight and sawdust at the base of the tree or imbedded in the pitch.  Know the difference between MPB and other insect pests.  Be diligent in removing trees before the next flight season. 

Unlike foreign invaders like Emerald Ash borer or Dutch Elm disease, MPB is native and not eradicable.  Despite efforts trees will succumb. 

No Vacancy.  Semiochemicals – from the Greek word “signal” – are substances emitted to either attract or repel another organism.  Verbenone is a pheromone substance in a class called terpenes.

Conifers are rich in this oily compound.   When pouches of Verbenone are attached to trees, its chemical signal is the tree is already beetle occupied.   

Research (British Columbia) showed a 26 percent decrease in beetle establishment during a light attack but it’s not a silver bullet.  High beetle numbers may overwhelm Verbenone tagged trees. 

The US Department of Agriculture uses Verbenone up to a 15 percent threshold before cost outweighs benefit.  Landowners would deploy about 100 pouches/ha, costing roughly $1,000.  

Potential uses include backyards, campgrounds, resort/ recreation areas, and with genetically significant or species at risk stands.

No Trespassing.  Another method to deal with MPB is to deploy cone shaped funnel traps baited with pheromone.  Timber companies use these in log yards to capture MPB when they exit log decks. 

University of Alberta trialed a promising new chemical combination in mixed lodgepole and jack pine forest in the Swan Hills area.  Results showed a 50-80 increase in numbers trapped over single baits.  Again, this only slows MPB advance. 

No Working Alone.  Although finding MPB is discouraging and control daunting, consider combatting the problem with neighbors.  There may be more resources in a rural neighborhood than first realized. 

There may be log handling equipment or a seasoned chainsaw operator nearby.  Find out who owns portable wood mills in the area, firewood processors and chippers.  

Take a value-added approach to see if timber is marketable in a volume worth a mill being interested or as lumber for corrals, windbreaks or outbuildings.  Burning or chipping slabs with bark is different than dealing with an entire tree.  

Mature pines not yet MPB affected may have harvest value.  Logging, when done strategically, can be part of forest succession by releasing other species or generating new forest.

Here’s some comments about deploying Verbenone:

  1. 1.    Follow the manufacturers recommendations.
  2. 2.    Store at or below zero as ambient temperature activates the product.
  3. 3.    Beetles mature at different rates but use chemical signals to fly all at once.  Deploy in early to mid-June before beetles emerge.  If you see new exit holes beetles are on the move. 
  4. 4.    Attach Verbenone pouches to the north face of trees to protect from sunlight at about 2.5 meters from the ground. 
  5. 5.    Spacing is typically 10-15 meters apart.
  6. 6.    For extra protection for higher value trees place additional pouches about five meters from the tree and especially up prevailing wind.
  7. 7.    A longer, warmer summer may require a second deployment.

Reasons why every producer should have an Environmental Farm Plan

“The problem with quotes,” quips Landcare’s Gary Lewis, “is most people are quick to assign credit to someone without checking the origin. Sometimes the best we can do is trace it back to a host of “maybe’s”.

So, it is with “well begun is half done”. This is an interesting saying; it’s been assigned to Aristotle and Benjamin Franklin. Not exactly contemporaries in world history.

Authorship aside, there’s much to think about in the first half of the phrase; well begun. This statement conjures notions of the details that precede Christmas dinner, the homework put into a first-time home purchase or mapping out a path in education.

Farming should be no different. “Well begun” fits into growing crops or managing herds including consideration for the soil and water that every farmer depends on for grass, grain or critters.

One step toward “well begun” is having a plan for the environment. Savvy individuals know a plan is how we get to a preferred place. A preferred plan is to be profitable AND sustainable and the path to that end is paved with environmentally beneficial actions. 

Environmental Farm Plans (EFP) help pave that road. Here are four reasons “why”.

EFP’s make business sense.  

There is wisdom in knowing who is buying what you are selling. Consumers are exposed to conflicting messages about how food is grown. Even more reason for environmentally responsible farmers to set themselves apart by telling their story.

That is why consumers hear farm family members talking about their environmental values in television commercials or in printed advertising. These stories explain farmers respect for nature, what they grow, their livelihood and neighbors.  

EFP’s allow farmers to see what they do through an environmental lens and where their business operation can improve.  

EFP’s make environmental sense.   

To avoid costly breakdowns or other incidents drivers check the engine, transmission, steering, tires and brakes and fix small issues before they become major problems.  

EFP’s help farmers evaluate manure, silage, pesticide, and fertilizer storage and invite consideration for soil, crop, pasture, bush and water sources along with the impact of predators and invasive plants.  

No one wants an environmental incident and the best way to manage risk is to measure it.

EFP’s make growth sense.  

While environmental improvements cost money there is a payback.  

Avoiding a future environmental cleanup cost – like silage leaching or fuel spills – or consequences to damaging surface or groundwater – like fines, replacement costs – pays it forward.   

Healthy pasture and water aids in healthier livestock – the “more beef” to market scenario. Healthy soil assists with better quality and quantity crops in the bin. Healthy hay land can mean more bales to the acre.  

EFP’s make succession sense

Well-maintained vehicles or homes are attractive to prospective new owners. EFP’s can be a means of buying, selling or even transferring a farm.

Why not promote an EFP with a realtor or estate planner? A wise buyer should value a farm’s environmental advantages and improvements. The next generation can leverage an existing EFP to create their own plan. 

Evolution of EFP

EFP’s were always meant to be “living” documents, kept current showing progress. Things like the unused water well properly abandoned, the buffer established adjacent the creek or some other sign of environmental progress.

EFP’s have a ten-year shelf life based on the date on your original completion certificate or letter. Expired or soon to expire plans must be transferred to a web based EFP. Frankly, any existing plan in binder format should be updated to a web version. In the long run, web based EFP’s are easier to complete, review and maintain.  

Consider either updating or beginning an EFP at our upcoming FREE workshop. Details in the upcoming events below.

What hides beneath their hardy exterior?

Of all domesticated animals, the donkey is studied the least. Despite its critical role in travel and transportation throughout history, the donkey is often the but of jokes and gets little respect.

And yet, the domesticated donkey has been with us for more than 5000 years, with over 40 million currently living throughout the world.

The wealth of the Egyptians came from precious metals carried by donkeys from Africa. Donkeys hauled silk along the “Silk Road,” from the pacific to the Mediterranean between 130 BCE-1453 CE, and they were used by the Romans, when then emperor Julius Caesar invaded England in 55 BC. 

The Greeks too relied on the nimble donkey, to navigate along narrow paths between vines in orchards. In fact, the donkey is often associated with the Syrian God of Wine, Dionysius.

Today, there are still many countries throughout the world where people cannot afford gas powered vehicles to do their work, so donkeys do it. Donkeys pull plows and carts, and carry people, bricks, sand, food, wood and water. Too often they are undernourished, lack medical care and suffer a lot.

Conversely, in rural Canada they are more likely to be pasture ornaments, rather than working animals. Rarely used, they languish on grass or high nutrient feed that is too rich for them. Treated like horses, they suffer in the rain and cold while known for their stoicism and “toughness” because they don’t show pain. 

Donkeys, like horses and zebras, belong to a family of animals called Equines. Unlike domesticated horses however, North American donkeys originated in the hot, dry areas of northeastern Africa.

The Nubian wild ass lived in the northern desert, while the Somali wild ass lived in the savannas to east. The stripe we see on the shoulder of some donkeys today is descended from the Nubian ass.

Due to their origins, donkeys do not develop a thick waterproof hair coat like horses. Fine single stands simply grow longer in a vain attempt to keep them warm, while ironically, their long ears are designed to keep them cool. 

Having evolved in a desert climate where food is scarce, donkeys utilize 95% of what they eat, which makes their manure a disappointing fertilizer, but allows them to extract moisture from food more efficiently than horses.

Known for their longevity, often living well into their 30s, there are reports of some who have lived more than 50 years. That truth may be in question though, as donkey teeth age differently than horse teeth, and there is currently no accurate method for aging donkey teeth.

The recent development of a horse grimace pain scale (HGS) provides good information about detecting signs of discomfort in horses faces, but doesn’t apply to donkeys and mules, in part due to their thicker facial hair. Fortunately, students at Utrecht University in the Netherlands are currently working on an HGS for donkeys.

Humanity has long considered donkeys to be hardier than other equines, especially when it comes to diseases and parasite infections. They can live with a heavy parasite load with high fecal egg counts and still have a more favorable body condition score than companion horses.

Because of their ability to suffer quietly and continue to eat, even though they are down, donkeys are assumed to be tough, no matter what the health challenge may be. 

The reality is that they are very susceptible to dental issues, hoof ailments and metabolic diseases, especially as they age and particularly when fed a rich diet. If in doubt about their teeth, have a sniff. Periodontal disease causes a peculiar odour. 

A typical example of dental issues was observed recently in the Sundre area. A twentyish year-old jenny was a recent rescue experiencing reduced mobility due to extremely overgrown feet, an impacted tooth and typical signs of a heavy worm load.

The accompanying photos (photo credit to Megan Connolly) show veterinarian Dr. Curt Luzi from the Riverstone Veterinarian Clinic, removing a deteriorated bottom left mandible. By our thirties most of us have experienced the never-ending throbbing pain of an infected tooth and it is no fun. Ouch!!

Fortunately, Judy is mending rapidly, walking more freely and has put on weight along with a new twinkle in her eye. For other donkey owners it is recommended that older donkeys have their teeth checked yearly at least and preferably every six months if necessary. 

With a bit of winter left to go and spring not too far off, donkey owners should consider that when choosing winter feed, remember that long ears do well on a lower protein, high fiber diet, that may include straw. Donkeys need one third less calories than a horse of the same size.

Donkeys have a much longer gastrointestinal transit time. They can eat on Monday and the food is still with them on Thursday or Friday. They also have slightly different bacteria than horses and their colons absorb more water from a very fibrous diet.

As pastures green up, keep in mind that the donkey is a desert animal and that too much of a good thing, like green grass, can lead to serious metabolic problems, such as laminitis and PPID (equine Cushing’s disease). 

Mules and donkeys are a little different than horses, more inquisitive and easier to bond with, while being less likely to spook. After spending a little time with one, it is easy to recognize how they have been such great companions to humanity for many thousands of years.

Choose your nutrients wisely

A while back we introduced the 4 R’s of nutrient management, explaining why it’s important to pay attention to what we add to soil for the sake of plants.  Here’s an outline of the four R’s. 

RIGHT SOURCE decides whether liquid or granular fertilizer or manures is the best nutrient choice.

That initial choice is steered by an understanding of the crop to be grown, the health of the soil already and the long-term view of land and water health.  

What do gym enthusiasts have in common with potassium? Potassium contributes to stronger stems and steady growth plus aids fighting disease, along with greater stress tolerance, and increase in crop yield and quality. Think in terms of bodybuilding for the plant world.

What does nitrogen have in common with Booster Juice? Nitrogen is part of chlorophyll and photosynthesis contributing to green leafy growth. It’s key in overall plant health – think in terms of an immune system booster. Pass the “warrior” booster please.

What does the Energizer Bunny have to do with phosphorus? Phosphorus contributes to the immune system of plants, is key in new root growth, seed and flower production. Energy transfer within the plant is guided by this – think in terms of a battery storing and releasing energy.  Crank it over. 

And don’t forget sulfur and the host of micronutrients in a fertilizer equation.  

RIGHT RATE asks and answers how much nutrition plants need. The saying “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” fits.  Some soils are prone to certain deficiencies but may also have certain nutrient strengths. 

This R is underpinned by soil testing which accounts for what is present in the soil. Soil testing is a means to track losses but also a way to follow the kinds of crops that draw more from soil than others and what plants are giving back in big and small ways.

This R also involves proper calibration of equipment, whether that’s a spreader, injector or some other means to apply nutrients. 

Determining proper rates avoids overpaying by overapplying. A precision approach may mean varying the rate over the application area.  In a manure application or winter-feeding bedding pack situation, it means extra attention to eroded knolls and rotating the wintering site location.

RIGHT TIME addresses “when” plants need the nutrition or when it’s best to incorporate the source for the sake of the soil.   

Nitrogen is important for fruit bearing trees early in the season but a later application of the same is detrimental to winter survival.

It may mean splitting the application into two different timings because of field variability or crop stage.

This R matches the soil condition with optimum uptake. For that reason, manure or fertilizer on snow covered or frozen soils is avoided.

RIGHT PLACE emphasizes placing nutrients where plants can access them. 

Fertigation – introducing nutrients with irrigation water – is one means used in horticulture. For crop land, injection into soil may be the best choice. Perhaps it’s banding while seeding – having the nutrient choice beside or below the seed placement. 

Knowledge of the plant root (shallow/ deep, horizontal or lateral) or plant growth stage will guide these choices.

This R also respects setback distances to water, neighbors and other sensitive vegetation. The Agricultural Operations Practices Act is the final word on several nutrient application matters.

The end goal is a triad of economic, social and environmental advantages. When nutrients are properly managed there is potential for greater and higher quality yields, fewer nutrient losses, better health for the immediate and surrounding environment and the potential for greater public acceptance of farm practices. 

Want to explore soil sampling in 2020? We have loaner tools to do so and literature to connect you with lab analysis and, depending on the crops you list, recommendations for improving your soil.

Valuable insight is found at https://www.nutrientstewardship.com/4rs/.

What will a new age tractor look like?

Sitting in the tractor cab, going around in circles, every farmer ponders the future, wondering perhaps, what agriculture might be like a generation from now. Having taken three or more generations to grow, the average prairie farm today, is a far different animal than it was a hundred years ago.

Following the technological green revolution of the 1950s and 60s, Canadian agricultural productivity doubled in the decades that followed. For more than 50 years agriculture has benefited from ever growing yields, but recently things have changed. Canadian agricultural productivity has been on the decline now for more than a decade, and the cattle herd has been shrinking for just about as long.

We are told that feeding an escalating global population will require another global agricultural revolution. Innovative farmers continue to become more efficient, but the margins are becoming smaller. Fortunately, relevant technology has been growing at a blistering pace and may be coming to the rescue again.

Robots are routinely used on dairy farms, monitoring cattle vital signs and production, dispensing individually tailored feed, and all the while automatically milking the cow. Robots can also be used agriculturally to maintain soil, weed, irrigate, pick fruit and harvest crops to mention a few examples.

Software platforms now automatically provide relevant specific real time data on weather, soils, moisture, farm practices like planting/harvest dates, fertilizer and pesticide application, video and images. GPS now guarantees pinpoint accuracy when it comes to seeding or harvest, dramatically increasing efficiencies.

Almost passé’, even the drone will reach global sales of $1 billion by 2024. With good quality cameras, they are easy to fly and use and have lots of sensors, providing data that is meaningful to the farmer.

And, just like self-driving cars, we now have self-driving tractors. And they keep getting bigger, with more horsepower, and able to pull 80 or more feet of implement, making short work of a quarter section. But they are heavy, compacting the soil and use a lot of fuel.

Alternatively, while there are several manufacturers with prototype electric tractors on display at shows and in field trials, they are all based on the same concept of pulling heavy equipment around a field and that is just not terribly efficient.

Enter Norman Beaujot, founder of Seed-Hawk and inventor of many seeding equipment innovations, with a totally new idea called DOT. A new concept, the autonomous tractor, looks nothing like a traditional one, is designed to connect with and essentially carry compatible implements, thus eliminating the redundancies of traditional equipment.

The DOT is a U-shaped cab-less chassis, with a diesel power source running four hydraulic motors, that picks up and connects with compatible implements, eliminating the need for all the extra running gear and hitches on every device. The result is a much lighter footprint on the land, at considerably less cost and reduced maintenance.

Controlled from a tablet equipped with specialized software, the DOT platform can be programmed to follow a specific pattern and stop on a dime for any obstacles. DOT sends back a stream of data so the producer can monitor progress and diagnose remotely.

Switching everything over to a new line of equipment would be a daunting task for most farmers, but once the increased efficiency, lower labour costs and reduced maintenance are factored in, along with a far lower purchase price than is traditional, it all starts to make sense.

It’s estimated that a full package of currently available equipment, including the platform, four product tanks on a 30’seeder, a 60’ sprayer with 1000-gallon tank and a grain cart will cost about US$500,000, less than half the cost of conventional equipment.

The platform is 12’x18’, weighs 12,000 pounds (without implements) and is powered by a 4.5-litre Cummins diesel engine. Using its hydraulic arms, it can lock into a DOT-ready implement and lift it onto its platform. Once connected, all the tablet operator needs to do, is create a GPS path and the machine’s computer will complete a complex travel plan in less than a second.

DOT will be compatible with Seedmaster implements; however, several manufacturers from around the world are in the process of developing their own DOT-ready tools. A prototype 40’ land roller is currently being tested and other implements will follow.

The first machines went out to customers last April with a lot of extra product support from the company, as it moves toward full commercialization. Most recently, Raven Industries, a U.S. manufacturer of precision agriculture products, high-altitude balloons, plastic film and sheeting, and radar systems, has purchased the controlling share of DOT technology. 

With the extra financial support provided by Raven, a wide range of DOT-ready implements will soon be available, along with a dealership network offering parts and service. Not likely to replace your average chore tractor any time soon, the real question is, what will your next field tractor look like? Will it be a DOT?

Stay tuned for more articles about recent innovations that are changing the face of agriculture and how we grow our food.

It was an average December hunting day for Pennsylvania resident Frank Dawson 

That is until late in the day when, while leaving the woods he dropped about thirty feet underground into an abandoned water well. Amazingly, one bar of service on his cell phone allowed a 911 call for help from the chilly, waist deep water.   

He told 911 dispatch that he was within eyesight of his truck, parked along a paved road in Jefferson County, Ohio, when he dropped into the well. Photos taken by WTOV 9 (Fox News) show rescuers set up in a heavy stand of brush, using a tripod to extricate Dawson.

Equally chilling was a second well shaft within a few feet of the first. Both wells were on a long-abandoned homestead and filled in the next day.

Frank Dawson lived to tell his story, but it could have been much different.

Edmonton homeowner Brian May intended to level a sunken area in his backyard. What he discovered was a long-forgotten water well.   Records revealed the 36-inch diameter well was likely dug in the 1920’s. The sides had collapsed at about 40-feet so the original depth was unknown.

Trieva McBeth, described the ground dissolving under her feet as she dropped into a shallow cistern well near Redwater. Partially submerged in water about seven feet underground, it took her about four hours to escape using a toe hold in a crack in the concrete sidewall and pulling on piece of nylon rope anchored above her head.  

A Labrador retriever named Bruno disappeared without a trace. His owners searched for days without success until noticing their other dogs congregating in a heavily grassed area on the farm property. Amazingly, Bruno survived.

Danger can lurk in the strangest places.  

Decades ago, before technology allowed us to bring water into rural homes and other buildings frost free, well pits were a way to keep water from freezing.  Inside the pit were the plumbing/ electrical for the pump, pressure system. The well casing 12-inches or so above the pit floor.  

Pit walls ranged from wood cribbing, concrete blocks or poured cement or a vertical steel culvert. The cover might have been wood or metal or combo of both. Pit lids were metal, wood.  

Sometimes a well “house” perch atop the pit. That structure and/or pits became multi-purpose places. They doubled as root cellars or became places to store other goods.

There are two undeniable concerns.

Pits are outdated places. Because of the risk of water contamination and human safety, Alberta banned well pits for new wells in 1993.  Although pit wells were grandfathered a pit well being rehabilitated would be done to todays standards.

Pits are unsafe places. Falling into a pit can be life-threatening. Damp ladders are risky points of entry or egress. Electricity and water are dangerous combinations. 

An approaching low pressure weather storm literally sucks oxygen from a pit creating a deadly environment.  Further, while a pit provides frost-free underground food storage, methane is produced as produce breaks down, creating another air quality problem.  

Pits are conduits for contaminating groundwater. Think of it like a funnel atop the well casing.  Causes of contamination include critters looking for a frost-free home, an elevated water table, overland flooding and structural failure.

To manage contaminants from enter the well casing, it is best to use a properly installed sanitary well seal, or an above-ground casing with a vermin-proof cap.

Pits are forgotten places.  The common denominator in the above stories is no one dealt with the hazard when it existed and, with the passage of time, no one knew where the hazard was.  That is, until an unsuspecting person or other creature stumbled into it.

It is possible to upgrade pit well by extending the casing, installing a pitless adapter and moving the pressure system into a different frost protected environment.  It costs money but the stories above are good enough reason to deal with the danger.

Unused wells can be properly abandoned.  A well driller can be hired or there is a do-it-yourself option.  Not only does it protect an existing aquifer it also eliminates the possibility of a repeat of any of the near tragedies described above.  

Don’t let history repeat itself.  Take care of the risks associated with unused wells.

Cold stress and a lack of colostrum can be fatal

At this time of year, cold stress and a lack of colostrum are two of the leading causes of early calf loss. Illness during calving can take a toll on both the calves and the cowman, making it difficult to stay on top of everything happening at all times.

That said, early intervention is the key to success when it comes to calves challenged by cold wet weather. It may be easy enough to tell when a calf is chilled but there can be uncertainty as to how long or how serious the condition is.

Some seasoned ranchers may be successful relying on past experience, but a digital thermometer is a relatively inexpensive and very handy tool to accurately determine temperature variations in an ailing calf. 

Most problems with hypothermia occur in newborn calves, since they do not have the ability to regulate body temperature efficiently when first born, especially in the first few hours of life.  

Mild hypothermia begins to occur as the calves’ body temperature drops below normal, or below 37.8 degrees C (100 degrees F). With a wet coat in cold temperatures, sometimes aggravated by a difficult birth, calves’ may be unable to get up right away or do not have the strength to suckle, allowing cold stress to set in. 

If a calf does not suckle then it will not get much needed colostrum, compounding the problem of cold stress and considerably reducing chances of survival. Most cattle producers know that colostrum is a critical source of antibodies and specialized proteins that provide protection against infectious diseases.

This transfer of passive immunity should occur in the first hours of life as antibody absorption decreases over time with essentially no absorption possible after 24 hours following birth. When considering frozen colostrum keep in mind that quality can vary considerably among cows, breeds and farms.

The mother’s colostrum is always the best option and the calf should receive at least one liter within four hours of birth and another liter within 12 hours of birth. Colostrum not only provides 2 to 3 times more fat than mother’s milk, but also warms the calf from the inside.

If a calves’ temperature is between 35 and 38 degrees C then it is still possible to warm it up in a hot box, the truck cab or a warm room. Tubing it immediately with warm colostrum provides additional warmth and helps to ensure passive transfer of antibodies and a greater chance of survival.

For calves with a temperature below 35 degrees C time is truly of the essence. The hot box or a warm environment will not effectively warm the calf as their core temperature is so low that a dry hair coat only acts as an insulator to keep them cold.

In this instance the best method to enhance survival is to immerse the calf in warm water at 38 degrees C, or warm to the touch. As the water rapidly cools it will be necessary to continually add warm water to the bath. At the same time the calf should be tubed with warm colostrum.

Early intervention is the key to survival for high risk calves that have trouble getting up due to a difficult birth, are low on oxygen, or weak. Making sure they get adequate colostrum as soon as possible will make it less likely that they suffer from cold stress and will give them the strength to begin sucking on their own right away.

Using a thermometer helps to immediately determine the appropriate treatment so the calf gets what it needs as soon as possible. Given adequate colostrum, a dry coat and the strength to suck on their own it is amazing how well calves can do even in the coldest weather.

Willa’s Wisdom revisited

Landcare’s Gary Lewis spent most of his first decade on a farm close to Lloydminster.  His parents had a dairy farm through the 50’s into early 60’s before switching to raising pigs.  

Gary often quotes his Mom Willa. Nearly famous for her odd and unusual sayings, one that always stuck with her son was: “there’s money in that muck”.  

“Those were the days when a lot of hand shoveling took place”, commented Gary.  “Mom tempered her lack of enthusiasm for cleaning stalls to the economics of her and Dad’s chosen occupation”.

Another side to nutrient economics is called the Four R’sright source, rate, time and place. This typically relates to commercial fertilizer, but the principles fit with manure or other forms of nutrition for plants. Paying attention to the four R’s has three distinct benefits.

Proof in the pudding. Suppose your most recent Christmas feast featured some “figgy pudding” as per the holiday song. If you are a fan of figgy pudding and were asked to judge a figgy pudding baking contest the only way to decide who wins is to taste it.  

There’s plenty of proof that applying the 4 R’s resulting in better quality crops, increased yields, healthier soil and other environmental benefits.  

Jingle in the jeans. Money doesn’t grow on trees but can come from better crops. Suppose an apple grower with a tree that produced one hundred apples at one dollar per apple. The math is easy – one hundred dollars. 

Suppose those apples were premium quality each worth twenty-five cents more and the tree produced twenty-five percent more apples. More apples mean more money in your pocket. Paying attention to inputs to improve outputs is good business.  

Brio in the backyard. The word “brio” means vigor, zest, sparkle or gusto.  Whether it’s figgy pudding, an apple orchard or a more conventional crop, the 4 R’s are environmentally beneficial when applied to commercial, manure or cover crop amendments.  

Suppose organic matter (OM) is low in soil. Adding only one percent OM equals about 16,500 gallons of water per acre (U/Michigan). Equivalent to the water volume of one large pickle jar per cubic foot of soil – water that is available to plants.

Rather than guessing phosphorus (P) needs the best strategy is to work backward with what is already present. More importantly, is P in a form that plants can access.

P can react with iron in acidic soil making it unavailable to plants. Soil bacteria break organic matter down releasing P to be taken up by plants.

Runoff into surface water is a recipe for algal blooms and dangerous summer water quality conditions. Better management of P in agriculture is part of the solution.  

Other contributors are urban lawn and garden products entering surface water through storm drains and, especially in lake cottage country, substandard rural septic systems. 

Nitrogen (N) source and method of application are factors in plant, soil and water health.  Excess N, converted by microbial activity to nitrate form, can leach into groundwater. When surface applied, versus incorporated into soil, N can volatize to atmosphere.

When N is plentiful, growers may see lots of green foliage. However, if other nutrients are lacking, gardeners may have lush carrot tops and no roots. Late season application of N to fruit crops contributes to winter damage due to delayed dormancy. 

Artist Robert Bateman warned not to ignore “canaries in the coal mine” – indicators in the world around us the natural world is out of balance. Practicing the 4R’s is a good step forward.

Growing infestations exist north and west of Edmonton

In the past few months, there is an increased media focus on the wild boar issue creating renewed concern among residents regarding the local status of the wild pig problem. The attention has also prompted telephone calls to the Ag and Community Services department by hunters wondering where they might find the wily animals.

With no new sightings of escaped wild boar or their offspring for some time, it is likely most have been eradicated. A successful verification of feral pig presence is primarily dependent on the eyes of residents, any potential incidents should be reported.

Originally imported from Europe as a result of the livestock diversification program in the 1980s and 90s, there was little awareness at the time, of the boar’s prolific breeding ability or destructive nature, and few fencing guidelines to contain them.   

Provincially, the highest concentrations of wild boar exist north of Edmonton in the Woodland and Lac St. Anne Counties. Recent sightings indicate a spread to the Vermillion, Barrhead and Peace River regions, as well as areas north of Edson.

Population estimates are difficult to establish provincially although some have suggested it might be as high as 1,500. Sightings are still the most reliable indication of where feral pigs are to be found.   

Ironically, hunters helping with eradication may be playing a role in the animal’s spread from traditional hot spots, making matters worse by causing them to scatter to avoid being hunted. Intelligent animals, they quickly grow wary of hunters, become nocturnal and disperse to new locations.

With a gestation period on average of just 115 days and able to produce from one to a dozen offspring per litter, female wild boar can have multiple litters in a year and become pregnant at just three to four months of age. With adequate nutrition a wild pig population can double in four to five months.

In 2017, the province attempted to counter hunting induced spread by ending a $50-per-head bounty program in Woodland and Lac St. Anne Counties, although it remains in effect in other parts of Alberta. The nine-year bounty resulted in a cull of 1,135 wild boars.

In Alberta, if wild boars are contained and fencing standards are adhered to, they are considered livestock. Once at large, they are legislated under the Pest Act and have the same designation as a rat. Hunters only need permission from landowners and must follow current regulations to hunt them.     

Alberta is the only province to have a wild boar program in place and now uses drones and remote cameras to track them, particularly in winter. With attention focused on the two most problematic counties, the province has also initiated a data base program to determine the scope of the issue.

Research has shown that whole sounder (the term used for a group of swine) removal is necessary to insure eradication. The research program in Mayerthorpe, where a large group has been identified, is testing capture and surveillance equipment. Baited corrals are monitored and managed via cell phone, to capture whole sounders at one time.

While the Alberta wild boar problem is of serious concern, it pales in comparison to what Saskatchewan is dealing with. Now cross bred with domestic swine the resulting wild pigs are thriving in agricultural areas south of Saskatchewan’s boreal forest in the south-central area of the province.

Saskatchewan has been successful at using the “Judas pig” method of capture. One pig is fitted with a GPS collar, and when he or she finds the group, aerial hunters take out every boar but the collared one, who flees to find another sounder.

Ranchers and government officials south of the border in Montana, are keeping a wary eye to the north, concerned that the escalating population in Saskatchewan may creep south. U.S. wild pigs are descended from European swine introduced by settlers in the 1680s and sometimes crossed with feral domestic pigs, the U.S. wild pig population is six million strong in Texas alone.

Back here at home, with no immediate threat, vigilance is still important, as the potential for their return could be on the horizon. In a united effort to stay abreast of that development Clearwater County residents should report sightings to either Agriculture and Community Services at 403-845-4444 or contact a Provincial District Agriculturalist at 310-FARM.

Already-existing infrastructure allows for affordable electricity production

As the Alberta oil sector struggles, the number of orphaned or inactive wells continues to grow into the thousands, leaving farmers and ranchers unsure of what the future holds for oil and gas leases on their properties. A new plan to build solar installations on abandoned sites could be a good news story for all involved.

The RenuWell project has the potential to help relieve an escalating problem affecting all Albertans. Comprised of oil and energy industry experts, and the brainchild of Keith Hirsche, a researcher and manager with more than 40 years’ experience in the energy industry, the project would make use of already existing infrastructure.

Having received funding from the provincial’s Community Generation Capacity Building Program ($261,900), RenuWell was able to set up a series of guidelines and best practices for transitioning abandoned oil and gas assets to renewable energy for the entire province.

Since existing lease sites already have road and electrical service, installing ground mount solar arrays can achieve returns comparable to larger projects but with lower infrastructure costs. At the same time, it could reduce the need for large projects that would take up land usable for agriculture.

With over 400 potential (uncontaminated) sites earmarked for the refit and thousands more down the road, the project could help reduce orphan well inventory, decrease reclamation costs, help sustain municipal tax revenues, cut landowner electrical costs and stabilize the electrical grid.

Currently there are over 200,000 inactive wells in Alberta, compiling 410,000 acres that require reclamation, most of which are in the southern part of the province. 167,000 of the inactive wells in Alberta are abandoned or orphaned.

Established in the 1990’s, the industry financed Orphan Well Association (OWA) is tasked with trying to clean up behind bankrupt oil companies that walked away from their wells. An orphan well is one that no one owns after a company goes into bankruptcy.  

With the go-ahead from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and the OWA’s agreement to work on a conditional basis, the first conversion site will be located on a 2.7 acre well lease six kilometers SW of Taber, on the James Molnar farm.

Concerned that this could become just another way for oil companies to dump liabilities, the AER was meticulous about having a safety mechanism in place that would reduce that risk. Once that policy was finalized the AER smoothed the way for the pilot project.

Slated to begin in the spring of 2020 and developing power a few months later, the Molnar site will be the first of its kind. It will provide answers to a lot of questions covering the gamut, from land/lease arrangements and outright ownership to production capacity and cost effectiveness.

A 2019 report from Canada’s energy regulator noted “the cost to install solar has fallen by about 50 per cent in the United States over the past five years, and costs have fallen in Canada as well.” Solar applications to appropriate well sites could generate employment in an industry that is at its lowest point in years. 

In the entire history of the oil and gas industry, only about 14 per cent of the wells that were drilled have been reclaimed. The AER has indicated that it would like to see installations at 100 to 200 sites per year, which would go a long way toward mitigating the growing problem.

Alberta is a unique power market in Canada because its electricity supply is not dominated by a Crown corporation such as BC Hydro, Hydro One or Hydro Quebec. Instead, a mix of private-sector companies and several municipally owned utilities, generate electricity, transmit and distribute that power to households and industries under long-term contracts.

Such a situation allows for local, national and international involvement in what appears to be a growing investment trend in alternative natural energy sources throughout Alberta. Industry experts believe private-sector companies that increasingly want to purchase wind or solar power are going to become a driving force behind numerous new projects in Alberta.

A cloud with a silver lining perhaps? By midsummer of 2020, the RenuWell project will be up and producing on an ongoing basis. With more to follow, there will be plenty of opportunity for employment and investment in what could be Alberta’s next resource industry.

Many citizens of Clearwater County, and many visitors to the area, have come across a Sasquatch. Well as least a sign or two.   

Sasquatch and Partners is an initiative aimed at promoting and educating around responsible recreation. The idea of a Sasquatch having public land as his backyard helps bring that message home to all of us.

Wherever we live we enjoy our own backyard and treat our neighbour’s backyard as if it were our own – with respect.

For an imaginary moment, ponder Sasquatch in his backyard enjoying the creatures that inhabit it. With that in mind, please enjoy a fun version of the twelve days of Christmas gone a fowl.  

An Avian Twelve Days of Christmas

On the twelve days of Christmas, a Sasquatch gave to me
Twelve grouse a drumming,
eleven plovers piping,
Ten wood ducks leaping,
Nine loons a diving,
Eight eagles soaring
seven swans migrating,
six geese parlaying,
five chicka-d-d-d-d-d-dees.
Four bunting birds,
three Ptarmigan,
two snowy owls
and a backyard where I can play!

And remember – please enjoy Christmas in our backyard with respect!

The satisfaction of bringing knowledge and action together

Most of us would probably say we are ready to learn new things.

Winston Churchill is purported to have said: “I am always ready to learn, although I don’t always like being taught.”  How true that some of life’s necessary lessons are prescribed in a pill that is hard to swallow.  

Where, like Churchill, we struggle is with the process or costs to being taught.

Sometimes it’s the messenger we struggle with.  Perhaps the son or daughter with a new idea about farming with the parent struggling to accept it.  Like the southern Alberta son-in-law with the notion to pasture pipeline to a series of water troughs and the father-in-law who resisted.  That story turned out okay once the father-in-law saw it worked. 

Other times it’s the upstream or downstream circumstance forcing a necessary change that is difficult to adjust to or comply with.  Forces of water acting on land clearly remind us of this.  It’s memories of flooding along the Clearwater River with Clear creek running backwards and into the North. Raven River or the James River demolishing a farmer’s efforts to rejuvenate the riparian area with fencing and tree planting.

Often, it’s knowing, deep down inside, there is a better way to do something but struggling to make a change that comes with a cost.  Like the farmer who made the decision to move his wintering site and calving areas away from the immediate riparian area and to use portable shelters and windbreaks to make the wintering site “mobile”.   

What’s available to help us learn with a little less pain?

First, see the inextricable connection between farming and the environment.  To borrow an analogy from a tea pot, boiling the kettle without ever adding more water will ruin the kettle.  Fresh tea leaves keep the pot fresh.  You cannot ignore the environment where seeds germinate, and plants grow.  By taking and never giving back to the environment you end up with an empty cup.

Second, accept that technology is not a bad thing for farming.  Harvard University professor Calestous Juma in his book “Innovation and its Enemies” used the example of the tractor.  Early versions of these iron beasts seemed to offer little advantage to a team of horses.   The joke of the day was a tractor would be better if it could reproduce like a horse did. 

Adopting technology requires an element of trust in the science behind the advance.  Advances in our understanding of soil can guide the application of technology.  Technology helps us manage the chemistry of water, allows for efficiencies in irrigation. 

In 1983 Motorolla introduced the “brick”.  It cost $4,000, weighed two pounds, took ten hours to charge and gave only thirty minutes of talk time.  Yup, the first cell phone.  Technology now gives us a small computer in the palm of our hands capable of calculating fertilizer rates, identifying our location and taking photos of plants.

Third, trust adversity to be a teacher and not a task master.  In 2018, this article featured a three-part series “When Nature Turns Nasty”.   Wise farmers are realists knowing that agriculture is the ultimate risk venture.    The wise parent uses a teachable moment to ask, “what did you learn?”  In farming, what are we learning? 

From cropping too close to creeks we learn about erosion in the absence of deep-rooted vegetation.  From overgrazing we learn the bullying nature of weeds and the fragility of desirable forage.  From unmanaged water wells and dugouts, we learn the costly consequences to animals.  From ill-timed choices when spraying or fertilizing we reap the lessons of right source, rate, time and place.

Carpe diem – seize the day.

Fourth, use the past as a guidepost, not a hitching post.   Clearwater County’s sign crew delineate road features using “guideposts” – those black capped, white posts with reflective material used to mark curves. highlight intersections and identify guardrail.  

Guideposts are appreciated for night driving and especially on stormy nights.  They guide us AS WE ARE MOVING.  They were never meant to tie a horse to.  

In the early days of steam engines, a challenge was issued for an engine to race a horse with each pulling a load.  The engine was winning the race but broke down before the finish line.  Although the horse won the day the people who made engines persevered.  The railroad remains a big part of our economy.

In the western “Monty Walsh”, the cowboy meets up with a character in an automobile up to its primitive axles in mud.  The horse won that day too, but the automobile makers carried on.  The engines of yesterday morphed to the engines of modern farm equipment and vehicles.

Horses still have a place in our world.  They are at their best when moving to.

Variable wet weather makes for a tough harvest

Another difficult fall that went from wet to cold, to damp and warm, from frozen and frosty and back to snow, left a dog’s breakfast of crop maturities in the bin, or no crop in the bin at all.

Local farmers have struggled to harvest and save cereal crops while facing the added challenge of living along the eastern slopes where the harvest window is narrower than that of their prairie cohorts.

That said, the fertilizer, fuel, seed and spray bills must be paid, whatever condition the crop is in.   

Fortunately, both technology and knowledge have improved considerably over the last 25 years and the ability of farmers to manage difficult drops has become more sophisticated than in the distant past.

The storage of higher moisture grains has been a real concern for some local farmers wanting to prevent spoilage and potential grain loss. Whether it be through blending, aeration fans, aeration fans with heat added or grain dryers and a variety of other methods to save the crop, farmer ingenuity will get the job done.

Locally, effective storage is dependent on what structures are used. With smaller-scale grain producers within the county bin storage facilities are often modest relative to larger prairie grain farms, so aerations systems are less common.

Moisture content and temperature are the main factors that determine the length of time grain can be safely stored. Enzyme activity and microbial growth will increase dramatically as the moisture content in the storage bin increases.

For wheat, a moisture content of 14.6% is generally considered dry enough for safe storage and can be sold with no discount. When moisture is between 14.6 and 17% the grain will be graded tough because it will need to be dried down to 14.6% to reach a safe storage and processing level.

Heating results from the respiration of grain as well as microorganisms, insects and mites during storage, leading to the development of hot spots within the grain.

Spoilage issues may be compounded as the temperatures within a bin vary. Moisture will naturally migrate from warm to cold areas, especially in large, poorly ventilated bins where there is not enough air movement.

Differences between grain temperature and outside air temperature can also create high moisture areas. Condensation may occur when moist warm air meets cold objects like the bin wall. Some local producers may initially place higher-moisture grain in older wooden bins to allow for more initial ventilation and moisture absorption.

Cooling the grain should be a top priority when dealing with high moisture levels. If storage facilities are set up for aeration, they can be used to cool tough grains, delaying or preventing high moisture areas and hot spots.

The recommended temperature of cooled grain is 21˚C in warmer months and 2˚C to 5˚C in cooler months.

If aeration is possible, fans should run continuously as long as the outside air is 5 degrees or more cooler than the grain temperature. Regular testing (at least every 2 weeks) can be done by pushing a hand into the surface as deeply as possible while feeling for warmth or crusting.

Another way to test for hot spots is to use a long metal rod, poking it deeply into the grain and feeling it by hand for warmth as soon as it is removed. Checking various locations throughout the bin will give a good indication of heating and deterioration.

If it is not possible to aerate grain, rotating it with an auger from bin to bin, or bin to truck and back as many times as necessary will help to lower temperature and moisture content.

Ongoing testing should be done throughout the storage season as localized high moisture spots can develop due to changes in outdoor air temperatures. If the outside temperature is low enough, then the bin wall will cool, creating a downward airflow through the grain and then upward through the center of the bin.

As the air moves, it becomes warmer and picks up moisture from the grain. As the warm air contacts the cool air at the surface of the grain, condensation can form and cause spoilage. If the outside temperatures are warmer than inside the bin, the opposite occurs, creating condensation at the bottom of the bin.

Canola, which should not be stored above 10% moisture, can present additional challenges.  Because the seeds are so small, the space between them is tight when packed together in the bin. This makes it difficult to achieve airflow through the grain.

Because canola seeds are still living for up to six weeks after harvest, it can be taken off dry and be relatively cool.   However, a few weeks later, heating and moisture levels can go up because of microbial respiration. Aeration during this time period can counter microbial activity.

Heating of stored grain can result in reduced germination, a loss in weight, lower quality and, in extreme situations, burning. Clean grain is important as weedy material, residual crop and green or immature seeds, usually have higher moisture content and may accumulate in isolated pockets.  

Be prepared to make quick decisions about grain storage problems as soon as they are detected. Most heating problems can be easily resolved with quick action.

A unique look at one of the biggest shopping days of the year

Apparently, it started with an ice axe.

Recreational Equipment, Inc. – best known as REI – is an outdoor adventure store that formed in 1938. Three years prior a Seattle-area couple, Lloyd and Mary Anderson, lamented the difficulty sourcing high quality outdoor equipment.  

Hence the ice axe. In 1935, a knock-off professional ice axe cost $20 through a middleman. Tired of paying too much for too little, the Anderson’s sourced direct from Austria for $3.50 postage included.

Then the aha moment. Gather more of their fellow outdoor enthusiasts, using a one-dollar lifetime membership, thus increasing their buying power. REI was born.  

You are correct thinking this sounds like Mountain Equipment Co-op – or MEC for short.  Same concept. A lifetime membership for a lifetime of outdoor pursuits.

The REI story has a modern twist. For the fifth year in a row, and on one of the busiest shopping days of the year known as Black Friday, REI stores won’t be open.  

And they are paying their 13,000 employees wages for the day to go outside and make a difference. It’s part of a bigger initiative, using the hashtag #OptOutside (https://www.rei.com/opt-outside), for people to make a difference outdoors.  

REI is using Black Friday 2019 to kick off a campaign described as “52 simple weekly challenges for a year of action”. Many of these involve consumer choices. Things like “plant something native and green”, “volunteer for a trail clean up”, “repair an item instead of purchasing a new one”, and “hang dry your laundry”. 

It’s radical and maybe too much for most. “The suggestion to not wash my jeans for a month would never make my list”, said Gary Lewis, Landcare Supervisor, “along with a few others”.  

Lewis cautioned to not dismiss the idea completely, “Anyone can create their own list of small, collectively significant things. Maybe it’s twelve ideas done on a monthly basis versus weekly for one year”.   

Lewis shared some ideas.

Food Freedom Day, which falls in February, is when the average Canadian has earned what is annually spent on food.  With one-sixth of our annual earnings going into the refrigerator and pantry, there are ways to stretch those expenditures and reduce waste.  

May is the month for highway or shoreline cleanups. Although not glamorous, these improve wildlife habitat and increase public safety. “It’s an extension of Sasquatch’s backyard message to show respect for wild places”, said Lewis.

February features Family Day and could be used to experience nature. Lewis encouraged, “If the weather outside is frightful, the BBC documentary series Planet Earth is so delightful.”  

Come holiday shopping season, consider ideas that benefit the environment. In lieu of traditional gift giving some families choose to support conservation groups. Some exchange gifts based on the three R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle.  

Some use birthdays and other family/ friend milestones to give in lieu to a conservation cause, participate in a habitat venture – like tree planting.  

Even calendar items like Arbor Day, although not an official holiday, become ways to give back to nature by planting a tree for the next generation. Some schools use the day to clean up and enhance their grounds. 

Cleaning out the closet or the garden shed? Explore giving versus throwing something away. Could that pile of lumber become nesting boxes built by a youth organization?

Producers may be partially compensated under the wildlife damage program

Few would argue, livestock producers included, that the sight of a massive elk can be an awe-inspiring experience. Seeing a free roaming herd often arouses romantic images of the distant past when the Great Plains range spanned an area three times the size of the African Serengeti grasslands.

The lives of humans and elk have been intertwined since elk first migrated across the Bering Land Bridge connecting Asia with Alaska more than 10,000 years ago. Spreading southward into North America as water levels rose, their numbers grew to an estimated 10 million.

Elk, or wapiti, from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning “white rump” were vital to indigenous populations; a virtual all-in-one food, clothing and grocery store, providing for most needs while leaving little waste. For white explorers and homesteaders, elk often assured continued survival during tough times.

As pioneer settlement spread throughout North America, many iconic species were eradicated. Eradication included the Eastern elk, prevalent in Canada and the Merriam’s Elk in Arizona. Virtually all native elk were extirpated in Alberta by the 1900s.

In 1917 and 1920, several hundred Rocky Mountain Elk were reintroduced into the Banff and Jasper National Parks, transported from Yellowstone National Park in the United States. Further introduction has occurred in other areas of Alberta such as Elk Island Provincial Park and CFB Suffield. 

As big ranches gave way to smaller parcels taken over by homesteaders, along with the clearing of marginal land, the amount of cultivated land and pasture increased, providing additional habitat that fostered population growth.

As a result of reintroduction, a growing population of elk has spread along the Rocky Mountain foothills and in scattered populations throughout the parklands of central Alberta. Today their numbers are estimated in excess of 25000.

The expanding elk population has resulted in increasing conflict with human activities, particularly with farmers and ranchers. The ensuing difficulties precipitated a 2011 survey on wildlife damage by Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) and the non-profit Miistakis Institute. The study indicated that a high percentage of producers were negatively impacted by wildlife. 

Elk issues involving damage to stored feed stocks in Clearwater County are most common due to herds located in the northern areas of Faraway, Carlos and Centerview, as well as to the south of Caroline in the Gwendale, James River and Burnstick Lake areas.

In the ABP study, 88 percent of the 672 cattle producers surveyed said wildlife have affected their livestock operations and half said the economic impact was too hard to bear. Nearly 80 percent of ranchers indicated that they did not report losses from elk and other ungulates.

Unlike deer, elk can be particularly hard on crops and feed stocks like swath grazing, baled forage and stored silage. They break down fences and trample or destroy much more than they eat as a result of the deposition of urine and feces. 

Some livestock producers have described situations where elk have competed with cattle for feed, chased livestock through fences, confronted and chased humans and killed horses.

Most producers in the study indicated that they did not report damage to forage crops because they were not aware of possible compensation, felt the return was not worth it, thought damage was too difficult to measure, or they did not like dealing with the government.

For agricultural producers who have taken steps to minimize ungulate damage and still suffer losses to stacked hay, stored silage or unharvested crops, there is in fact assistance and compensation available in Alberta through the wildlife damage program.

Producers qualify if they have stacked and stored hay or silage at a site that can be regularly monitored, allow hunting and have followed the recommendations of a fish and wildlife officer. A call to AFSC will bring out an adjuster to assess the damage.

While some farmers and ranchers may question the value of the compensation offered in the existing program, the fact is that the programs are not being used to their full capacity. Failing to report conflicts and losses will not help to change or improve wildlife management or compensation programs.

For more complete information with regard to wildlife damage compensation and the requirements for precautions visit www.alberta.ca or give us a call at Agriculture and Community Services at 403-845-4444.

You may recall our wintertime science experiment - the one where we brought sections of Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB)-infested tree trunks into our shop “lab” to see if larva would wake up and continue eating.

And you may remember, the larva not only woke from antifreeze induced slumber, but also ate, grew and morphed into full-fledged beetles.

Earlier this year, the influence of a cold February impacted population numbers for 2019, but it was not 100 percent mortality as the beetles did survive the extreme temperatures.  

CBC news reported in June that, according to Natural Resources Council of Canada, beetle populations in Jasper National Park declined for the first time since the outbreak began in 2013. The mortality was pegged at 98 percent.

Two factors made a one two punch difference.  

The first punch was a right hook. Larvae normally develop between July to August, but the 2018 mating season was later, and larva instead developed mid-July into September. Smaller larvae were less robust going into the winter of 2018-19.

The second punch was an upper cut. The cold winter knocked out larvae that would otherwise have matured into flight-ready beetles for the 2019 dispersal season.

But that is Jasper Park. What about elsewhere? Perhaps a look around the central Alberta neighbourhood gives us a hint.

To the northeast of us, Wetaskiwin County is gearing up for an MPB response, not only hosting a workshop but also providing coaching to residents. A 2018 inflight of beetles was confirmed in areas near Alder Flats, Winfield, Buck Lake, Pigeon Lake and Wetaskiwin.  

There is a similar story in Ponoka County.  One of a few confirmed properties with infected pines is only a few miles north of Rimbey.  

Leduc and Brazeau counties are partnering with Wetaskiwin county to host an MPB workshop.  

The removal of MPB-infested trees is more than a Crown land matter. Beetles do not recognize borders between public and private land. In recent months, Saws and Ladders, a tree services company has facilitated the downing and disposal of pine trees in the Rocky Mountain House and Wetaskiwin areas.  

 

For those not familiar with MPB, this seemingly insignificant beetle, no bigger than a short grain of rice, carries a blue stain fungus that is fatal if a sufficient number of beetles successfully attack a pine tree.

An incoming beetle attempts an entry hole into the tree. The tree fights back, literally trying to pitch the beetle out.  Hence the appearance of a cluster of ooze called a pitch tube with a wad of gum-like sap.

The beetle carries the fungus but also chews and lays eggs in a distinctive J-shape tunnel. Larvae from hatched eggs eat lateral tunnels eventually growing into another generation of beetles.

Mature beetles synchronize a flight to attack other pine trees and continue the cycle of destruction of older, mature pine. An overwhelming successful attack means a blue stain death is assured within days.

The tree does not show it has died until later. Dead trees maintain green needles in the first months after death but give way to a yellow/red appearance the following year.  Eventually all needles drop leading to a grey/brown appearance.  

The rule in Crown pine management is any tree with more than forty pitch tubes is destined to be cut and burned.  

How do we manage trees in our own Clearwater County neighborhood?  We hope to answer those questions at our upcoming FREE Mountain Pine Beetle Workshop.  More information at the end of this article.

Owners of private land are responsible for pine trees on their own property, but Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services staff are available to coach landowners with options. A great start to know what to do is attend our workshop.

If any citizen spots pine trees with evidence of MPB on public land, please contact Alberta Ag and Forestry. Staff working in the Clearwater Forest Area with Alberta Ag and Forestry will be present at our workshop.

Framework hasn't been updated in 25 years

When recently introduced legislation is passed, Alberta cattle producers will be paying more for grazing leases on crown land. Introduced October 15, 2019, the new bill will allow the province to collect more money from grazing leaseholders, beginning with a 20 percent increase in 2020.

Bill 16, The Public Lands Modernization (Grazing Lease and Obsolete Provisions) Amendment Act, will phase in higher lease rates, based on the price of cattle.  In order to ease the burden of higher fees the increased cost will be spread over the next five years.

The current system of three different rate structures will be streamlined. Recognizing that input costs are greater in the northern areas of the province, rates in the south will be set higher than those in the north.

The new legislation was created partly in response to some blistering criticisms of the current system in a 2015 auditor general’s report, as well as a 1999 U.S. commerce department countervailing duty investigation, which pointed to frozen grazing lease rates as a potential subsidy to ranchers.

The history of grazing leases in Alberta dates to 1881, when the Canadian Pacific Railway reached the prairies and interest in cattle ranching grew along with an expanding British market for beef. Huge grazing leases were granted by the Dominion to English “gentlemen” with enough capital to establish ranches.

Over the years much has changed since the demise of the great cattle companies, like the Cochrane, BarU, Oxley and Walrond. The tradition however, lives on and goes beyond simply grazing cattle.   Most grazing leases are located on marginal land along the rugged east slopes of the Rockies, an area not suited to conventional farming.

Third and fourth generation cattle ranchers know the lay of the land and have managed their grazing leases as good stewards, maintaining a steady security and presence for the past 140 years. 

Modern day lease rates have not changed since the Thurber report was released in 1994 and the formula to calculate them dates to the 1960s.

Beef industry representatives and ranchers have thrown their support behind the changes, recognizing that by being at the forefront, they are better able to provide input that reflects the needs of the industry.

One benefit to leaseholders is the streamlined method for determining assignments fees when lease land changes hands. The fee will also be adjusted to a more reasonable flat fee of $3,150 (rather than the current) more costly approach based on the number of AUM’s.

The government also wants to switch how it allots fee revenue. Previously frozen at $2.9 million, under Bill 16 the government would always receive a minimum of $2.5 million from the leases, with 30 percent of any additional revenues exceeding $2.9 million, dedicated to support rangeland sustainability research initiatives, to ensure ranching remains a successful industry.

Aside from the increased costs to ranchers, the new system should better reflect current economic realities, be fairer and more transparent to leaseholders and ensure Albertans get fair market value for the province’s land resources.   

There are 6,500 grazing leases in Alberta, covering more than six million acres, or about 5 percent of total public land. The leased land produces about 14 percent of total cattle forage each year.

The new amendments will not change recreational access to public lands or affect existing treaty rights for Indigenous peoples.

Landcare needs voices younger and older

In the 2015 movie “The Intern”, Robert DeNiro plays a seventy-year old dissatisfied with retirement.  His solution is to become an intern for an online fashion company run by a successful young entrepreneur played by Anne Hathaway.  The movie, shenanigans aside, shows the value of both older and younger people working together.

In a previous Ag article editions, we addressed honoring the public’s trust through honesty, openness, preparation.  We considered integrity in a spirit of justness, honesty and kindness.  We spoke of being responsive, adaptable, innovative in our service to others.  We valued community in the context of respecting others, mentoring and valuing what others say.  We explored communication using the analogy of building a bridge, valuing clarity, respect and the common good.

These qualities apply to people of all ages, including the youth we value as part of Clear Water Landcare.

Yes, indeed, there is room at the Landcare table for young adults.  High school or college students interested in serving.

IN 2018, Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) Bill Taylor wrote an article, “The Right and Wrong Way to Attract Young Workers to a Boring Company” about “giving young people a taste of life in your business and giving them a sense that being in your business will make their life more interesting and satisfying”.

On the surface, maybe sitting around a table talking about caring for land and water sounds boring.  Landcare’s Gary Lewis begs to differ.

“Don’t get hung up over words like ‘stewardship’ or ‘conservation’ and immediately assign the title ‘BORING’ to either.  There is a lot to learn from this kind of table talk.”

First, Lewis said, Landcare is a sociological study.  “There are many personalities in our group and learning to work with one another is a lesson in life itself as well as getting something done for the environment.”

Lewis continued, Landcare is also a mathematical exercise.  “We toss numbers around but not in a vacuum.  Stating that 80 percent of living things depend on two percent of our landscape – the riparian part – we are not spouting to impress.   We are stating the critical value of a small piece of terra firma to most living things.”

According to Lewis there’s a lot of science class woven into a Landcare meeting.   “We always include science-based educational pieces to our meetings.  This past year alone we learned about wildfire behavior, the biology of mountain pine beetle, day and nighttime raptor behavior, beaver and their habitat and more.  

Back to the HBR article, author Bill Taylor spent time with senior executives from banking institutions, distribution companies, blue collar manufacturers and insurance companies.  Not necessarily the first choice for adventure seeking youth.

Taylor pointed out the leaders of these businesses liked and were proud of what they did.  They wanted to communicate that to young people looking for a career path.   The challenge was how to make the business sizzle, to make what seems boring cool.

“Consider how I ended up as Landcare Supervisor” stated Lewis.  “I came into my role with a bit of ability and skill and learned a whole lot more.   I also brought an attitude and passion to be and do my best.  That combination has never let me down.”

Here’s a challenge.  If you are high school or college age person, exploring a career in the environmental world, an outdoor enthusiast of some sort or someone who appreciates the natural world – come to a couple of Clear Water Landcare meetings.  

If you like it, let us know.  We have openings for one or two youth members.

Cut it, graze it, or leave it? 

2019 might be remembered as the year with a summer that never was. Although rain accumulation was not excessive in Central Alberta, rarely were there more than two or three dry days between showers. As a result, farmers had a heck of a time putting up hay and harvesting cereal crops.

Even now, in the third week of September, there is cut hay laying in fields and mature standing hay yet to be cut. For those lucky enough to have taken off a first cut during a dry window in early July, the possibility of a second cut of alfalfa can be very appealing.

Current hay prices are almost as high as following last year’s drought. Many livestock owners were forced to use up feed reserves, buy off farm, or look at alternative feed strategies. Similar to last year, come mid-winter, any extra feed -regardless of quality- will be appreciated.

No matter how mature crops may be at this time of year, there is still feed value in harvesting hay rather than late grazing. The haying strategy may need to be altered to accommodate the late season but putting up dry hay is still possible. 

Standing mature hay tends to contain less moisture but can readily absorb external moisture if left exposed to the elements after cutting. As such it is more susceptible to degradation and potential leaf loss.  While widening the windrow and teddering after cutting works well mid-summer, fall weather involves greater moisture and temperature extremes. 

Maintaining the integrity of the hay in a narrower windrow to accommodate longer drying periods will help protect forage from damage. Depending on weather forecasts, raking may have to be done the day prior to baling to capitalize on sun and heat during shorter days.

For those producers with the capacity to apply hay preservative while baling forage, the moisture window can be increased when necessary, helping considerably to compensate for late season challenges.  

With shorter days and cooler weather, it can be difficult to bale any dry forage at acceptable moisture levels. Even though second cut fall alfalfa, with fine stems and leafy foliage, produces some of the best quality of the year, there are risks to consider.

Given the season, heat damage, mold or spontaneous combustion can occur when rich, fine-stemmed hay is packed into tight heavy bales. Weather damage can also reduce quality considerably.

Of perhaps greater concern is that winterkill or injury may increase if the winter-hardening process is disrupted by harvest, especially in northern climates. Alfalfa plants are more likely to survive winter if they have enough regrowth (usually 4-6 weeks before a hard frost) in order to accumulate adequate nutrient reserves.

Grazing is an alternative option that can provide forage when pastures run out but must be balanced off against managing for bloat. Fully bloomed alfalfa is relatively low risk grazing, while young vegetative growth can be dangerous for livestock. After a hard frost, bloat risk increases for several days until plants begin to wilt, after which the risk declines considerably.

Stands can be damaged if fields are not dry and firm when grazed and large cow paddies may plug up haybines the following year. Productivity may also be reduced and/or delayed the following season, offsetting any gains made in fall grazing.

Sometimes leaving second cut alfalfa standing can provide definite advantages. Winter hardiness will be maximized and provide for vigorous early growth the following spring. Taller stubble tends to hold more snow, enhance moisture reserves, provide extra insulation and reduce root heaving and ice damage.

The adage “use it or lose it” certainly applies to harvesting forage. The value of next year’s crop is less certain than that of the current year. Tough hay can be managed by feeding it sooner and the better-quality left until the new year. 

Either way, working out an appropriate feed program can be a challenge at the best of times. Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services department provides a ration balancing service to producers at no charge. To learn more, call the County office at 403-845-4444, or drop in the office and we will help you make the most of the feed resources you have available.

New York Times reports looming water crisis for 25% of humanity

We are a thirsty bunch.  

In 2018, the cities of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Chennai, India and Cape Town, South Africa nearly exhausted all available water in dams they depend on putting millions of people at risk.

According to data through the World Resources Institute (WRI) – see www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress. - seventeen countries are deemed under “high water stress” which is calculated based on demand versus availability.  In many cases, groundwater is depleting at an alarming rate and existing surface water is highly unreliable.

The New York Times revealed water crisis data along with a series of telling maps – see www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/06/climate/world-water-stress - including a map showing water stress in the United States.  

The Hawaiian Islands are listed under medium to high stress.  Sounds strange for “paradise”.  Hawaii’s recent history reveals an aquifer challenge on the island of Oahu.  Wells drilled in the late 1800’s produced high-quality, artesian water for livestock, plantations and a growing Honolulu. 

When the agricultural boom ended twenty years later these now abandoned artesian wells continued to pump.   In the early 1900’s many wells became salty.  It was discovered the seawater that pressured these wells to pump 24/7.  Oahu and other islands took action to secure their water future.

Closer to home, the WRI ranks Canada 108 out of 164 countries.  The Government of Alberta publication, Facts about Water, describes Canada as “water rich” having approximately 20 percent of the worlds fresh water supply and a “low water stress” ranking.   While encouraging there is a danger of complacency.  

It’s estimated Alberta has more ground than surface water, in fact, approximately 40,000 cubic kilometers of groundwater.  Only 0.01 percent is deemed recoverable – about one trillion gallons.  That amount is equivalent to almost twice the water found in all the Great Lakes. 

One trillion gallons of groundwater sounds like a lot but potability is an issue as is accessibility.   Potable water is usually within 150 meters of the surface.  

Albertans living next to naturally occurring water or with a groundwater source beneath have a legal right to use up to 1,250 cubic meters per year for human consumption and common household uses.  With rights comes the responsibility to manage the available water. 

Water remains under Crown ownership and managed by the Province, regardless of whether it occurs on public or private land and activities impacting water are regulated under the Water Act.  Provincial approval must be obtained before any activity impacting water is initiated. 

Consider the southwestern United States.  After several years of drought and increasing demand of Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado river, hit a record low in 2014.  California has a water agreement in place guaranteeing a certain amount of water from Colorado unless it drops below a certain level – a level inching literally closer.

In February 2019, the LA Times reported on the state of the reservoir where University of Arizona’s Robert Glennon stated, “We’re in the 19th year of a drought.”  Seven thousand days hoping for more rain or snow. To read the article, visit www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-lake-mead-20190208-story

Lake Mead is measured in feet above sea level.  In January this year the level was 1,086 above sea level.  When the river is at 1,050 it can no longer produce hydroelectricity.  Dropping below 895 it cannot supply its clients.  Between long term drought and human demand, the river is tapping out.   The LA Times article has a sobering picture of the infamous bathtub rings of Lake Mead.

Back to the Maritimes, as of early September there were 222 boil water advisories for 185 communities in Newfoundland-Labrador.  Some are “long-term” going back to 1989.  All this water trauma for a population of just over 500 thousand.

Water quality is another factor.   With a population nearing 4.5 million, Alberta lists thirty-five warnings on the Alberta Health website.   Fifteen “do not use” are for surface water due to cyanobacteria bloom (blue-green algae) and twenty are for boil water advisories for human use.  

Fortunately, there are some solutions to the problems we, and our world neighbors, are facing. 

How we harvest water.   A roof can feed a rain barrel.  A street can stock a storm pond.  A stormwater system can feed a constructed wetland.  Leaving or integrating permeable places in urban areas lets water percolate into groundwater or slow its release to surface water. 

How we hold water.   Lakes are fantastic holding tanks.   Wetlands are incredible sponges.   Soils are funnels to aquifers.   Landscaping choices impact water requirements.    

How we handle water.  How we manage our workplaces, home spaces and other outdoor choices contribute to both the quality and quantity of water.  Minor plumbing repairs make major differences.  Due diligence applies to what we allow down the drainpipe. 

How we hand off water.   What are our water treatment choices?   Maybe we should change our terminology from wastewater so that we stop thinking of it as something to be discarded.   Maybe what is in the once-used water has another purpose.  How much of our water can be reused?

Let’s tap into solutions before we must tap out.

We are a thirsty bunch.  

In 2018, the cities of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Chennai, India and Cape Town, South Africa nearly exhausted all available water in dams they depend on putting millions of people at risk.

According to data through the World Resources Institute (WRI) – see www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress. - seventeen countries are deemed under “high water stress” which is calculated based on demand versus availability.  In many cases, groundwater is depleting at an alarming rate and existing surface water is highly unreliable.

The New York Times revealed water crisis data along with a series of telling maps – see www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/06/climate/world-water-stress - including a map showing water stress in the United States.  

The Hawaiian Islands are listed under medium to high stress.  Sounds strange for “paradise”.  Hawaii’s recent history reveals an aquifer challenge on the island of Oahu.  Wells drilled in the late 1800’s produced high-quality, artesian water for livestock, plantations and a growing Honolulu. 

When the agricultural boom ended twenty years later these now abandoned artesian wells continued to pump.   In the early 1900’s many wells became salty.  It was discovered the seawater that pressured these wells to pump 24/7.  Oahu and other islands took action to secure their water future.

Closer to home, the WRI ranks Canada 108 out of 164 countries.  The Government of Alberta publication, Facts about Water, describes Canada as “water rich” having approximately 20 percent of the worlds fresh water supply and a “low water stress” ranking.   While encouraging there is a danger of complacency.  

It’s estimated Alberta has more ground than surface water, in fact, approximately 40,000 cubic kilometers of groundwater.  Only 0.01 percent is deemed recoverable – about one trillion gallons.  That amount is equivalent to almost twice the water found in all the Great Lakes. 

One trillion gallons of groundwater sounds like a lot but potability is an issue as is accessibility.   Potable water is usually within 150 meters of the surface.  

Albertans living next to naturally occurring water or with a groundwater source beneath have a legal right to use up to 1,250 cubic meters per year for human consumption and common household uses.  With rights comes the responsibility to manage the available water. 

Water remains under Crown ownership and managed by the Province, regardless of whether it occurs on public or private land and activities impacting water are regulated under the Water Act.  Provincial approval must be obtained before any activity impacting water is initiated. 

Consider the southwestern United States.  After several years of drought and increasing demand of Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado river, hit a record low in 2014.  California has a water agreement in place guaranteeing a certain amount of water from Colorado unless it drops below a certain level – a level inching literally closer.

In February 2019, the LA Times reported on the state of the reservoir where University of Arizona’s Robert Glennon stated, “We’re in the 19th year of a drought.”  Seven thousand days hoping for more rain or snow. To read the article, visit www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-lake-mead-20190208-story

Lake Mead is measured in feet above sea level.  In January this year the level was 1,086 above sea level.  When the river is at 1,050 it can no longer produce hydroelectricity.  Dropping below 895 it cannot supply its clients.  Between long term drought and human demand, the river is tapping out.   The LA Times article has a sobering picture of the infamous bathtub rings of Lake Mead.

Back to the Maritimes, as of early September there were 222 boil water advisories for 185 communities in Newfoundland-Labrador.  Some are “long-term” going back to 1989.  All this water trauma for a population of just over 500 thousand.

Water quality is another factor.   With a population nearing 4.5 million, Alberta lists thirty-five warnings on the Alberta Health website.   Fifteen “do not use” are for surface water due to cyanobacteria bloom (blue-green algae) and twenty are for boil water advisories for human use.  

Fortunately, there are some solutions to the problems we, and our world neighbors, are facing. 

How we harvest water.   A roof can feed a rain barrel.  A street can stock a storm pond.  A stormwater system can feed a constructed wetland.  Leaving or integrating permeable places in urban areas lets water percolate into groundwater or slow its release to surface water. 

How we hold water.   Lakes are fantastic holding tanks.   Wetlands are incredible sponges.   Soils are funnels to aquifers.   Landscaping choices impact water requirements.    

How we handle water.  How we manage our workplaces, home spaces and other outdoor choices contribute to both the quality and quantity of water.  Minor plumbing repairs make major differences.  Due diligence applies to what we allow down the drainpipe. 

How we hand off water.   What are our water treatment choices?   Maybe we should change our terminology from wastewater so that we stop thinking of it as something to be discarded.   Maybe what is in the once-used water has another purpose.  How much of our water can be reused?

Let’s tap into solutions before we must tap out.

Fall is the best time for successful dandelion control

The dandelion can be a troublesome nuisance for urban gardeners but for modern farmers it is becoming a serious pest. Once relegated to ditches and pastures, the advent of reduced tillage and continuous cropping has created an almost ideal environment for this troublesome weed. 

The tap-rooted perennial, formally known as taraxacum officinale, survives most shallow tillage. In the days of the rod weeder the dandelion’s root was pulled to the surface but today control options are more limited.

Originally from Asia, the plant played an important role in both food and medicine. Arabian physician utilized the plant for healing as far back as the year 1000. Ironically, the troublesome invader has yet to establish in the Southern Hemisphere.

The long-lived perennial forms a crown that divides into numerous branches producing 50 to 175 seeds per head and 20,000 viable seeds in total.

University of Manitoba research has also shown that seed produced in the fall does not initiate many new plants in the spring, illustrating another key to successful control. New seedlings tend most often to be the result of mid-season flowering of mature plants.

Dandelions are a problem in direct seeding systems since without tillage producers must rely on good crop competition and the timely application of systemic herbicides.

While some research indicates that the weed has a limited effect on forage crop yields and is highly palatable to livestock where alfalfa and grass pastures are grazed, it does injure alfalfa seed crops and is often managed through crop rotations.

Because of the significant energy stored in dandelions root systems it can withstand significant overgrazing and is often the last plant standing in overused pastures.

The recommended times for best control results are spring and fall, however spring treatment often only suppresses the plant, while autumn application has the best chance of killing it. 

Research done by Agriculture Canada and University of Saskatchewan shows dandelions are most vulnerable when preparing for winter after using stored energy to get through a period of dormancy in July and August and especially after a hot dry summer.

As the dandelion begins to store energy in its root system herbicide will be absorbed. Combined with winter stress, the plant is much less likely to survive. 

Seeds germinate best in full light on a bare soil surface and quickly develop a tap root, with a well-formed crown, by fall or early spring. Since herbicides are most effective on smaller plants appropriate fall control tends to eliminate newer seedlings as well.

Glyphosate, fall-applied prior to first frost, provides effective overall control in crop land, with the rate and success determined by the size of the plants.  A tank mix with broadleaf herbicide may enhance weed control when preparing to break old pasture for reseeding.

When removing dandelion from pasture, remember that ALL broadleaf plants are affected by broadleaf herbicide.  Consider your desirable clovers, alfalfa, vetches and other broadleaf plants when making decisions. 

A non-residual, broadleaf-only herbicide, can be used for dandelion on lawn areas.  Residual herbicides do persist in grass clippings and sometimes migrate in shallow groundwater.  Use only products registered for lawn and garden.  

For gravel areas a tank mix option with glyphosate and a broadleaf product may achieve better control of dandelion and other undesirables. 

It should be remembered that mature dandelions did not arrive in one season so expect more than one season to get rid of them. For pasture, application of registered residual herbicide both spring and fall may enhance success.

Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services has herbicides and equipment suitable for spraying pasture or cropland.  Some equipment is sized for acreage use including a lawn wick applicator that wipes herbicide (broadleaf product only) onto vegetation.  For more information, call the County office at 403-845-4444.

Late summer/fall control methods can be very effective

Drought conditions in 2018 allowed Canada thistle to thrive while cereal crops and forages struggled for lack of moisture. Having a taproot that can reach three meters in search of water, Canada thistle outcompeted more desirable species.

With little competition last year, the prickly invader had a head start this spring and has expanded prodigiously to the point where it has become a real problem in some areas of the county.    

The good news is that now is a great time to take on the irritating plant with a reasonable expectation of success. From the pre-flowering bud stage to post-flowering in the fall, there are a few control methods that have proven successful.  

Ironically, this member of the sunflower family is not even native to Canada. Its name came from American farmers who blamed Canadian traders for bringing it to the New England colonies. Most likely it emigrated from the Mediterranean to both countries at about the same time.

Reaching as high as 1.5 metres and sprouting purple and occasionally pink or white flowers, the tufted airborne seeds usually germinate within a year but can survive buried in soil for up to 20 years. More prolific than seed germination, large colonies form from root buds that are clones of the mother plant.

In just one year, a single plant can extend out over an area exceeding 6 metres in diameter. A new plant of just over a month in age at the three-leaf stage, will likely already have developed an extensive root system with numerous buds.

A prolific and persistent perennial, the shoots from horizontal roots first appear around mid-April and continue to grow through the summer. Seeds germinate from late May through fall and although both male and female plants flower, only the female plants produce seed.

New seedlings can still develop from root buds even if the original shoot was killed. Root fragments have enough reserves to survive for 100 days under adverse conditions.

Even though the most effective time to control Canada thistle is when flowering begins (bud stage) and food reserves in the roots are at their low point, control efforts later in the season can also be effective. Root starvation is the key to controlling Canada thistle while seed production is secondary.

When it comes to control, the idea is to make use of several broadleaf herbicides registered for Canada thistle that can be drawn down into the root.  Control in the fall is effective because the plants are beginning to shut down for winter and are actively transporting sugars from the leaves to the roots. Add in tillage and the root will be drained of even more reserves.

Often called the rosette method, when the number of daylight hours drops below 15, new shoot growth forms rosettes which continue to produce carbohydrates for storage in the roots in preparation for winter. At this time, tillage and herbicide can be combined as a control method.

After tilling to about 5 centimeters, the plant is left to regrow for four to six weeks to allow for maximum rosette emergence. When rosettes reach 5 to 8 centimeters across, then the plants should be sprayed with a systemic herbicide. Timing can be a challenge due to temperature fluctuations and frost.

following a hard frost of -4C or colder it is best to wait 48 to 72 hours before assessing damage. If there are signs of active growth and 50 to 60 percent of plants are still green, then conditions are favorable, and spraying can be done once daytime temperatures reach 10C for at least two hours.

If there is a light frost of 0 to 3C, then it is safe to spray after about 24 hours, when daytime temperature reaches at least 10C for a minimum of two hours, with no frost in the next couple of days.

Dealing with Canada thistle is an ongoing battle, so planning to incorporate control methods for next year should include selective tilling and choosing appropriate rotations like fall rye and winter wheat that offer competition and weaken late fall thistle infestations.

Early spring seeding allows cereals to better compete with thistle infestations and seeding perennial crops at a heavier weight will encourage strong emergence and competition. Cutting perennial forages twice a year whenever possible will eventually cause thistles to die out.

Rotational grazing and the improved health of forage stands can also help to reduce growth of Canada thistle through competition.

For more details on troublesome invasive plant species contact the Alberta Invasive Species Council www.abinvasives.ca or give Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services department a call at 403-845-4444.

It is often assumed that drinking rural tap water is safe and that the water supply is secure. This may not be the case.

According to a publication from the Government of Alberta, over 450,000 residents depend on water that comes from a groundwater source and may be accessed from drilled, driven or hand dug wells, depending on age.  Each type of well has inherent needs related to maintenance, monitoring and upgrading.

Well water comes from aquifers which are underground sources of variable quality and quantity.  Some water is not suitable for human consumption because it exceeds human health thresholds and/or simply isn’t potable.   Some aquifers may be low producing and not be able to adequately supply a household or livestock.

Since wells are the responsibility of the landowner and in fact the well is owned by the landowner, this responsibility includes routine and unexpected maintenance. No well will last forever but can be maintained to last a significant amount of time.

Drillers are required to submit a driller report to Alberta Environment & Parks and leave a copy with the original well owner. This important data is entered into a database for future reference and is useful for subsequent landowners who may not have this information. To find a driller report, visit  www.environment.alberta.ca 

An older well, particularly pre-1970, may not have a report available in the database. In this instance, the current landowner can search by the legal land location or ask a well driller to assist based on knowledge of the area or with specialized equipment. 

Alberta Environment & Parks recommends testing domestic water twice annually.  Alberta Health Services offers bottles for do-it-yourself sampling for bacteria and chemistry.  They can be contacted to obtain sampling bottles along with information as to how and when to return samples.

Shock chlorination is a disinfecting process that can be done as a do-it-yourself activity or performed by a licensed water well driller.  As far as tackling the process yourself, there are some key pieces of information needed to create a bleach to water formula.  Alberta Environment recommends that domestic water wells be shock chlorinated annually.  

Some precautions are necessary including the age of the water well and the frequency of previous shock chlorination.  It is always recommended that a water test be done first and that the well owner obtain some qualified coaching.  

A neglected septic system is an immediate red flag.  Private wastewater systems also require monitoring and maintenance.  Tanks are sized differently and require pumping depending on the degree of usage.  If a system is older it may not meet today’s standards and pose a greater risk to groundwater.  Occasionally the setback distances or even the topography threaten the groundwater source.

A poorly maintained well is also suspect.  A secure cap is a must to keep creatures large and small from entering the casing.   Casing at a proper height is also necessary to stop overland runoff from entering the casing.  Likewise, well pits, once common but now not to code, are high risk points of contamination.  The actual installation of the well may have been substandard or damaged later on causing aquifer contamination.

The ground immediately around a well or contamination of a nearby well drawing from the same aquifer may be a problem.  If located in a drainage area, either due to improper sighting or due to landscaping after the fact, runoff may be directed near a water well, especially if the well is in a pit.  As a result, fuel, pesticide, fertilizer, manure or other contaminants can make their way into the water source.

It is important not to over pump a water well.  Pulling water faster than recommended happens when the demands of household and/or livestock watering does not allow the well to recharge (refill) adequately.  The underground material, possibly sand, may be pulled into the well from the water bearing formation and compromise the well integrity by damaging the pumping system or plugging the casing intake holes, slots or screens.

A back-flow preventer is an often-forgotten means of protection.  These devices are sometimes preinstalled in new distribution systems or added to outlet taps afterward to prevent water from back siphoning thus keeping contaminants out of the water well.

Record keeping is often overlooked. Keeping a file of when water was tested (including the reports from Health Services), any extra testing (perhaps by industry), shock chlorination formula and dates, driller report and any maintenance records is not only historical information for future decisions but also a great file to hand off to a future well owner should a property change hands.

Water wells are a costly investment. Drilling costs vary among licensed drillers and it is important for a landowner to have an informed discussion with a driller so that they know what to expect from the drilling process.

For assistance with managing your water well and septic systems or to take advantage of our water well chlorination system, call Agricultural and Community Services at 403-845-4444.

Clearwater County residents should not be alarmed if they see seasonal staff in hazmat suits drifting through fields and along roadsides in their area. 

Agriculture and Community Services has just begun a series of annual surveys involving agricultural pests, including clubroot of canola, Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) and grasshoppers. Of greatest concern is the increasing incidence of clubroot in Clearwater County. 

Creeping in from our eastern boundary, Ag Services staff began formally surveying fields for the disease in 2012, identifying its presence for the first time in two fields in 2014.

By 2015, survey results indicated nine fields that tested positive for clubroot and in the two subsequent years additional infected fields were discovered.

Clubroot was virtually unknown as a canola problem on the prairies until 2003. At that time 12 fields near Edmonton tested positive. Since surveys first began, there have been a total of 2,154 cases in Alberta, with 287new cases identified in 2015 alone.

Clubroot is a soil borne disease and the pathogens that cause it can live in the soil for up to twenty years. Initial infection starts through root hairs or wounds on the root surface, developing into galls that tie up nutrients and cause plants to prematurely ripen and die.

Unfortunately, new strains of the clubroot pathogen Plasmodiophora brassicae, have evolved that can infect all commercially available clubroot resistant canola varieties. Proper agronomic practices are critical to preserve their effectiveness.

Clearwater County recommends that canola be grown only once in every four years in the same field in order to reduce further spread of the clubroot pathogen. Increased crop rotations of canola to less than every four years could result in restrictions imposed on the grower under the legislative authority of the provincial Pest Act.  

When it comes to cereal crops, Fusarium is one of the most insidious diseases in Canada. It hits the grain industry two-fold, creating yield and quality losses, as well as contaminating grain with mycotoxins such as deoxynivalenol, that make it unfit for human or animal consumption.

Also known as scab or tombstone, aside from wheat and barley it can affect oats, other small cereal grains and corn. FHB can be recognized by premature bleaching of infected spikelets. It may also appear during wet weather as a whitish, occasionally pinkish, fluffy fungal growth on the heads of plants.

The disease has been spreading widely, in part due to the extensive planting of highly susceptible varieties, especially durum wheat. Zero tillage has also contributed to the spread as infected residue from previous crops is a primary source of head blight infection.

Once it is established, FHB easily overwinters on infected crop residues and on diseased seed, providing infectious spores for the following year.

 In 1999, Alberta declared Fusarium graminearum to be a pest under the Pest Control Act. This put into place a series of regulations intended to reduce the spread of the disease into central Alberta. 

The Alberta Fusarium Graminearum Management Plan came into effect in October of 2002 and specified the provincial strategy for dealing with the threat of the disease. Part of that plan involves regular surveys.

While exceedingly dry conditions had given a head start to grasshoppers last year, particularly in southern and eastern areas of the province, a wet spring and summer locally has stalled grasshopper progress. The potential is still there however, for severe outbreaks to occur in some areas.

Although the risk is considered light in Clearwater County, localized factors such as light soils or south facing slopes could result in elevated infestations, particularly in the NE portion of the county where the problem tends to persist.

Grasshoppers eat 30 to 100 mg (dry weight) of plant material per day. Although forage losses are seldom estimated, it has been shown that up to 60 percent of available forage can be consumed by a moderate infestation of 10 grasshoppers per square metre.

For more detailed information regarding best management practices to deal with clubroot of canola, FHB or grasshoppers, feel free to give us a call at Agriculture and Community Services at 403-845-4444.

West Country Ag Tour - 32 Years Young

After 23 days and 3400 kilometers, the tour de France concluded with Egan Bernal becoming the first Columbian to win cycling crown jewel.  Then there was the 8,600 mile trip from London to Cape Town in 2012 that took 29 days.  Then there was Porsche GT’s win at this year’s 24 hours of Le Mans by Estre, Christensen and Lietz.

Most of us like our tours slow and steady.  So it is with the 32nd annual West Country Ag Tour brought to you by Clearwater County.  It’s a single day of learning at a single location, talking with old and new friends and enjoying a fine breakfast and lunch.

Here’s a teaser of what to expect.

We’ve got you covered.  There is plenty of talk about improving soil and cover crops are one way to help with that.   We have a few acres of cover crop featuring a cocktail of plants that benefit soil and can even extend grazing.

Devon Knopp from Benalto Ag and Greg Paranich from Grey Wooded Forage Association will be talking about five different cocktail mixes seeded into barley-seeded plots at rates from 0 to 100 percent

Dig that Raptor music.  A hawk or owl never sounded like Drake or Jay Z – the Peterson Brothers farm does a good parody of a rap song in “Ode to Grazing”.  Check out https://www.drovers.com/article/old-town-road-parodied-peterson-farm-bros-ode-grazing .

Hawks, owls and other birds of prey are great allies in rodent control, targeting mice, ground squirrels and other critters.  A great horned owl even has skunk in its diet.  Learn more about these precision aerial hunters and see some home-made nest and perch stands.

More buzz about bees.   Bees are only one type of pollinator but an important keystone species.  Learn about habitat and see home-made solitary bee houses while listening to representatives from the Agroforestry and Woodlot Extension Society (AWES) talk about these beneficial insects.  

FYI, two of our draw prizes for the day are barnwood pollinator houses.

Bats beyond the belfry.  These aerial hunters are vastly misunderstood and another keystone creature in the natural environment.  Learn about creating the habitat and housing needed to encourage these flyers who can eat half their body weight in mosquitos per night.

He who plants the most trees wins.  Most locals are familiar with the benefits of shelterbelts but establishing trees and shrubs can be a challenge.  Learn about unique weed control options using hemp fiber mats in a talk by BioComposites Group.  Learn about Clearwater County’s conifer seedling program, with trees provided through community-minded West Fraser.

Learn more about natural wooded areas through our friends from AWES.  Nothing wizardry about this talk, just solid information on tree health, values and economics.

FYI, we have draw prizes for hemp fiber mats and two gift certificates from nursery tree and shrub supplier TreeTime, through whom we purchased the deciduous seedlings.  

The evolution of farm equipment.  There are some exciting new technology opportunities in the direct seeding into sod for pasture rejuvenation with promising germination results so a demo will be given by Alex Fuengeling from Big Meadow Ranch.  Bale wrapping is a relevant discussion in a wet year like 2019 so a bale wrapper demo by Henry Askes and talk will take place.  Also included will be a viewing of a high-speed disc and pasture harrows.  There will be lots of time to “kick the tires” so to speak.

We’ll tour the property by wagon courtesy the West Country Harness Club and there will be plenty of seating and shelter regardless of the elements.  Dress according to the forecast.

The tour starts at the Clearwater County north quarter on the airport road, just minutes from the town of Rocky – map available upon request – with breakfast at 7:30 am, barbeque lunch and wrap up by 4 pm.  Once on the airport road, proceed north for one mile and follow the signs to the parking and breakfast kick off.  

There will be displays with additional information in the breakfast-lunch venue.    

Eight rural stops and a country picnic offer unique insight into rural life

Clearwater County’s agricultural community will be front and center during the upcoming Alberta Open Farm Days event August 17 and 18. A province wide agricultural open house, the two-day affair gives Albertans a rare glimpse at farm life and a hands-on understanding of where their food comes from.

And if last years attendance is any indication of interest this year, then more than 60,000 visitors will tour over 100 farms throughout the province. Projected revenues in excess of $145,000 of on-farm sales will provide support to Agri-tourism and Alberta producers.

Albertans are showing a growing appetite for the farm experience. While 2019 is the seventh annual Open Farm Days event, the first year brought just 3,000 visitors to a few dozen farms. What most farmers take for granted, more than 2/3 of Albertans have no idea about.

Open Farm Days goes a long way toward bridging the knowledge gap between urban and rural lifestyles. Unfortunately, misleading information on the internet and social media often fosters a mistrust in how food is produced and the farmers that grow it.

As a group, millennials (1981 to 1986) have outnumbered baby boomers in their purchasing power and market domination since 2015. With fewer reservations about their own privacy, they expect a high level of transparency from food producers. They want to know where their food comes from and they want to know how it is produced. 

By meeting Alberta farmers face to face and having the opportunity to tour their operations, urban folks of all ages can gauge for themselves the character of local farmers and share in their passion for producing healthy food while being good stewards of the land.

With stops ranging from U-pick berry farms to Aquaponics, cattle ranching operations and everything in between, there is plenty of variety for interested travelers to experience. The event is a showcase highlighting the diversity, sustainability and tremendous opportunity for growth that exists in the rural lifestyle.

Alberta Open Farm Days is about farmers and ranchers inviting their urban and rural neighbours to stop in for a visit to share stories, see demonstrations and learn more about the farmers who grow their food.

A newly developing aspect of the tour, especially with the partnership of the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance helping chefs’ source local ingredients, are the 25 culinary events.

Locally, Clearwater County is represented by Will O’ The Wisp Paddocks near Alhambra with an old-style picnic on the farm basket lunch. It will be offered from 12 noon until 5 pm on Saturday August 17. Picnic baskets must be pre-ordered by August 14.

Will O’ The Wisp Paddocks, an Off-Grid Homestead, will also be open for hourly farm tours on Saturday, featuring solar and wind power systems, an earthen greenhouse, as well as animals including honey, meat and family dairy goats.

Additional stops in Clearwater County include Bingley Farm Pottery, a cow/calf farm switched to a pottery studio and gallery that will be open Saturday. Carlos Little Bead Store is a craft store on a hobby farm that will be open Saturday and Sunday.

For ranching enthusiasts travelling on Saturday, Cattlegrass Ranch is a progressive cow/calf operation utilizing rotational grazing with electric fencing, a solar water system and alfalfa trial plots grown to test the viability of new forages in the area.

Hoven Farms will be open both Saturday and Sunday from 11-5 pm and 1-5 pm respectively. A mixed organic farm, visitors can tour beef cattle, laying hens, beaver dams and handle pet cats, kittens, chicks, rabbits and lambs. Grass-fed barbequed beef burgers will be available along with u-pick raspberries, frozen beef and pastured eggs for purchase. Kittens to take home are free!

High Country Berries will be open both Saturday and Sunday from 11-5 pm, sporting a wide variety of mouth-watering berries to pick and numerous orchard products available for purchase.

Ravenscrag Alpacas and Zelda’s Studio are open both Saturday and Sunday from 10-6 pm, providing fun activities for all ages, including hand carding and needle felting as well as hand feeding lamas.

The Condor area Veggie Fella is open both Saturday and Sunday from 10-6 pm, providing a u-pick opportunity or simply purchase from a variety of tasty veggies.

For those interested in taking a tour of farm stops anywhere in Alberta, they can visit the Alberta Open Farm Days website to view the various stops and set up a tour of the locations they prefer.

Never Make Light of Blight and be sure to Bust the Rust

Of the recent tree and shrub questions coming our way there is a theme – blights and rusts.  Whole books are written of these subjects but here is a Cole’s Notes approach to help with your tree and shrub concerns.  

Fire blight which affects a variety of plants.  This bacterial disease thrives in warm, humid conditions, usually igniting as temperatures go above 18 C with a cool, wet spring.  Sound familiar?

Vegetation affected includes mountain ash, apple/ crabapple, cherry, saskatoon, raspberry, cotoneaster and types of rose.

The disease spreads via insects, contaminated equipment – especially pruning tools, and wind or rain splash.  Trees wounded by hail, animal browse or human activity cause plants to be vulnerable.  

Fire blight can also thrive in high nitrogen conditions.  Use caution with N in fertilizers and manure applications.  

Look for foliage with a fire-scorched appearance which eventually turn brown and remaining attached to the branches.  Watch for blossoms suddenly turning brown, and new growth tips wilted and tilted down.  

Unchecked, the disease moves from extremities to larger branches.   Secondary infections include cankers which ooze an opaque amber liquid.  These sores contain copious amounts of infectious bacteria.

The disease can grow into the root area which is assuredly fatal.  

Bacterial blight is a disease similar in appearance and affect as fire blight.  With it, the list of trees grows to include lilac and other flowering trees.  Treatment is same as for fire blight.

Another somber situation is the proliferation of rust diseases.  

Bactericides may help.  Observe pre-harvest intervals.  Options for homeowners limited.  Commercial growers have access to synthetic or biological bactericides.

Rust diseases are deadly.   Left unchecked, and especially with humid conditions and higher temperatures or with frequent wet weather, rusts will thin what grows in nature and in a human-made green space.

Rusts almost always require an alternate host.  For instance, junipers and saskatoon share the cycle for Saskatoon berry/Juniper rust.  Cedar and apple varieties have a similar relationship.  

Most are naturally occurring and difficult to manage.  Just as disease can cull a species in the wild so a rust disease can thin a population of conifer or deciduous species.  Here’s a summary of some rust diseases.

Poplar rust can be found in native poplar and more common in some hybrid varieties.  A connection exists between poplar and conifers in this case.  Spores overwinter in leaf litter and refresh on underside of needles in spring.  The spores then transmit to poplars and the cycle continues.

In the case of western conifer rust gall rust, look for branch swelling on lodgepole or jack pine and orange-yellow spores on these globe-shaped galls. Western gall rust creates weak spots for breakage in older trees and can kill small trees.

Blister rust is a two-cycle condition with a primary host – lodgepole or jack pine – and a secondary host – Indian paintbrush or toadflax causing cankers to form.  Cankers are characterized by circular or diamond shaped lesions that eventually rupture releasing spores.  If a tree is girdled it will die.

Needle rusts affect white, black and Engelmann spruce with the secondary host being Labrador tea.   Look for yellow-orange spores and teacup or tongue-like swellings on needles.  Needles are defunct by fall of the infection year.  

Saskatoon/ juniper rust provide the description of the primary and alternate hosts.  Early signs include yellowish spots/ swellings on leaves/fruit.  Swellings grow and harden.  Current and older growth may swell and gnarl.  Rust colored powder.  Two host life cycle.  Needs a nearby juniper species to kick start.  Keepers junipers healthy and happy.

Apple/ cedar rust is like the appearance of saskatoon/ juniper rust.

It can be overwhelming to control these maladies.  Here are some common practices to consider. 

When planting consider natural ventilation in your berry or ornamental patch by orienting according to prevailing wind direction.  Frost drainage principles have ventilation advantages.  Avoid high density planting that restricts air flow.

Use pruning to remove infected tissue.  Use sharp tools that make clean cuts.  Make sure tools are disinfected, using a 25 percent bleach to water solution.   Do not chip diseased material as mulch for landscaping or composting.  Burn to destroy the spores and cancel the cycle.  

Evaluate the benefits of fungicides in a home garden situation versus other means of control.  In commercial situations crop loss is catastrophic making fungicides a more common tool.  Observe to pre-harvest intervals between applying a fungicide and harvesting fruit.

Manage secondary hosts by keeping all plants healthy as possible.  Where possible and practical, remove high-risk plants that feed a disease cycle.

Increase primary plant vigor, remembering that a strong plant is a more resistant plant.  In some cases, there are more resistant varieties available.  Use fertilizer judiciously.  Water early in the day and avoid spraying foliage.

Contact a tree/shrub care professional for specific chemical advice and availability of control products. 

Remember, if you are building a table you need more than a hammer to do the job.   You need a toolbox with different tools.   The same goes for managing blights and rusts.  Use a multi-faceted approach toward a successful harvest.

Mid-Summer Control Methods Very Effective

Drought conditions last year have allowed Canada thistle to thrive more so than usual. Because it can send taproots down as deep as three meters in search of water, thistle has been able to outcompete desirable species that were set back last year.

The good news is that now is a great time to take on the prickly invader with a reasonable expectation of success. From the pre-flowering bud stage to post-flowering in the fall, there are a few control methods that have proven successful.  

Ironically, this member of the sunflower family is not even native to Canada. Its name came from American farmers who blamed Canadian traders for bringing it to the New England colonies. Most likely it emigrated from the Mediterranean to both countries at about the same time.

Reaching as high as 1.5 meters and sprouting purple and occasionally pink or white flowers, the tufted airborne seeds usually germinate within a year but can survive buried in soil for up to 20 years. More prolific than seed germination, large colonies form from root buds that are clones of the mother plant.

In just one year, a single plant can extend out over an area exceeding 6 meters in diameter. A new plant of just over a month in age at the three-leaf stage, will likely already have developed an extensive root system with numerous buds.

A prolific and persistent perennial, the shoots from horizontal roots first appear around mid-April and continue to grow through the summer. Seeds germinate from late May through to fall and although both male and female plants flower, only the female plants produce seed.

New seedlings can still develop from root buds even if the original shoot was killed. Root fragments have enough reserves to survive for 100 days under adverse conditions.

Now is the time to gain the upper hand, when flowering begins (bud stage) and food reserves in the roots are at their low point. Control efforts later in the season can also be effective but root starvation is the key to controlling Canada thistle, while seed production is secondary.

Rotational grazing through the improved health of forage stands helps to reduce growth of Canada thistle through competition. High intensity, low frequency grazing has proven to be the most effective method whereby healthy competition from desirable forages outcompetes thistle. Well timed fertilization will give preferred forages and even greater boost.

There are several broadleaf herbicides registered for Canada thistle that can be drawn down into the root for effective control at the early bud, pre-flower stage.  Control in the fall is also effective because the plants are beginning to shut down for winter and are actively transporting sugars from the leaves to the roots. Add in tillage and the root will be drained of even more reserves.

Often called the rosette method, when the number of daylight hours drops below 15, new shoot growth forms rosettes which continue to produce carbohydrates for storage in the roots in preparation for winter. At this time, tillage and herbicide can be combined as a control method.

After tilling to about 5 centimeters, the plant is left to regrow for four to six weeks to allow for maximum rosette emergence. When rosettes reach 5 to 8 centimeters across, then the plants should be sprayed with a systemic herbicide. Timing can be a challenge due to temperature fluctuations and frost.

After a hard frost of -4C or colder it is best to wait 48 to 72 hours before assessing damage. If there are signs of active growth and 50 to 60 percent of plants are still green, then conditions are favorable, and spraying can be done once daytime temperatures reach 10C for at least two hours.

If there is a light frost of 0 to 3C, then it is safe to spray after about 24 hours, when daytime temperature reaches at least 10C for a minimum of two hours, with no frost in the next couple of days.

Dealing with Canada thistle is an ongoing battle, so planning to incorporate control methods for next year should include selective tilling and choosing appropriate rotations like fall rye and winter wheat that offer competition and weaken late fall thistle infestations.

Early spring seeding allows cereals to better compete with thistle infestations and seeding perennial crops at a heavier weight will encourage strong emergence and competition. Cutting perennial forages twice a year whenever possible will eventually cause thistles to die out.

For more information about controlling Canada thistle, call Agricultural and Community Services at 403-845-4444.

Yes, they are irritating. You find a perforated pattern on a prized tree or wood siding and your blood pressure spikes.  The sapsuckers are at it again.

They can be heard from in early spring to late summer; a lazy rat-a-tat-tat along with an occasional mewing sound, like what a cat might make. For the most part, they are a relatively attractive and harmless bird, with a red hood, distinctive black and white markings and of course a yellow belly.

 When it comes to eves troughs though, or wood siding, the noise and damage they make can be very irritating, not to mention costly. Worse yet, if there are enough pairs, the injury they do to trees may result in multiple mortalities, usually as a result of girdling.

A few years ago, a landowner wondered what caused the death of a laurel leaf willows in a shelterbelt.  At first glance it almost looked like herbicide damage, but closer inspection proved the culprit was young sapsuckers doing what they do best.

Native tree and brush species are often the best choice for shelterbelts because of their inherent resistance to sapsuckers.  They usually manage to rebound while non-native species do not always recover.

Contrary to popular belief, the yellow-bellied sapsucker attacks only living trees, pecking horizontal rows of small, regularly spaced, round to squarish, quarter inch size holes through the bark.  Unlike other woodpeckers, who focus on diseased or dying trees while looking for grubs or worms to eat, sapsuckers seek the carbohydrate-rich sap – which is 20-30 percent sugar – of live trees.

Their name is somewhat misleading though. They don’t actually “suck” the sap from the holes, but lap it up, with a rough tongue that can extend outward the length of their beak. Perhaps a more apt name would be the yellow-bellied sap-lapper.  Even hummingbirds are lappers, not suckers.

Control options are limited as the sapsucker is protected under the Migratory Birds Act, which contains regulations to protect migratory birds, their eggs, and their nests from huntingtrafficking and commercialization.

Damage to trees and buildings can be prevented to some extent, by placing noisemakers and devices to frighten the birds in trees and areas where they are active. Individual trees may also be wrapped with burlap or some other protective material during the spring and summer seasons.

Tree damage can be dealt with by clearing the holes of hardened sap and debris, then spraying the area with pruning paint to reduce sap flow and prevent the entry of insects and disease.

As a keystone species, sapsuckers play a critical role in the natural environment. When it comes to nesting behavior, sapsuckers prefer excavating cavities in fungus infected aspens, which are subsequently used for the same purpose by two species of swallows.

The holes drilled in living trees are often referred to as nature’s soda fountains, exuding sweet sap to provide nutrition to more than three dozen different species of birds. 

One of spring’s early arrivals is the ruby-throated hummingbird. It is known to follow the sapsucker around, scaring off other birds while supplementing its diet of nectar from early blooming flowers, with tree sap and the insects that stick to it.

The sap also nourishes a variety of insects and animals including squirrels, bats, porcupines and about 20 different insect families including bees, wasps, and moths.  It’s proven that the diversity and size of forest populations is greater in areas where there is sapsucker activity.

As the season progresses and the sap wanes in one tree variety, the industrious sapsucker will move to the next tree species offering the best sap flow.  As berries and nuts ripen, they will supplement their diet with what is available, including insects and a substantial quantity of ants.

While there is little consolation trying to sleep with an annoying rat-a-tat-tat in the background or dealing with damage to an ornamental or fruit tree there is a place for the not always popular sapsucker in the bigger world of pollinator and other species.

Failure to follow label instructions puts everyone at risk

It can be tempting to use that jug of herbicide sitting on the back shelf gathering dust for years. Surely it will work just as well as anything else on those persistent weeds. But can there be that much difference between most products?

In fact, there is a world of difference in the chemistry used in pesticide formulations and concentrations with serious ramifications as a result of misuse. Moreover, failure to follow label instructions is against the law. The label on the container and the accompanying booklet are Federal legal documents.

Off-label pesticide use refers to a situation where a chemical is applied in a manner that is not specified on the chemical’s product label, such as when it is used for a different pest, at a different rate, or in a manner that is not listed. 

Saving money through off-label pesticide use could cost even bigger dollars in the long term. It is not just about the legislated requirements or the money involved. Misuse of pesticides can have extensive environmental consequences that may lead to the death of fish, bird and honeybee populations as well as contaminated wells and groundwater.

A well-intentioned farm friend may offer herbicide designed for crop use as an alternative to locally available products designed for yard and garden applications. Applying agricultural or industrial pesticides in an urban setting can have drastic consequences as run-off flows through storm systems directly into local rivers. 

For agricultural producers, inappropriate off-label use can mean the loss of an expensive crop or reduced yields in the season of application and possibly future years. In some cases, the harvested crop may even be embargoed.

Off-label pesticide use is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved with potential risks to public health and the environment that can exceed monetary value. Pesticide label directions are based on considerable scientific testing and rigorous evaluation by the Pesticide Regulatory Management Agency (PMRA).

PMRA testing is done to ensure that products can be used without harm to workers, consumers and the environment. If used improperly they can jeopardize the agricultural producer’s ability to guarantee safe food for domestic and foreign purchasers.

An added risk is that misuse on the part of farmers may increase public concern about chemical use, creating a distrust that undermines the credibility of all pesticide and food safety regulatory programs in Canada.

Before using any chemical, users should always read and familiarize themselves with the entire label and obtain a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Both provide useful information about the chemical product, its contents, health hazards, safe use and handling instructions, personal protective equipment and first aid. MSDS information is provided free of charge from chemical retailers or manufacturers web sites.

Without adequate knowledge of the chemical qualities of the product it is effectively impossible to determine whether there is a lasting residual effect following use, the ability of the chemical to move through soil (leaching) or how long it will take for the pesticide to break down in the soil.

Millions of pesticide applications are made each year to literally millions of acres without negative side effects by farmers, commercial applicators and consumers, while the number of off-label applications are minuscule in comparison. 

Successful self-policing has been the rule of thumb for decades, but should off-label use create increased negative ramifications, then public pressure could bring about more stringent regulations and curtail everyone’s’ ability to control invasive pests. Our food supply, human health and the well-being of our environment could suffer as a result.     

Taking blue-green algae and other water quality problems seriously

As temperatures increase in spring and summer months, it is worth noting what is happening in dugouts, sloughs and ponds.  Algae plays an important role in the aquatic environment by acting as a food source for organisms living in the dugout or pond, but it can get out of control quickly.   With the right combination of nutrients, warm weather and sunlight, accelerated algae growth can occur.   

Of particular concern is the appearance of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. Bacteria of course is a straightforward reference to a growing organism.  In this case, one with nasty characteristics to be cautious of. 

That blue-green tinge is important to recognize as it looks like pea soup and the texture is like lawn grass clippings.

Cyanobacteria, when ingested, causes damage to internal organs and can lead to death.  Pets and livestock have succumbed from drinking affected water.   You should remove your livestock from the water source if you suspect you have any blue-green algae growth. Human health is also a concern including dermatitis (skin rash).    

Not every greenish growth on a body of water is necessarily blue-green algae.  A properly drawn water sample submitted to a lab is the best way to determine if blue-green algae is present.  

Duckweed, sometimes mistaken for algae, is a beneficial plant and nutritious for waterfowl.  Duckweed acts like a pond cover, inhibiting sunlight from growing nasty or nuisance plants.  The shade it provides lowers water temperature.  Its leaves have a cress-like appearance.

If you have nuisance or dangerous algae or other pond weed problems, the first step is to determine what is causing the problem.  Some sources, like treed areas (decaying leaves), brush piles (decaying wood) and peat soils are naturally occurring and difficult to manage.  Other sources, like nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers and livestock manure, can be controlled.  

Bacteria accelerates when livestock have direct access to the water source, or if runoff adds fecal matter to a dugout.  Protect surface water fed dugouts with vegetated inflow areas and introducing cattails as water filters.  Use a berm to protect groundwater fed dugouts.  Whatever the water source, fencing livestock out and pumping water to a trough.

When you have a water quality problem, the second step is choosing a treatment.  There are pros and cons with a variety of options.

Copper sulphate, or bluestone, is a common chemical method used in dugouts and ponds to eliminate algae.   Before including it as part of a control system be sure to review both its positive and negative effects.  

Bluestone is effective against algae but kills beneficial zooplankton and other creatures within the ecological cycle of the water body, disrupting natural algae control.  High concentrations extremely harmful toxins can be released as alga dies.  In this case, consumption by humans or animals should be avoided.

Overuse of bluestone has resulted in a copper resistant alga.  The resistant strain has little competition in the way of food or predators which can lead right back to large algae blooms.

Barley straw only suppresses algae and dosing is an issue.  Too much straw and the decomposition deplete more oxygen killing aquatic life.  Too little and the suppression is minimal.  The process is tedious for an attempt at suppression only. 

Penn State University recommends 10-25 grams of straw per square meter of pond area but knowing the exact size of the pond is a challenge.  Straw is typically in a mesh bag, anchored mid-pond to the bottom with the bag just below the surface to allow adequate sunlight and oxygen.  

Depending on water temperature, it can take two to five weeks for chemicals in straw to activate.  Early application with cooler temperatures is recommended but a short growing season makes it a challenge to get ahead of algae growth.   

There are various branded chemical treatments available.  Some require repeated applications, some need the water to be agitated and, depending the size of the water source, may require a boat ride to the inner area of the pond.  Knowing the volume of water being treated, to apply the proper dose, is always a challenge.

The third step, and the best treatment option for long-term improved water quality, is aeration. By circulating water healthy dissolved oxygen levels are sustained and temperatures are kept cool. 

Zooplankton thrive in a cool oxygenated environment and can feed on the existing algae within the water.   These miniscule animals become food for insects, which then become food for fish and other creatures, thus maintaining the ecosystem’s cycle.

Nutrients from sediment that has settled at the bottom of the dugout or pond are more likely to stay put when aeration is in place.  The system prevents the release of excess phosphorus and iron from the sediment minimizing the available food source for algae and limiting algae blooms.

When planning for or rehabilitating an existing dugout, the Alberta Ag publication “Quality Farm Dugouts” is one of the best resources available.  A hard copy can be picked up from our office or downloaded online from: https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/9781460123508.  

For health related questions contact Alberta Health Services or see: https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Alberta/Pages/blue-green-algae.aspx 

Managing sources of contamination and aerating your dugout or pond remain the best one-two punch.  An investment in aeration equipment and proven management practices will pay water quality dividends.

There are advantages to sourcing forage for winter feed during the summer rather than later in the season. Key among those advantages is the ability to identify invasive weeds in a standing crop that if purchased, could require serious control issues later.

After all, why would anyone want to pay good money for weeds? Once they have become established in a new location, they can be very difficult to eradicate, entailing plenty of frustration, money and time.

If contaminated forage is fed, most weed seeds will survive the digestive tract and be deposited elsewhere. In the case of leased pasture, or travelling horses, that may mean the introduction of invasive species to neighboring pastures or sensitive recreational areas, even if the contaminated forage is not fed there.

Increasingly, both National and Provincial Parks are requiring visitors to feed only processed hay cubes or certified weed free forage to their equines. A growing problem of invasive weed species overtaking native range is reducing the food supply for native ungulates in these areas.

The Alberta Certified Weed Free Hay Program, based on the standards of the North American Weed Free Forage Certification Program, certifies producers who meet the inspection criteria. Increasingly popular, the certified hay usually sells for a premium.

Noxious weeds threaten beneficial land uses, cost millions of dollars to control nationwide and jeopardize environmental diversity. In Clearwater County, Tall Buttercup alone costs over $750,000 annually in lost production and has grown to cover a total area of more than 25,000 acres.   

It is much easier to spot weeds in hay fields before harvest than it is to identify them after the forage has been baled. Buying locally whenever possible, provides the advantage of being able to personally inspect fields prior to purchasing forage, with the knowledge of local weed issues.

Often a simple drive-by from the road will indicate what invasive species may be present. If a more detailed look is required, then a discussion with the forage producer is a good idea. Responsible producers will be equally concerned with weed spread and may choose to control the weeds before harvest.

Invasive weed species frequently grow in patches that can be cut and baled separately. In such cases the infested forage may be retained by the landowner and fed in a contained environment where control of the potential spread is more easily achieved.

Sometimes it may not be possible to visit the area of production, particularly in years when shortages due to drought or other circumstances require that baled forage be trucked long distance.

It is prudent to ask questions as to the presence of weeds and the location of where the forage was baled. The primary queries about composition, quality and moisture content are integral, but the potential presence of noxious weeds is equally important.

In addition to speaking to the producer, a call to the agricultural department of the local municipality will usually provide a wealth of information about local conditions, average price of hay, predominant weeds and even the specific weed status of the location in question.

The spread of invasive weeds occurs as a result of many factors aside from infested hay. Seeds hitch a ride on livestock/wildlife and are transported as a result of farming, recreational, industrial and environmental activities.

Machinery hygiene is often overlooked as equipment is moved from one area to another, unknowingly spreading weed seeds to new locations. Recreational ATV use is also a vector for the transfer of invasive weed species, particularly in the West Country.

For landowners who may be thinking about having their crop harvested on a custom basis, it is reasonable to request all equipment be thoroughly cleaned before entering their land, or when moving from one field to another, if there is any potential for contamination between parcels.

Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services department administers the weed free hay program locally and can certify producers who meet the requirements.

For further information regarding the program, or assistance with herbicide application or weed identification, call 403-845-4444.

What do bats, frogs, dragonflies, and fish have in common with mosquitos?

More than one outdoor adventure has been marred by pesky mosquitoes this spring.  Perhaps those numbers should be tamed knowing the last couple of years have been far less problematic.

Mosquitos love two things – hot weather and rain.  That combo can cause an egg to adult assault in less than one week.  And it’s the breeding mosquitos that are the biters.   Elementary math tells us that more mosquitos laying eggs plus more hot, wet weather equals clouds of biters.

Fact.  Take an empty small soup can, which holds about one cup of liquid, and imagine it full of water where just one mosquito lays its eggs.   In one season that can will incubate 1,000 eggs.  

While we cannot eliminate all standing water, we can empty containers, keep eavestrough’s working, change bird bath water, and refresh the kiddy pool.

Which brings us to bats, where the most common to Alberta are the big brown, little brown, hoary, red, silver haired, and a few types of long bats.  Collectively these species take the night shift and feed on pests such as beetles, flies, gnats, grasshoppers, mayflies, midges, mosquitoes, moths and termites.  

The average bat can eat up to half of its body weight in insects per night while mother bats are able to consume as much as their full body weight.  If large colonies of bats exist (one million bats can consume approximately 10 tons of insects), consumption of insects could lead to breaks in the population cycle of pests.

Bats can provide a long-term return on investment when incorporated into a pest management system. The little brown bat for example has a lifespan of approximately 30 years! 

Responsible land management should incorporate the maintenance of a recurring bat population while recognizing that reproduction rates are low which makes it difficult for bats to recoup from quick population declines.  Most bats only have 1 pup per year.

White-nose syndrome (WNS), caused by a deadly fungus that infects bats in hibernation.  The fungus can be transmitted from bat to bat and can be found on muzzles, wings, ears and tails, resulting in near 100% death rates.  

WNS affects the sleep pattern of bats which results in energy loss, dehydration, starvation and death.   As bats are true hibernators, they rely on fat reserves to make it through the winter.  Each disturbance can result in one bat using as much as a 65-day supply of hibernation reserve which is perilous when infected with WNS. 

Another avenue of transmission between colonies happens when explorers transport the fungus on caving equipment.  For that reason, the Wapiabi and Cadomin caves have been closed since 2010.  It’s estimated the death toll from WNS is over 5.5 million.  

Want to learn more about bats, their habitat and build a bat house?  Join us for a workshop on June 19. Details in the coming events below.

Which brings us to fish and a host of other potential mosquito harvesters.  In the case of fish, one must be sure it’s the right kind since not every finned swimmer is welcome in Alberta lakes and streams.

There are a handful of fish that threaten our waterways. Carp species along with escaped or released goldfish can survive in our cold-water environment but can displace trout and other desirable fish.  

Two pages in our Sasquatch Welcome to our Backyard children’s activity book are dedicated to this aquatic threat.

Other wetland creatures like birds, frogs, spiders and dragonflies have mosquitoes or mosquito larva in their diets.  Barn swallows capture up to 60 per hour or 850 per day.  A dragonfly can consume hundreds per day.

But what happens when wetlands, streams and lakes are compromised?  Other threats to our water loving areas include tiny zebra or quagga mussels, plants like Eurasian water milfoil, purple loosestrife, flowering rush and phragmites.  In the case of invasive mussels, there is the added damage to human water infrastructure.

Want to learn more about these aquatic threats and how to turn the tide?  Join us for a workshop on June 18.  Details in the coming events below.

An afternoon is in the works for grade five students.  Teachers please ask your administration about this unique chance to learn about water invaders including how a four-legged member of the K-9 unit sniffs out mussels. 

The Alberta Invasive Species Council has further information at https://abinvasives.ca/

Alberta has an aquatic invasive species prevention program to protect Alberta’s waterways, to learn more visit https://www.albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/science-research/aquatic-invasive-species/.

In 1954 the Toho Company, the Japanese film and theatre giant, released the first Godzilla movie. Thirty-five installments later, all but three films came from Toho with riveting titles mostly containing references to Godzilla versus some other beastly character.  

Good thing Godzilla doesn’t eat trees. That said, there is a forest monster of sorts coming to a poplar grove near you.

The past two growing seasons, calls came to us about defoliated poplar and other leafed trees. Quizzing the inquirers, we learned of white webbing on trees, rolled up leaves, hosts of caterpillars and even black seed-like pellets on patios and decks.

Two pests were the culprit, one being the large aspen tortrix and the other the forest tent caterpillar. These phyllophagous – meaning leaf feeders – are experts at trashing the appearance of trees.

Large aspen tortrix is not a reference to the size of the tree but the caterpillar that prefers its greenery. With an explosion of green in the deciduous forest, we expect to see outbreaks of this voracious pest.  

Specifically, the large aspen tortrix (Choristoneura conflictana) is a leafroller, hiding and feeding inside of a leaf that it has rolled up. This insect prefers feeding on trembling aspen, balsam poplar, birch and willow, although other deciduous trees like lilac may come under attack.  

The presence of the large aspen tortrix can also be distinguished by deformed leaves attached by silk threads, possibly containing caterpillars or their frass (excrement), delayed spring budding and thin or defoliated tree crowns. 

There are many parasitoids – like some wasps – that may help keep the large aspen tortrix in check. One of reason chemical control is not recommended in large areas is the damage done to these beneficial insects.  

Another chemical challenge is the rapidly escalating costs when large areas are affected. Another is the way insecticide works. The chemical must make direct contact with the pest – very hard to do large scale.

Forest tent caterpillars are typically seen alongside large aspen tortrix outbreaks and can cover hundreds of square kilometers of aspen forest. 

The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) moves about foliage and feeds freely on trembling aspen, poplar species, birch, elm, green ash, fruit trees, garden plants and deciduous shrubs. 

Parasitoids play an important role in the natural control of forest tent caterpillar populations. The large flesh fly (Sarcophaga aldrichi), for example, can destroy up to 80% of the pupal population. 

Severe, repeated defoliation can affect tree growth and vigor, creating a predisposition to secondary pests or disorders. 

In extreme cases larvae crossing highways can even cause slippery driving conditions as they are overrun by vehicles. 

Damage is typically early enough in the season for trees typically to recover over the remaining months. These defoliators also do make a minor contribution to nutrient recycling from the droppings they leave on the soil below.

Yet another odd and unusual tree issue we might see this season are spruce galls. 

Just like boots in the field are the best defense when scouting for pests, taking a regular walk through yards, gardens and woodlots is the best way to discover a pest problem, hopefully early enough to respond.  If you see a few pests one year plan your strategy not only for the current growing season but for the next season as well.

Clearwater County supports resident efforts to control invasive species

With an earlier spring than last year’s drawn out winter, most of the spring seeding has been completed and some early season moisture has given forages a good start. Unfortunately, just like the favorable varieties, weeds are also beginning to thrive and require some planning to control.

The war on weeds never ends and any effort on the part of Clearwater County residents makes a noticeable difference. As many already know, when left unchallenged, foreign invasive species tend to expand rapidly, taking over large tracts of land and creating huge monocultures.

Every year new species are identified that have been inadvertently, or sometimes intentionally, introduced to North America. Locally there are several invasive species of specific concern that many residents have been controlling for years.

Tall Buttercup, Wild Caraway and Ox Eye Daisy top the list of challenges, with Orange and Meadow Hawkweed not far behind. Under the authority of the Provincial Weed Act invasive weed species are designated as either noxious or prohibited noxious. By law, noxious weeds are required to be controlled by landowners while prohibited noxious weeds must be eliminated altogether.

Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services is committed to assisting residents and landowners in their effort to resolve weed problems by providing a variety of services and programs, many of which are free, or available at a nominal charge.

To make control options easily accessible, Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services retails competitively priced herbicides appropriate for use by both acreage owners and agricultural producers. As well, a a complete line of spray equipment is available at our local shop and various locations throughout the county.

In addition, seasonal employees have been hired to facilitate the weed control process. Ryan Jeffery is back for his second year as Weed Management Coordinator for the north region, while Brooklyn Smith has begun her first summer managing the central region. Also beginning her first year with the county, Edith van Ginkle will be responsible for assisting residents in the south area.

Bailey Eklund is back for her second year with Clearwater County and her first as Eradicable Weed Coordinator. The Community Weed Control Coordinator for the summer of 2019 is Laeken Kinch.

Agriculture and Community Services continues to sponsor the Eradicable Weeds Program. Believing that some invasive species are at low enough numbers that it is possible to eradicate them entirely, county staff will control these weeds at no cost to the landowner. The program has proven very successful with residents having identified many of the invaders themselves.

A large part of weed management involves education in plant identification as well as appropriate control methods. To reach all areas of the county, Weed Workshops will be held on May 29th from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm at the Leslieville Community Hall and on June 5th, from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm at the Hub in Caroline.

Both events will include a free supper and attendance will guarantee a 10 percent discount on all range and pasture herbicides purchased through Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services in the 2019 season.

We are all stewards of the land, playing an important role in the healthy evolution of our environment. Our diligence in dealing with invasive species will assure that environmental diversity of native species continues, providing for wildlife habitat as well as agricultural productivity. The decisions we make today will help determine the future for generations to come.

Agriculture and Community Services provides a tremendous amount of material, equipment and education to Clearwater County residents, to support agricultural producers while aiding in the protection of our shared environment. Feel free to give us a call about your weed concerns at 403-845-4444.

If the Fab Four wrote a song about Mountain Pine Beetle it might go like this… 

“It’s been a hard day’s night ‘cause I been workin’ on a log”

In a February article, we introduced readers to our Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) in-house science experiment.  Bill Nye the Science Guy would be even prouder.

Part one began courtesy of a diligent landowner northeast of Rocky Mountain House.  We obtained a sample of lodgepole pine which had been successfully infiltrated by MPB.  The bolts were harvested just prior to the February cold snap.  

The specimen was infected through a beetle inflight in 2018 and, although still appeared “green” and presumably alive, was truly a goner.  The blue stain had effectively cut off the vertical flow of nutrients and water and the tree was dead.

That was only part of the story.  The rest was under the bark.  After four weeks of warming up indoors sections of bark, near pitch tubes, were peeled back revealing the distinctive, vertical “J-shaped” beetle pattern.  Where the previous year beetle laid eggs were lateral galleries with munching larva.

Fast forward to March, and other pitch tube connected bark removal revealed fully developed larva and, in a couple of cases, actual 2019 beetles.

Part two of the experiment involved another section of log harvested from crown land from the first part of the February freeze. This section of lodgepole pine was warmed in similar fashion but egg to larva results were less than the January harvested logs.

Part three saw a length of log brought in March and treated the same way. The result was like the early cold snap tree with fewer beetles. The concern is the beetles, with built in antifreeze and a cozy thick layer of bark, survived the deep freeze. These sample logs were destroyed to eliminate any chance of beetle life in the summer of 2019. 

Even though MPB is a native pest, each year’s beetle flight is a concern.  Annual beetle flights, which begin in early July, have a lot to do with chemistry.  When beetles attack, they release an aggregate pheromone that says, “here is the party, come join us”.  Once a tree is overwhelmed, the beetles switch to an anti-aggregate that says, “this party is full, go find another party”.  

Which brings us to the all-important matter of tree removal.  The rule for crown land tree destruction is 40 or more MPB pitch tubes. The pitch tube is where the tree reacted to the MPB bore hole literally trying to “pitch” the beetle out. An overwhelmed tree, almost always a tree plus 60 years old, cannot fight off a mass beetle attack.  Hence the over 40 pitch tube thresholds.

Then there is the matter of tree protection. Options are limited. There are pheromone traps that attract beetles to their collective demise. There are also pheromone products – verbenone – to fool beetles to thinking a tree has already been mass attacked.

These protection products are currently sold through private industry and, in the case of anti-aggregate simulators, in larger packaging with several pouches to a package.  We are aware of two companies with the ability to sell to an end user.  Please see the list at the end of this article.

If you suspect signs of MPB on public land, please contact Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.  Owners of private land are responsible for pine trees on their own property, but Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services staff are available to coach landowners on options.

What can you do? 

1.    Be careful with firewood.  If you bring firewood home from an infected tree you risk passing MPB on to trees on your property and in your neighborhood.

2.    Know the signs of MPB and make sure the tree you are dealing with is truly a pine and not another kind of conifer.  

3.    Keep pine trees healthy as any tree stressed by lack of moisture, poor pruning, truck or root injury or topped are at greater risk.  

4.    Diversify your wooded areas with non-pine species. Always be planning for the next generation of trees.

5.    Be realistic about life expectancy. Every tree is ultimately terminal. An end-of-life strategy for trees includes knowing when removal is necessary. Assess your pine trees before they become a problem.  

6.    Take responsibility for trees on your own property.  

We are aware of two sources for verbenone products or traps. WestGreen Global Technologies can be reached www.westgreenglobaltechnologies.com or Solida Distributions Integrated Pest Management can be contacted via www.solida.quebec/index.php/forestry.

You may smell them before you see them

Clearwater County residents may have scented increased skunk activity in the past month or so as adults began leaving their winter dens to breed. By mid-June, young families will begin to appear, leading a row of kits behind them as they search for food.

The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is the only species found in Alberta and is a member of the weasel family, all of which possess scent glands near the anus. Above all, the skunk has the most advanced glands, containing approximately 15cc of a yellowish, oily liquid.

The odor of the compounds in skunk spray can be detected by the human nose up to 1 mile downwind at concentrations of as little as 10 parts per billion. Due to the chemical composition of the spray, there are few if any household preparations that are effective at getting rid of the smell.

Should the little mammal become a nuisance in need of control, keep in mind that their defense mechanism is not just a one-shot deal. Skunks can spray six times in quick succession.   On the positive side, it usually takes about ten days to replenish their supply after complete discharge.

Skunk behavior is slow and deliberate. They often go to great lengths to give plenty of warning when they feel threatened. They prefer to retreat from danger rather than resort to spraying. They will usually stamp their feet rapidly, raise their tail straight up, click their teeth and growl or hiss before discharging.

A nocturnal creature, the striped skunk usually hunts at night and spends the day sleeping in any shelter it finds at dawn. In that respect, skunks are beneficial to farmers and gardeners as efficient mousers, as well as eating harmful insects and rodents, eggs, frogs and young birds.

Skunks can be a problem for apiarists as they are the primary predator of honeybees. With a thick coat as protection from stings, the skunk will scratch at the front of the beehive and eat guard bees that come out to investigate. This hunting behavior is often passed on to young kits by their mother.

Most predators, including wolves, foxes, badgers and bears, rarely attack skunks. The great horned owl, perhaps because it lacks a sense of smell, is the skunk’s only regular predator. In one case the remains of 57 striped skunks were reportedly found in a single owl nest.

Skunks mate in late February or March and give birth in late May or June, to four to seven kits. They do not hibernate but remain inactive in winter dens, only leaving for short periods during warm weather.

Kits are weaned at about two months of age and by the fall start to move to new territory that can be as much as 6 to 10 km away. Their normal home range is 2 to 5 kilometers (1/2 to 2 miles) except during breeding season, when they can travel up to 8 kilometers (5 miles).

As young skunks search for a new place to live, the best way to minimize problems is to remove potential sources of food and shelter. Skunks like living beneath buildings, brush piles, rock piles, stacked lumber and wrecked automobiles.

Skunks can be prevented from living under farm buildings, granaries and other structures by closing off openings with wood or metal screening. Wire mesh of 5 cm or less diameter spacing is recommended and should be buried 15 cm below ground level to prevent skunks from digging under.

It should be kept in mind that even though the striped skunk is the most social and commonly domesticated pest, next to the raccoon it is one of the greatest vectors of rabies. The Agricultural Pests Act has declared the skunk a nuisance and so they are not protected by law in Alberta.

Due to their notoriously bad eyesight, skunks are often hit on roadways, with the smell alerting drivers well before reaching the scene of the accident.

For more information about the striped skunk and appropriate control methods give Agriculture and Community Services a call at 403-845-4444.

Biodiversity is not a bad word

In 1958, cartoonist Johnny Hart introduced readers to the adventures of a suave prehistoric dude named Thor – who rode through the comic strip pages on a single wheel with a log through its center.  

Thor’s wheel may have carried Hart’s imaginary character but wouldn’t perform well in real life.  

Fortunately, the wheel has come a long way over time. A solid wheel apparently came about 3,500 B.C. as a potter’s wheel, about three centuries before someone turned a solid wheel on edge for a cart. Britannica indicates the first spoked wheels appear about 2,000 B.C. on chariots in Asia Minor.  

In the 1800’s, a Brit named James Starley invented a stronger and much lighter wheel using tightened wire spokes. The wires pull the rim inward and when evenly tensioned create strength and stability. That tension also has a flexible side allowing the wheels to flex and to resist shock, bear weight and absorb the force of pedaling.  More spokes mean better performance.

No one really thinks about wheel spokes when a wheel fails and needs repair. When a wheel is damaged, or wear and tear cause it to be out of balance one cannot randomly use a small wrench to adjust the spokes and straighten the wheel.  

Truing as it is called, is an art to be done by a seasoned mechanic. Overtightening a single spoke can pull a wheel out of true. 

Biodiversity is like the spokes of a wheel. When its parts are properly in place it works well.  When one or more parts are out of place then it doesn’t work as it should.

Some insects play beneficial roles such as pollinating a wide variety of flowers, balancing population levels by feeding on other insects as well as being a food source for birds, spiders and others alike. Pest insects tend flourish when beneficial insects are in short supply. 

Some diseases or pests play a role targeting weakened and/or older trees to make room for healthy, young plants over time.  Some of these decadent woody plants become habitat or food for something else. 

Before using chemicals that could kill good insects along with the bad, encourage tree health with proper pruning, adequate water and fertilizer. The healthier the tree or shrub, the better it will be at fighting off damaging insects and disease.

Soil is an example where diversity of biological things is essential. There are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than people on the earth.  Soil scientist Danielle Cranmer refers to soil as a “natural internet” with scores of living components working to inhale and exhale water and nutrients.

In a sense biodiversity can be built into our altered landscapes. Probably like a puzzle if we were to do it right with the pieces fitting together and probably unlike the 25 piece puzzle we assembled as toddlers.  

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) ran a show featuring the ten urban parks that changed America showing how nature and people can function together in an urban place.

The Alberta Low Impact Development Partnership joined forces with the Alberta Riparian Habitat Conservation Society – better known as Cows and Fish – in a Street2Stream initiative. The goal was to protect riparian habitat by teaching and showing city dwellers how to manage runoff from storms and yard/garden activities.  

Similar principles of urban biodiversity management can work around a home in a hamlet, on an acreage or around the farmstead. 

Correct use of fertilizer and pesticide, managing rainwater, proper handling of hazardous materials, maintaining a functioning wastewater system, planting pollinator-friendly plants for birds and other wildlife and controlling invasive plants and other species to protect what is good are just a few biodiversity-friendly things everyone can do.

Farmers are optimistic about rising prices but worry about the disease reaching Canada

With a population of a billion people, who consume half of the world’s total pork production, China is facing ever tightening supplies due to an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF). Since it was first reported back in August of 2018, over a million pigs have been culled, or as much as 35 percent of China’s total production.

When coupled with shortfalls in southeast Asia, ASF is now affecting an estimated 150-200 million pigs. In total, the losses are over 30 percent larger than the annual US pork production alone, and equivalent to Europe’s entire annual pork supply.

The ramifications are being felt globally with markets changing virtually overnight. Chinese herd rebuilding will take many years so it is likely global protein supplies will be redirected to China. This unprecedented shift in trade will create short-term volatility that will ultimately result in higher global protein prices.

For Canadian producers the price of pork has swung from a low of $1.20 per kilogram to about $1.90 a kilogram recently, working out to a difference of about $80 a hog.

That is a huge difference to farmers who may have been losing money on pork over the last year and the good news is, that stronger pork prices will likely last for the next two to three years. For a 2.7-billion-dollar Canadian industry that translates into a lot of export opportunity.

It also has the pork industry worrying about the potential for the disease to enter Canada. Though it does not affect humans, it is a devastating sickness for pigs that begins with a high fever, then the skin becomes flushed and turns purplish, followed by a discharge from the eyes and nose, along with bloody diarrhea.

ASF is a highly contagious viral disease of domestic and wild pigs that causes high death rates and has no treatment or vaccine. It can be spread through contaminated feed or feed ingredients or directly between pigs through contact with the blood, tissues, secretions and excretions of those infected.

ASF can survive for several months in fresh, frozen, cooked, partially cooked and processed pork products. It is for this reason that small scale producers and pig pet owners should not feed food scraps containing meat products.

Feeding meat or pet foods that contain meat or meat by-products to pigs may result in the introduction of the disease to the herd. Producers should only purchase swine feed from trusted sources that have appropriate biosecurity controls.

Canada has made preventing ASF from entering the country a high priority, along with leading efforts globally, to come up with an effective vaccine. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is hosting an international conference at the end of April, which will bring together about 150 stakeholders to review the state of vaccine research, as well as options to improve prevention and response time.

The federal government has also announced some new initiatives to prevent ASF from entering the country, including a commitment of up to $31 million to install more sniffer dogs at Canadian airports to detect illegal meat products.

Many fear that if the disease were to enter the country, a positive case of ASF could prompt foreign buyers to stop importing pork from Canada. Canadian pork producers are heavily reliant on exports as the third largest exporter in the world.

Such an occurrence however, is unlikely, since Canada has an agreement with our major trading partner to the south and is working on a similar agreement with Japan, where it would be possible to have ASF and still export to those countries.

The agreement comes into effect when the country experiencing the disease notifies the other, indicating the control measures put in place, including the establishment of an affected zone. Pork exports could then still occur from parts of the country that were free from the virus.

The agreement had already been used when avian influenza was detected on North American poultry farms. The Canadian government has a similar agreement with the European Union. This explains why Canada continues to import pork from Poland, despite having dozens of farms with ASF. The pork exported to Canada comes from an ASF free zone in Poland.

On the home front, source feed and feed ingredients carefully, along with any products pigs may come in contact with. In addition, establish on-farm biosecurity protocols, staying vigilant with regard to visitors and workers, especially those who may have recently visited a country infected with ASF.

Whether a producer raises 1 pig or 500 pigs in Clearwater County, African Swine Fever should be taken seriously. Foreign visitors from countries which have ASF should not be allowed near any swine, nor should pigs be fed any meat products or food leftovers that may contain meat.  

For more guidance on on-farm disease prevention, swine producers should consult the Canadian Swine Health Board’s National Swine Farm-Level Biosecurity Standard at cpc-ccp.com/biosecurity. In addition, feel free to Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services at 403-845-4444.

Most people like trees. The continued strong popularity of our West Fraser inspired conifer seedling program tells us people want to plant more.   Tree planting being part of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership farm funding program shows that trees have an important place in farming. 

The landscape and horticulture industry are big business in Alberta.   According to the over 300 member-strong Landscape Alberta it is an almost two-billion-dollar industry with almost 13,000 permanent jobs.  Forty-five percent of its members are landscape contractors, twelve percent arborists and seventeen percent nursery growers.   

That said not all our planned landscapes are planted and maintained with fire risk in mind.  

With Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) confirmed in Clearwater County, talks have shifted to “what do we do”.  MPB must be taken seriously and acting quickly is critical to reducing its spread.

MPB remains, as Natural Resources Canada says, “the most destructive pest of pine”.  At risk are grand daddy Limber pine, endangered White Bark pine, Jack, Scots and Lodgepole pine, and the Red and White pines of eastern Canada. 

We have an aging forest on public land.  We have grass and bush – some which is mature pine – as fuel for fire on private land.  We experience specific weather and environmental conditions that favor fire.  Together these can be disastrous.

“Not all our planned landscapes are planted and maintained with fire risk in mind.”

MPB does not know borders.  It targets an aging pine forest – single trees or groups of trees – on public or private land.  As beetle populations grow more vulnerable trees are attacked.  Those trees become fuel for fire.

Let’s consider our public and private land scenarios.  

Urban and rural forest and other vegetation on private land.

Our hamlet residents are considered rural citizens but live with many amenities found in a town or village.  There are unique risks when residences are clustered together.

How neighbours store firewood, manage firepits or barbeques, choose landscaping material, and maintain trees and shrubs affects fire risk. 

The considerations for farm and acreage residents or people operating businesses outside of hamlets are similar.  What is beyond the property border may change.  

Field shelterbelts, grassland or bush away from your property may be out of your immediate control but attention to the health of vegetation, choice of landscaping and buildings helps reduce risk.

Urban and rural interface with public land.

Some hamlets border land managed by the province.  The interface between people and public land may be literally across the fence line or road allowance.  Some farms and acreages are immediately next door to public land.  

In some cases, private land could be where a fire starts and spreads to other private or to public land.  

Managing pasture aims to lower the risk of grass and other low growing plants becoming fuel for a fire.  Grazing helps reduce fuel load.  Land not used for farming – recreation for example – may have an elevated risk for fire due to stockpiled grass or brush encroachment.

While MPB and pine trees are an immediate concern, there are other treed areas to manage.  When people ask us about spruce trees – the number one inquiry - there is rarely one cause.   

Drought, combined with lack of human intervention, is a major cause of our tree woes.  Trees stressed by lack of water weaken, becoming vulnerable to attack.  We see beetles, weevils, sawflies, caterpillars, galls, rusts, fungus, and more.

Proper pruning, adequate spacing between trees, supplementing water during drought and into winter help trees thrive.  Using non-flammable or fire-resistant materials and increasing the distance between buildings and forest in landscaping lowers fire risk.

Urban and rural activities on public land.

How we work and play on public land must be explored.  We cannot manage every pine tree on the thousands of acres of non-private land.  We can manage what we do when we use those lands. Keep tools handy to manage fire risk: a way to carry water, a camping shovel, vehicle fire extinguisher, and a phone to call 310-FIRE, if needed. Let’s do our part to keep a healthy forest.

Safety is the responsibility of both the farmer and the motorist 

Unlike last year’s long winter, this spring has arrived early. Farmers are moving onto their fields to start spring seeding, cleaning up winter feeding sites and floating hay land. It is a yearly ritual that often comes as a surprise to travelling motorists, who are unused to seeing large farm equipment on public roads.

Times have changed since the days of smaller farms and narrower equipment. The machinery of today is longer and wider, and the distance travelled between fields usually greater. Tractors are also larger and can often travel at speeds of 50 km/hr.

At the same time, recreation and industrial traffic has continued to grow. On any given weekend during the camping season, an average of 40,000 people will visit the West Country, with numbers exceeding 50,000 on long weekends.

The result is an increased potential for accidents. Excited motorists and anxious farmers (sometimes the other way around) both have an agenda and a place to be; campers hoping to reach their destination to set up before nightfall and farmers wanting to make the most of the season while good weather lasts.

Vehicle collisions often occur due to the speed differential between slower moving farm machinery and passenger cars and trucks.

The most common type of multiple collision happens when farm machinery is struck as it turns onto a public road.  There is also a high number of rear-end collisions occurring at intersections caused by motorists underestimating the size and speed of farm equipment.

To reduce risk, producers should move equipment in the daylight during periods of light traffic. By preplanning the route, narrow bridges and tight corners, along with the challenge of steep hills and railway crossings, can be avoided. If necessary, the use a pilot vehicle should be a consideration.

Before entering the public road, farmers should check that warning flashers, flags, lights and slow-moving emblems are clean, visible and working properly. Reflectors and reflective tape can also be used on equipment edges.

Coming from a dusty field, a quick walk around to double check tires, lights and mirrors and a quick wipe with a rag, can make a world of difference in visibility and overall safety. This is also and ideal time to practice machinery hygiene by brushing off weed seeds and clumps of soil.

While driving, lock brakes together and slow for sharp curves and hills so equipment is less likely to swerve into the oncoming lane or the ditch. Watch for obstacles and potholes while keeping a constant lookout for pedestrians, mailboxes, steep ditch embankments and other roadway obstacles.

Tractors should have two working headlights and taillights, at least two warning lights visible from the front and the rear, two reflectors mounted at the rear and amber warning lights visible from the front and rear over dual or triple wheeled vehicles.

Just as farmers must do their part, motorists have a responsibility to drive with care as well. The adage that “if you eat, you are involved in agriculture” could not be more appropriate. The farmer trying to maneuver massive equipment around the countryside likely contributes to putting food on your table.

Farm machinery has a legal right to the use of public roads just as other motor vehicles do. Sharing the road with farm equipment is a part of the rural experience and potential delays should be expected and penciled into trip planning.

Agricultural equipment can appear unexpectedly, turning onto a public road from a field or driveway. Keep in mind that due to the size and nature of the equipment it may be difficult for the operator to see clearly at times. If you can’t see the driver, the driver can’t see you.

Farm equipment will usually be travelling at less than 35 kilometers an hour and may be straddling the road and the ditch. Equipment may suddenly shift completely onto the road, taking up more than one lane as it attempts to avoid mailboxes and road signs.

Before attempting to pass machinery, be sure that the operator is not intending to turn left. Keep an eye open for left turn or even hand signals.

Never assume! Though the equipment may appear to be turning right, the operator may be preparing to make a wide left-hand turn. The same scenario can occur for a wide right turn, with the operator fading left beforehand.

Recognize that passing is a very risky procedure. In most cases the farmer won’t have to far to travel before re-entering a field. Remain patient. If you must pass, be sure that there is adequate road width and distance to do so without risk.

In the final summation, playing it safe by slowing down and being patient, while respecting the rights of the other party, is the common-sense thing to do. Extending a trip by a few minutes might be a better option than the alternative.

The “National Day Calendar” website tracks the almost 1,500 national days, weeks and months announced by human kind, and can be followed on Twitter or Facebook. 

Some of these celebrations are just for fun while others have a more serious tone.   You can link them to your birthday, align a business or product by registering or hitching your own advertising to an existing day. 

Celebrating days of the year isn’t for everyone.  

But while on the subject we just passed by Earth Hour (March 28) and are headed toward Earth Day (April 22). 

Several years ago, a media person asked Clear Water Landcare’s Gary Lewis “what has Clear Water Landcare planned for Earth Day?”  Gary’s replied, “business as usual actually.”  

The reporter probed, “you mean to say nothing is planned?”  

Gary continued, “Because with Landcare every day is earth day.  We always have something planned!”

Landcare’s plans are fueled by a vision that people living in or visiting Clearwater County have healthy watersheds to enjoy.  Realizing that vision requires putting four big ideas into practice. 

First, Landcare is like a classroom where people can learn how to do what is environmentally good for other people and the places they live, work and play.

From the agricultural perspective, this means being a conduit of information for various livestock or crop ventures.  Topics include the Environmental Farm Plan, environmental funding programs, water wells, livestock wintering sites, healthy woodlots and shelterbelts, and more.

From the non-farm perspective there are many of the same needs at a smaller scale.  Examples include water wells, “green” acreages, healthy habitat including trees, and more.

Small business, especially those with a recreation focus, represent another land use looking to operate with the environment in mind.  Visitors are a demographic we reach with a responsible recreation message.

Second, Landcare is like a switchboard when it comes to answering questions beyond our expertise.  When we don’t have the answer, the approach becomes “how might I direct your call”.

For the farm crowd, Landcare has connections with non-government agencies, forage associations and provincial government departments for matters outside our jurisdiction, knowledge or training.

For environmental grant programs like the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) program we may help get someone started but we also connect the producer with CAP program specialists.

Third, Landcare is like a specialty tool store where a few unique tools can be rented or borrowed with a deposit. 

Additionally, we have soil sampling tools, a meter for measuring the static level in water wells, and a tank on trailer for shock chlorinating wells.  You can also source do-it-yourself patterns to build pollinator boxes, raptor nesting or hunting stands, and pond levelers for managing beavers.

We have a conifer tree seedling program through the generous work of West Fraser.  

We’re working to bring in a pheromone product to help in the early stages battling Mountain Pine Beetle.

Fourth, Landcare is like a citizen science lab where get out the magnifier, camera and notebook.  Citizen science is about learning together with the goal to help the landowner help themselves.  

We’ve brokered, with the help of Alberta Agriculture’s lab, the discovery of a trio of white pine trees growing in our region – two in the town of Rocky and one on a rural property.  

We’ve studied pest insects (raised beetles from larva in winter captured pine bolts), plant tissue diseases (oh, yes, that’s black knot or that’s fire blight), conducted rudimentary soil tests (a bit of lettuce seed in some suspect soil).

Where we’ve puzzled, we’ve sent photos or samples to others we consider our mentors for a diagnosis and answer.  

Hopefully, we’re helping you make every day earth day as well.  

There is plenty of information available in the Ag and Community Services office or the website at www.clearwatercounty.ca.

In an episode from the season twelve run of the epic television western Gunsmoke, Marshal Matt Dillon is caught in the middle of a brouhaha over water.  A lack of water – actually. Citizens of Dodge City and surrounding area are dealing with severe drought and all the water wells dry up except one.  

Mark Twain purportedly said, though authorship is unconfirmed, that “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting”.  Tensions over water were common themes for both radio and television westerns like Hop-along Cassidy, the Six Shooter and Bonanza, each exploring the “you got water and I don’t” scenario.

In real life it is a scary thought that a water well, dugout or stream could dry up.

Alberta Environment and Parks River Basin prognosticators recently issued a high runoff advisory as double-digit daytime temperatures with slightly below freezing nighttime temperatures trigger significant snow melt. 

How much melt depends largely on the amount of snow in a given region.  There is 55 percent of the snow in the Red Deer river basin compared to last year.  There is 112 percent in the North Saskatchewan basin compared with 2018.  75 percent of reservoir water comes from snow melt.

What a difference a year, decade or millennium can make.  What a difference a couple of spring snowfall events can have or no big spring snows at all.   What a difference between one or two June monsoons or those high-water events going MIA.  

Nothing tells climate history better than the growth rings of a tree.  Study each ring and science chronicles each year in amazing detail.   Dry, normal or wet.  When it was any of the three – early, mid or late.

The study of tree rings is called dendrochronology.  Work by the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative is using the tree ring past to trace out the future. 

Each tree ring reveals how much water was in the soil each corresponding year.  Analyzing trees that are hundreds of years old provides patterns linked to climate cycles.

Collaborative Senior Research Scientist Dr. Dave Sauchyn says, in the CBC report Regina researchers use tree rings to explain past, predict future, “We find droughts that are 10, 15, 20 years long in the tree rings and there is no reason they can’t reoccur.” 

How do we prepare?

One, protect riparian areas, allowing them to be the sponge-like, water storage places they naturally are.

Second, optimize constructed storage, whether it be dugouts, constructed wetlands or earthen dams.  

Third, practice conservation in small and large ways, treating water whether by the drop or the bucket full as precious.

Fourth, protect upland areas as a connection to lowland places.   Forested slopes, grassed waterways, deep-rooted perennials, buffering berms all slow water, permitting absorption. 

Fifth, manage land and water for the long term more than the short term.  Taking shortcuts by over pumping a well, not maintaining a water distribution system, depleting a dugout, overstocking a pasture is risky business. 

Fact is, where we live has always been in flux.  Here’s what www.canadahistory.ca says about the Prairies.  

“In 1857 John Palliser looked over the Canadian plains and saw a desert. Through the 1870s John Macoun looked over the same landscape and saw Eden. 

What accounts for the difference in perception? The answer in large part lies with the type of weather each encountered. Macoun was lucky to be able to observe the prairies when it was experiencing the wettest decade in the nineteenth century. Palliser studied the landscape under normal-to-dry conditions.” 

Who was right?  Both Palliser and Macoun.  History is a great teacher if we listen and learn from it.

Proper identification of varieties is critical

As hay sales ramped up last fall, a flurry of activity on social media warned of the pitfalls of feeding equines clover. So often the case, the misinformation and dire warnings were short on factual details, leaving many horse owners in a quandary as to how to winter feed their animals.

It was a difficult time to be overly selective when purchasing hay, especially with a reduced harvest and high prices that prompted severe culling of many herds. Alsike clover is a common constituent of most local hay seed mixes, making it tough for many horse owners to find clover-free hay.

In and of itself, clover, be it white or red, is a good feed for horses. It provides useful energy and adequate protein and fiber and is fine in hay or pasture. The culprit that causes horses problems is a fungus that sometimes grows primarily on red clover.

Black Patch Disease is the common name used to describe Slafractonia leguminicola (formerly Rhizoctonia leguminicola), a fungus that is a plant pathogen which can attaches itself to Trifolium pretense, or red clover. It produces an alkaloidal mycotoxin called Slaframine.

The initial infection appears as small black patches on the leaves of red clover (often on the bottom of leaves first, then spreading to cover the entire plant eventually causing its death. It tends to occur most often in wet, cool years and rarely spreads to other legumes such as white clover, alsike and alfalfa.

Growth of fungus is most prevalent in second cut red clover hay or in pastures during periods of wet weather and high humidity. Obviously, that was not the case last summer as drought predominated throughout central and southern Alberta.

Rarely, other legumes may be infected such as white clover, soybean, kudzu, cowpea, blue lupine, alsike clover, alfalfa, Korean lespedeza, black medic, cicer milkvetch, and sainfoin; however, infected red clover plants are usually present in the same field. 

The fungus can overwinter on infected plants and survive at least two years on infected seed. It can remain in hay for several years, declining in its intensity, rarely appearing in first cut hay and more often in later cuts.

Black Patch disease is not a problem that occurs frequently, but when it does, the risk of exposure is relative to the amount of clover ingested. Few fields are composed entirely of red clover and locally, the most common varieties are Dutch (white) and alsike clover.

Both cattle and horses can be sensitive to slaframine when too much infected clover is ingested. Profuse salivation (slobbers) develops within hours after consumption of infected hay or pasture. Signs may also include lacrimation (secretion of tears), diarrhea, mild bloat and frequent urination.

Death is not a risk and once the feed source is removed, or animals are removed from infested pasture, recovery usually occurs within 24 to 48 hours. There is no specific antidote to slaframine toxicosis, although atropine may control at least some of the prominent salivary and GI signs.

A different health concern is associated with alsike clover. Signs of alsike clover toxicity are sensitivity to sunlight, known as photosensitivity, and big liver disease, though the causative agent is unknown. 

Photosensitivity most often occurs when a horse consumes wet alsike clover. If the horse’s skin is damp or wet, the alsike clover may cause lesions or sores. Swelling of the tongue is also a concern and, at worst, may cause difficulty in chewing or swallowing. Sunburn and reddened skin around the muzzle or unpigmented areas are signs of photosensitivity. 

Long-term overconsumption of alsike clover may result in an enlarged liver, the result of tissue remodeling and being replaced with connective tissue, which causes progressive loss of liver function. The horse may develop yellowing of the eyes and gums as well as unexplained weight loss.

It is recommended that in pasture or forage alsike clover not exceed twenty percent of the mix. The good news is that feeding alsike clover in a hay mix appears to have far less dramatic effects on horses than in pasture situations.

Keep in mind that uninfected clovers fed in moderation will have no detrimental affect on equine health. Descriptions of disease difficulties tend to focus on more extreme events in an effort to educate readers as to the potential symptoms and risks.

Consistent monitoring and observation are the key tools to maintain good horse health. When symptoms do appear, the common solution in all the above scenarios, is to remove the horse from the feed source. Complete recovery occurs within a few days. 

Feel free to give us a call at Agriculture and Community Services for more information on dealing with your horse and feeding clover at 403-845-4444.

Alternative management practices can reduce conflicts

For livestock producers there are few experiences more defeating than walking into a pen and finding an animal dead from predation. Usually a healthy calf, lamb or kid, a season’s worth of husbandry is wasted, and a feeling of frustration and helplessness takes over, especially if there are multiple deaths.

Often, the predator is a coyote. They normally have little interest in the meat but prefer to open the animals flank and eat the vital organs. On occasion they may not even eat the animal and may kill more than one. Unlike coyotes, wolves prefer to eat the meat of the animal and not the organs.

A dog will chase an animal around before mutilating it but will usually not eat it. Bears on the other hand, tend to attack from the shoulders forward and will usually consume or remove the entire animal. 

As most farmers know, once a coyote starts to pick off livestock it is unlikely to stop. The successful hunter soon teaches the rest of the pack how to do it and the problem can become magnified. 

In a sense, the war is on. The livestock must be safely contained, and the coyote activity controlled. Either way it amounts to a lot of additional work moving stock, repairing pens and becoming proactive with best management practices that can include guard dogs, fencing, guns and traps.

Currently, coyotes are considered a nuisance under the Alberta Agricultural Pest Act and associated Pest and Nuisance Control Regulations, which are administered by Agricultural Service Boards throughout the Province.

The owner or occupant may prevent the establishment of and control or destroy, a declared nuisance pest on land under their control. Most boards will assist landowners in managing coyote predation of their livestock with information and procedures as set out by the Province.

Due to concerns about the effects on non-target species, the use of poison is not generally recommended. Best management practices that include a variety of approaches are preferred.  In the past little concern was given to sustaining or managing populations at a natural level, but today the coyote is recognized as a valuable part of the natural balance in our ecosystem.

Coyote predation of livestock is a learned behavior and anything that impedes, disturbs, or prevents this process will reduce losses. Keep in mind that the coyote has all day to observe human behavior and routines and is intelligent enough to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Reducing or eliminating any potential food source will discourage interest. Extra efforts to confine weak, aged or sick animals will help to reduce conflicts. Learning from the coyotes themselves by being prepared to take advantage of an opportunity is important.   

Farm management and land use practices that reduce interactions between livestock and coyotes need to be considered, particularly with respect to open grazing. Heavy brush cover plays an important role in potential predation. Herd surveillance may need to improve, since increased management presence contributes considerably to a reduction in coyote conflicts. 

Choosing an alternative calving, lambing or kidding site may be a consideration. Increasing stocking densities may prove to be an additional defense mechanism. Disposing of afterbirth following birth will reduce the attraction of coyotes as will the removal of livestock carrion.

Even if coyotes are not feeding on decaying flesh of dead animals., the mere presence can entice them to remain in the area, initiating the learned process of predation. Efforts to confine weak, aged or sick animals will help.  

Be observant and prepared while checking or feeding livestock. Most coyotes that are wily enough to threaten your animals are likely going to be wary. A warning shot can be effective, as any practice that makes it uncomfortable for the coyote to be near livestock will help to eliminate its presence.

Agriculture and Community Services recognizes that there are situations where some pests cannot be effectively controlled with the sole use of management practices and that on occasion, toxicants may be needed as a tool to help producers protect their investment.   

Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services department is happy to assist residents with coyote predation issues by providing information about existing programs and can be reached at 403-845-4444.

Hawks and other aerial hunters an ally in rodent control

Last article edition, reference was made to nature’s aerial allies when it came to control of Richardson Ground Squirrels. 

One of the finest sights in the natural world is the hunting expertise of birds of prey. For example, a hawk can single out a meal for itself or its offspring and, with the precision of an expert pilot, nab a ground dwelling creature.   

Having birds of prey nearby is not always fully appreciated. Consider some of the species that call Clearwater County home, or at least pass through for a visit.  In a few weeks many of these will be prowling the skies or perched like snipers.

The Northern Harrier prefers natural regions and is common around wetlands. Unlike other hawks, the male and female have distinct appearances (think how male and female ducks differ). Nests are found in reeds and grasses, so wetland habitat conservation is crucial for the Northern Harrier to thrive.

The Ferruginous hawk is the ‘super size’ of hawks with the female up to one third larger than the male. Its name comes from the Latin ferrugo which is a reference to its iron rust colored feathers on its back.  Preferring open spaces, the Ferruginous hawk would be rare, except perhaps on our eastern fringes. 

Osprey are about the same size as the Harrier and are easily distinguished by stylish markings. Think of them as CF-18 jets. They prefer areas close to water, which again shows the importance of habitat. They may nest in tall dead trees, rock points overlooking water or atop telephone poles. Like eagles, osprey return to the same nest annually.

The Red-tailed hawk is the most conspicuous in our region. Mid-size between the Ferruginous and Harrier types, the Red-tailed has a distinct uniformly coloured tail, red above and pink underneath.

Red-tails prefer a high vantage point, perched versus hovering, to identify their prey, making tall shelterbelts along field edges great launch points.

Swainson’s hawk is usually a prairie dweller but does occasionally visit open areas in the foothills or parkland. Nests are found in trees or taller shrubs. The Swainson’s hawk thrives where ground squirrels are present.  

The Rough-legged hawk is closer in size to a Ferruginous. A distinguishing feature is a feathery covering over the legs to the base of the toes.

Rough-legged hawks just pass through our area heading to or from its Arctic nesting grounds. Like a welcome guest at a roadside diner, the Rough-legged hawk consumes ground squirrels and other rodents.  

The Peregrine falcon is on the smaller side and although highly adaptable, is also vulnerable. They typically nest near wetlands but are also featured on webcams atop buildings. 

Peregrines target rodents and insects and take down pigeons. With only about 60 breeding pairs in Alberta, they are considered a species at risk.  Reminds one of the Marvel Comics character known as Falcon – a rare and magnificent ally.

The Gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcon family and makes its primary home in the Arctic.  In winter months, the Gyrfalcon slips south and may be seen in open or sparsely wooded areas. As a winter hunter, its rare but appreciated presence helps control voles.

The American Kestrel, a smaller falcon, is an aggressive hunter. The Kestrel nests in abandoned woodpecker holes or other cavities and commonly reside in a farm or acreage yard.  Watch these acrobats defend their nest and territory vigorously.  

Kestrels have a diverse seasonal appetite, ranging from caterpillars, large insects including grasshoppers and mice or small birds.  They commonly perch on power lines between hunts. 

Merlin are another small bodied falcon which, like a Peregrine, will capture food in flight and occasionally treat it as “to go” by eating it while in flying.  Merlin reside in mixed wooded areas near water and nests often in abandoned abodes of larger birds, such as magpies. 

The Richardson’s ground squirrel is the favoured prey of many hawk species.  Easily more than 80 percent of the diet of Red-tailed, Swainson’s and Ferruginous hawks are RGS’s. 

It is estimated that hawks reduce ground squirrel populations by about 15 percent.  To feed themselves and a ravenous nest of offspring, a pair of Ferruginous Hawks eat more than 400 per season.

Having several members of the hawk and falcon family in our region is beneficial. A diversity of birds of prey brings a diversity of diet from insects to small animals.

All birds of prey are protected in Alberta and need our attention to thrive and survive.  Habitat preservation and enhancement is crucial. Wetlands and wooded areas should be viewed as a benefit and not a nuisance.  

In the absence of natural high nesting or roosting places consider a homemade platform.  For information on building a hawk nesting stand see the Alberta Conservation Association’s factsheet: https://www.ab-conservation.com/downloads/educational_materials/brochures/ferruginous_hawk_brochure.pdf.  Build it and they hopefully will come.

Now is the time to plan control methods

On the heels of record cold temperatures in February, it may be hard to believe that the Richardson’s Ground Squirrel (RGS) will be popping up in snow covered fields in the next week or two. And the odds are, their numbers may be on the rise following last year’s drought, a condition in which they tend to thrive. 

While many producers are more focused today on calving and perhaps the need to purchase a new bull or two, now is the time when gopher control is most important. All too often, it is later in the spring when the population erupts and reaches high densities, that we start to think about control and by then it is too late. 

The most common ground squirrel of five species in Alberta, the RGS are also the most prevalent, spending most of their lives underground. In the spring, having survived without food or water for a period exceeding 210 days, the males are the first to surface, while the females emerge from hibernation about two weeks later.

What most people don’t realize is that ground squirrels’ mate almost immediately after ending their eight to nine-month hibernation, with females becoming pregnant within three or four days of reaching the ground surface. 

Males compete ferociously in a bid to impregnate as many females as possible, even though they are usually outnumbered four or five to one. Females are only fertile for two to three hours on one afternoon on one day each year. 

Both sexes are reproductively mature the year following their birth and litter size, usually averaging six to eight, can be as high as nine or ten on seeded cropland. After a 23-day gestation period the males will leave while the females remain to raise the offspring on their own. 

Another reason to start control efforts early is that once breeding is complete the females will prefer a diet of plants high in protein to support lactation. This is important because if control methods include treated baits, then the females will not be attracted to it, so pre-baiting will be necessary.

With an average of seven young to a litter, offspring emerge from below ground at about four weeks of age, appearing to cause a population explosion. This is when most people start to panic, beginning control methods at a time that is too late to be effective. By mid to late July the females have already returned underground to hibernate until the following spring.

Juveniles rapidly become independent and by June or July begin looking for new areas to establish themselves. These are the “gophers” seen throughout the summer months, active until late August or September, when they too begin winter hibernation.

Ground squirrels can cause significant damage to agricultural crops through direct consumption and reduced production due to plant injury and trampling, in addition to machinery damage and downtime. Burrowing can affect the health of livestock and impact safe use of parks, schoolyards, ball diamonds and soccer fields. 

On the other hand, ground squirrels play an important role in the ecology of Alberta’s wildlife and are a major source of food for many predatory birds, mammals and reptiles. Living in a more exposed environment, it is the males and juveniles who are the primary food source for predators.

The use of poisons to control RGS populations is often the first choice, primarily because they are relatively inexpensive, convenient to use and produce rapid and obvious results. They work in the short term, but reinvasion usually occurs fairly quickly, so the poisoning process must be repeated.

If poisons are used in a bait form, then there is always the possibility of developing bait shyness, which results in the poison becoming ineffectual for the rest of the season. In addition, there is always the possibility of secondary effects which could be detrimental to other beneficial wildlife or pets.

Incorporating alternatives to pesticide use in an IPM strategy can include a variety of approaches. Since RGS’s tend to avoid taller vegetation (over 30 cm), changing grazing patterns and/or choosing alternative forage or crop varieties can have an impact on populations.

Many predators including the coyote, badger, skunk, weasel, crow, magpie, raven, and most large birds of prey, utilize RGS’s as an intermediate food source and in some cases a sole food source during various periods of their development.

From a long-term perspective, encouraging the establishment of predator species, through the building of nesting platforms and the like, to induce the presence of aerial nesters, is just one example of a natural control method. 

Retaining isolated patches and corridors for ground nesting birds and mammals also increases the predator affect. Recent developments in the field of immune-contraceptives and sterilization technology also offer tremendous promise for managing ground squirrel numbers.

By taking a broader approach and incorporating of an integrated pest management plan (IPM), alternative methods of control can be utilized effectively, thus reducing the potential for harm to non-target species.

The use of pesticides, trapping, shooting, fumigants, grazing practices, predator habitat encouragement and deep cultivation should be choices made within the broader context of the IPM, rather than just reactionary choices.

For more information regarding RGS control options, contact the Agriculture and Community Services department at 403-845-4444.

An update on the matter of what Natural Resources Canada calls  “the most destructive pest of pine forests in North America”

Bill Nye the Science Guy would be proud. 

Clearwater County’s Agriculture and Community Services department has been conducting a Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) experiment on a section of lodgepole pine with outer evidence of MPB.  Several aggressive pitch tubes betray this 14-inch diameter pine’s efforts to literally “pitch out” invading beetles.

The sample log has been observed during the last four weeks and is courtesy of a diligent landowner northeast of Rocky Mountain House who has been removing beetle attacked trees.  The specimen was infected through a beetle inflight in 2018 and although still “green” and presumably growing, was an inevitable goner. 

An older, seemingly healthy pine is overwhelmed by beetles and succumbs in as little as one growing season.  MPB bore through and lay eggs under the bark.  Eggs hatch to voracious larva.  In the process, the beetle unleashes a blue-stain fungus. The fungus girdles the tree, cutting the flow of life-giving water and nutrients.

The next season the pine tree is dead or near death.

Back to our in-house science lab, we removed sections of bark around pitch tubes on three occasions.  Initially all we found were bore holes, the occasional deceased beetle trapped in pitch and evidence of gallery paths.  With the tree in a cool to warm location and fully thawed our most recent bark sample is a “beetle-hive” of activity.

The underside of the freshly stripped piece of bark revealed no fewer than nine munching larva of differing sizes, unhatched eggs and one live beetle along with plenty of pathways and moist “sawdust” from all the chewing!  Within thirty minutes of exposure to light and the initial drying effect of air exposure, the beetle and its immature buddies retreated out of sight.  

In the spirit of MacGyver, we manufactured a home-built terrarium from a Boston Pizza takeout container.  On the advice of Alberta Ag and Forestry’s Pam Melnick, we moistened a towel to restore some humidity to the environment and placed the project in the fridge.

Pam Malnick is our local expert and mentor – also the keynote presenter in our current workshop series – and directs beetle management response on crown (public) land.  If any citizen spots pine trees with evidence of MPB on public land, please contact Alberta Ag and Forestry.  

Owners of private land are responsible for pine trees on their own property, but Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services staff are available to coach landowners as to their options.

Steps to take a proactive approach:  

1.    Be careful with firewood.  If you bring firewood home from an infected tree you risk passing MPB on to trees on your property and in your neighborhood.

2.    Know the signs of MPB and make sure the tree you are dealing with is truly a pine and not another kind of conifer.  We have an information factsheet from our office and some “show and tell” items to help you see what MPB attack looks like.

3.    Keep pine trees healthy as any tree stressed by lack of moisture, poor pruning, truck or root injury or topped are at greater risk.  

4.    Diversify your wooded areas with non-pine species. Always be planning for the next generation of trees.

5.    Be realistic about life expectancy. Every tree is ultimately terminal.  An end-of-life strategy for trees includes knowing when to remove them.  Assess your pine trees before they become a problem.  

6.    Take responsibility for trees on your own property.  The provincial government doesn’t control trees on private or municipal land and has a big job just looking after the thousands of acres of crown land forest.

Cold stress and a lack of colostrum can be fatal

At this time of year cold stress and a lack of colostrum are two of the leading causes of early calf loss, taking a toll on both the calves and the cowman. And when calves come all at once, as they tend to do, the calving process can be exhausting, making it difficult to stay on top of everything that is happening at all times.

That said, early intervention is the key to success when it comes to calves challenged by cold wet weather. It may be easy enough to tell when a calf is chilled but there can be uncertainty as to how long or how serious the condition is.

Some seasoned ranchers may be successful relying on past experience, but a digital thermometer is a relatively inexpensive and a very handy tool to accurately determine temperature variations in an ailing calf. 

Most problems with hypothermia occur in newborn calves, since they do not have the ability to regulate body temperature efficiently when first born, especially in the first few hours of life.  

Mild hypothermia begins to occur as the calves’ body temperature drops below normal, or below 37.8 degrees C (100 degrees F). With a wet coat in cold temperatures, sometimes aggravated by a difficult birth, calves’ may be unable to get up right away or do not have the strength to suckle, allowing cold stress to set in. 

If a calf does not suckle then it will not get much needed colostrum, compounding the problem of cold stress and considerably reducing chances of survival. Most cattle producers know that colostrum is a critical source of antibodies and specialized proteins that provide protection against infectious diseases.

This transfer of passive immunity should occur in the first hours of life, as antibody absorption decreases over time, with essentially no absorption possible after 24 hours following birth. When considering frozen colostrum keep in mind that quality can vary among cows, breeds and farms.

The mother’s colostrum is always the best option and the calf should receive at least one liter within four hours of birth and another liter within 12 hours of birth. Colostrum not only provides 2 to 3 times more fat than mother’s milk, but also warms the calf from the inside.

If a calves’ temperature is between 35 and 38 degrees Celsius, then it is still possible to warm it up in a hot box, the truck cab or a warm room. Tubing it immediately with warm colostrum provides additional warmth and helps to ensure passive transfer of antibodies and a greater chance of survival.

For calves with a temperature below 35 degrees C time is truly of the essence. The hot box or a warm environment will not effectively warm the calf as their core temperature is so low that a dry hair coat only acts as an insulator to keep them cold.

In this instance the best method to enhance survival is to immerse the calf in warm water at 38 degrees C, or warm to the touch. As the water rapidly cools it will be necessary to continually add warm water to the bath. At the same time the calf should be tubed with warm colostrum.

Early intervention is the key to survival for high risk calves that have trouble getting up due to a difficult birth, are low on oxygen, or weak. Making sure they get adequate colostrum as soon as possible will make it less likely that they suffer from cold stress and will give them the strength to begin sucking on their own right away.

Using a thermometer helps to immediately determine the appropriate treatment so the calf gets what it needs as soon as possible. Given adequate colostrum, a dry coat and the strength to suck on their own, it is amazing how well calves can do even in the coldest weather.

Protecting your septic system during the winter months is a year-round job

Perhaps the last thing one thinks of during the dark days of winter is what happens downstream of the toilet, sink and bathtub.   Block heaters, furnaces and snow removal come to mind instead.

With winter gripping us here is a friendly septic systems reminder from our Landcare friends at the Land Stewardship Center.   The article was adapted with permission from the Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association (AOWMA).

Private wastewater (septic) systems are in use in millions of homes across the country.  When properly maintained and used these systems are a safe way to treat and disperse household wastewater.  

A malfunctioning septic system is said to be the third most common source of ground water contamination therefore proper use and maintenance protects your drinking water, favorite fishing hole and waters used for recreation.  

With extra people in the house during any kind of gathering can overwhelm a system or cause it to fail and no one needs the added cost of repairs or cleanups, especially during the gift-giving season.

If a system is older or not routinely maintained winter can compromise its ability to do the job.

If certain septic-unfriendly activities take place the system could be damaged even to the point of failure.

To prevent problems and keep your wastewater system working here are four tips that will help keep things flowing smoothly:

Tell yourself and others what they can and cannot flush.  Toilet paper and tissues are fine. But flushable wipes, hair, dental floss, disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts and condoms should not be flushed.  

Avoid pouring fats, grease or the left-over gravy down the drain.  These can all clog and potentially damage your septic system. 

Don’t strain your drain.  Too much water at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.  Be water efficient and spread out water use.   Don’t tie weeping tile into a household system.  Unless a system is sized accordingly, don’t tie other buildings into the system.  

Keep anything other than footprints off your septic field.  The drainage field is an essential part of the wastewater system and no vehicle or equipment should ever to driven or parked on this part of the yard.  The weight of vehicles can damage buried pipes, disrupt underground flow or drive frost deeper into the ground.

Properly maintain your system before winter.  A certified contractor can inspect and recommend a proper maintenance schedule for your system.  Tank pumping, other than for emergencies, should be scheduled in spring or early summer to allow for the system to adjust for colder times of year.

Appreciate the sound of music.  Layer up for a walk to the septic tank to check the electrical (pump and float plugs) and any warning devices (alarms), the tank lid, and the sweet sound of running water when effluent is draining from house to tank or pumping to field, mound or pump out. 

While it’s easier to talk wastewater behavior with the people you live with it probably seems awkward discussing the do’s and don’ts with guests. However, those same visitors probably won’t be paying the repair bill should problems arise.  Your time and diplomacy will be worth the effort.

Last summer’s drought and forest fire smoke from BC, will have a lot to do with how our livestock are doing this year.

Looking back, it was a long cool spring, short on moisture, and then everything dried out through the summer. By early August, day after day, heavy smoke hung in the air blocking out the sun. It was a great summer to put up hay, but the swaths were light, and pasture ran out quickly.

Many producers experienced forage yields of forty to sixty percent less than average and prices for quality forage shot up to ridiculous values from 12 to 15 cents a pound. Now, well into the new year, prices are still double what would have been considered stiff a year ago.

Many producers caught short on feed, have scrounged around for additional year-old hay, straw, grain or greenfeed and are supplementing with pellets to carry their livestock through the winter. Even still, nutritional quality may be lacking and a focus on feed testing and ration balancing should be a priority.

Forage, like any other crop, needs good growing conditions to do well. In most cases last year’s grass was low in nutrients like phosphorous, calcium, sulphur, selenium and almost devoid of micronutrients like vitamins A and E.

Phosphorous is absorbed from the soil into the roots and lower leaves of the plant in the first three weeks of the growing season. As the plant continues to grow it moves from lower to upper stems and leaves. Lacking good growing conditions last spring, very little phosphorous made its way to the plants.

The same is true for calcium, except that it needs soil moisture to be readily absorbed into plant roots, an event that usually occurs all through the growing season. Due to the dry conditions, very little calcium was taken up so that most forages were calcium deficient.

In addition, when plant growth is stopped by drought, forage quality tends to decline rapidly because livestock selectively graze the highest quality forage first. Furthermore, the rate of decline in both quantity and quality is much more pronounced during drought than in average years.

The result was that many cows started the winter in poorer body condition, a situation that can set them up to have a weaker or still born calf. At the same time, the quality and quantity of their colostrum may be less so that calves will have reduced immunity to disease.

Research done on the impacts of the drought of 2001 and productivity in 2002, found that cows were more likely to have still born calves the following spring. After studying herds and death loss from across western Canada, it was suggested that it was noninfectious factors, like nutrition, that were often the cause.  

Vitamins A and E have been identified as the two most common micronutrient deficiencies associated with death in calves born alive. Newborn calves that are slow to get up and do not respond right away could likely be affected by trace mineral or vitamin deficiency.

Vitamin E and selenium work together, where selenium is an essential trace mineral for cattle. It is a component of several enzymes that are antioxidants, responsible for preventing cellular damage by free radicals produced by the body’s day-to-day metabolic processes.

Vitamin A is received by grazing through the bioconversion of beta-carotene present in green forage. A lack of vitamin A can result in decreased disease resistance and increased mortality in calves.

It is well known that grey wooded soils in the west country are selenium deficient. A study done in 2014 indicated that there appears to be even more selenium deficiency problems in beef cattle today than in previous decades.

Given the 2018 drought, deficiency symptoms like white muscle disease, reduced resistance to diseases, birth of dead or weak calves and the incidence of retained afterbirth are more likely to occur. Now is a good time to do forage tests and take advantage of ration balancing programs.

Producers should consider supplementing their cows and particularly heifers, in spring calving herds, with vitamins A and E, whether powdered, crumbled or injectable. Injection of calves with selenium and vitamin E at birth is recommended, especially where soils are known to be selenium deficient.

A supply shortage of vitamin A and E supplements was identified in 2018 and may persist this spring, so producers should contact their veterinarian sooner rather than later, to guarantee availability.

Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services provides free ration balancing services for local producers, along with forage testing tools and access to testing services. Feel free to drop in or give us a call at 403-845-4444.  

Wetlands of all shapes and sizes are not wastelands 

It’s called World Wetlands Day and has been celebrated every February 2 since 1997. The date coincides with an international conservation agreement, the Ramsar Convention, signed on that date in 1971. Among the conservation objectives was the wise use of wetland and their resources.

Not all wetlands are frozen like ours in February. Canada is among 168 countries with what are called Ramsar sites. More than 2,000 places world-wide encompassing over 500 million acres. Canada, with 25% of the world’s wetlands, has 37 Ramsar sites covering more than 32 million acres, four of which are in Alberta.

One site is the 43.3-thousand-acre natural area known as Beaverhill Lake Heritage Rangeland.  The area features the 54 square mile Beaverhill Lake, which is Alberta’s eighth largest lake. More than 270 bird species have been spotted in this gem of the parkland region with 145 known to breed therein.

Two sites are found in Wood Buffalo National Park with an area greater than the footprint of Switzerland.  

One of these is the Peace-Athabasca Delta which features the convergence of the Peace, Athabasca and Birch rivers together in a landscape beneficial to both avian and terrestrial species.  

The Delta is the convergence of four major waterfowl migration routes with millions of geese and ducks feeding and nesting. At seven times the size of the city of Calgary, it’s home to 40-plus mammals and 20 species of fish.

The other Wood Buffalo treasure is the Whooping Crane Summer Range where approximately 91 percent of the North American Whooping Cranes breed.  

In 2018, 98 nests were censused breaking the previous record of 82 nests. With that there were only 60 fledged chicks and just two sets of twins.  Since both eggs need to hatch almost simultaneously twins are rare. In the captivity recovery program, the Calgary Zoo successfully bred a pair of chicks in 2018.

In 1941 there were only 21 Whoopers known in the wild and 2 birds in captivity. In 2018 Whooping Cranes population numbers were celebrated but still only 450 in the wild.  

The western migratory route is from Aranasas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Wood Buffalo and the eastern route from Wisconsin to Florida. Breeding areas used to stretch from Illinois to central Alberta. Wintering places used to cover the entire gulf coast of Texas, a vast area of central Mexico and coastal areas from the Carolinas north along the eastern seaboard.

The fourth location is the 181 square mile Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park.   The Hay river transects the park and is the only stable water course.  This remote area is approximately 75 miles west of High Level with no public roads in the park.

The Hay-Zama hosts three of the four major avian flyways and birds such as the at-risk Trumpeter Swan. Active beaver populations help retain water in periods of drought providing moisture for sedges and grasses critical as winter forage for the reintroduced wood bison.

A wetland area doesn’t need to be designated to be significant and it may or may not have a name. Look at a map of Clearwater County and discover several variable-sized blue areas indicating standing water. Not seen as clearly are the beginning of many streams fed by headwater and downstream wetlands.  There are various types of wetlands.

Fens are wetlands that receive most of their water from groundwater, are high in nutrients and support a variety of vegetation such as grasses, trees and shrubs.  

Bogs receive most of their water from rainfall and support a great amount of sphagnum moss and trees such as black spruce and tamarack.  Peat accumulates in thick layers and grows only one to three inches per century in our climate.  

Swamps are areas prone to seasonal flooding and dominated by shrubs and trees.  They may or may not have peat soils but are nutrient rich and productive.

Other wetlands common to our area are marshes and sloughs – terms sometimes used interchangeably.  These are depressions filled with plants and water as shallow as a few inches or up to three feet deep, as little as a few yards across or miles long and often home to emergent plant species such as cattails.  

Wetlands are essential places for food, shelter, and water for the large number of terrestrial, airborne and aquatic creatures of our region.  Some creatures are exclusive to and one-hundred percent dependent on wetland areas.

Wetlands can provide numerous direct and indirect services for people and their livelihoods.  Wetlands help with the quantity and quality of drinking water, can provide flood and drought protection, places for pollinators to rest and roost and the hard-to-define values of beauty and recreation.   

“Ask not what your wetland can do for you but what you can do for your wetland”.

More information on wetlands can be found at: http://cowsandfish.org/publications/fact_sheets.html 

Development of new varieties an export opportunity for Canadian producers

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that out of the 795 million people in the world that are chronically malnourished (lack of nutrients), 155 million of them are children.

Current statistics estimates that the world population is expected to grow by 83 million people each year until 2100. For our current agricultural industry to keep up, food production will have to ramp up dramatically, on virtually the same amount of land as we are farming today.

In the agriculture industry there is a lot of talk about the need to increase food production in order to feed the world of the future. The irony is that we actually have enough food right now, today, to adequately feed everyone. The problem is about waste and how food is distributed.

Most food shortages begin with inequitable distribution, waste, wars, drought and government policies. Micronutrient deficiencies on the other hand, also known as hidden hunger, are much subtler, usually occurring where soils and/or plant varieties are low in nutrients. The result s a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the human diet.

While we may not be able to control wars, government policies or global food distribution, we may be able to assist with a problem that contributes to stunted growth, poor cognitive development, increased risk of infections, eye disease and complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Supplementation has been a solution used for decades around the world to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies, but it requires repeated investment and is a resource-intensive approach. Food fortification (e.g. Iodized salt) added to commonly consumed foods at the processing stage, has had greater success in developing countries.

Unfortunately, the poorest families in remote communities, that grow and process food locally, may not have access to fortified foods and tend to be most affected by hidden hunger. An alternative approach that can be utilized in agricultural production, to enhance micronutrient concentration of staple crops, is achieved through cross-breeding.

Biofortified crops, primarily focused on enhancement of iron, zinc and vitamin A, have been introduced into countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vitamin A maize, vitamin A cassava, vitamin A sweet potato, iron beans, iron pearl millet, zinc rice and zinc wheat are some examples of crops currently being grown.

Having several advantages over food fortification, these crops are often more resilient to pests, diseases, higher temperatures and drought. Each biofortified crop requires meticulous development and evaluation to ensure the micronutrient concentration is sufficient to make a significant impact on nutritional status.

While biofortification can be achieved through established breeding techniques, transgenics, or genetic modification, may pave the way for more rapid development. One success story is the development of Golden Rice, which is genetically modified to be infused with beta-carotene, a chemical substance responsible for producing vitamin A in the body.

The biofortified rice helps prevent vitamin A deficiency, which causes immunity deficiency syndrome and is the leading cause of blindness in children in developing nations. Following its initial introduction, scientists recognized the need to improve the variety in 2005. As a result, they licensed their intellectual property to Syngenta, who made the improvements with no commercial control over it and now market it royalty free.

Crossed with many local varieties, farmers in the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Vietnam can maintain the advantages of the cultivars they’ve been growing and eating for years and improving their varieties via conventional cross breeding methods.

While a global race is on to develop new biotech varieties, the potential is there for Canada to play a leading role in the biofortification of pulse crops. Some breeders are working to develop varieties suitable to local conditions but based on the needs of developing countries.

One example among many is Tom Warkentin, a breeder at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, who has been working on the biofortification of pea crops for several years.

Phytate, the major storage form of phosphorous in seeds, can’t be easily digested by humans and tends to carry iron and zinc with it as it passes through the gut. The nutrients are essentially lost, so Warkentin and his colleagues have focused their breeding program on low-phytate peas since 2002. These varieties have 50 percent more available iron.

Crossed with high yielding pea varieties the result is a strain that will be highly adapted to Canadian growing conditions. When asked by farmers if biofortified varieties will improve their bottom line, Warkentin’s response is that while they may not sell for more money, Canadian farmers will have an advantage over other countries as a preferred supplier abroad.

Even though many of the new biofortified pulse varieties developed in Canada over the next number of years may not be designed to be grown in developing countries, their availability will provide greater options to improve nutrition globally.

Trees and shrubs serve many beneficial purposes

The late Jimmy Dean, American singer and entrepreneur, once said, “I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

Wind is a fact of rural life and anyone with a buffer of trees likely know and appreciate their value.  Those without some treed protection likely wish they had some.

Years ago, when traffic numbers were lower and speeds slower, homes located close to a road had much less dust and noise to deal with but still took advantage of the buffering qualities of leaves and branches.  Trees capture particles and reduce noise volume. 

In an Ag Canada energy conservation study, two identical trailers were heated at 72 degrees Fahrenheit with one trailer protected and the other unprotected by trees. The result was a 27% reduction in heating cost for the protected building.   

Shelterbelts can help control farm odors. Multi-row windbreaks downwind of livestock facilities force air upward, mixing and diluting odors.  

Windbreaks significantly reduce downwind wind speed as the force is directed up and over the protected area.  A single row of trees 15 feet tall influences wind speeds up to 400 feet – the length of two professional hockey rinks.

The advantage gained in crop yields outweighs the oft-used argument that lingering snow from shelterbelts slows seeding.  Field studies in North Dakota and on the Canadian prairies shows mature shelterbelts provide a 3.5% increase in average wheat and 6.5% in alfalfa yields.

Studies show that beef cattle fed on unprotected winter range need up to 50% more feed to thrive with the advantage of increased milk production in dairy cattle.  

To mitigate drought, Alberta Agriculture recommends a two-year supply of water and captured snow is a difference maker for dugout levels.  The rule of thumb is a foot of snow equals one inch of water, so the more snow the greater the runoff, or infiltration into a dugout.  

Certain tree and shrub species are referred to as nature’s rebar when it comes to erosion control.  Tree roots help to hold soils, especially easily eroded, fine textured clay soils, together.  

Landowners lament when beaver remove mature trees but the root system of poplars go into reproduction mode the same way trees sucker after being cut with a chainsaw.  One solitary poplar can produce a lot of new trees. 

Wooded areas become home to birds of prey that control mice, ground squirrels and pocket gophers.  Creating and maintaining habitat for woodpeckers provides an ally in controlling mountain pine beetle and other tree pests.

Although trees establish over a generation or two, don’t let that deter you from planting for the future.   When the future becomes today someone will thank you.

Every December it seems customary to think about the year that was and the year that is to come.   Whether a person is or is not a fan of “out with the old and in with the new”, it’s pretty much in front of our faces – like it or not.

Some would say that that 2018 was a challenging year, but the same could be said for every year.   For those directly or indirectly connected to the farm there were some daunting matters.

Weather distressing pastures and crops and delaying harvest, the availability and cost of feed and tough decisions to be made about livestock were some of the challenges.

“Lately, I’ve been thinking about success and failure in the context of what do those words really mean”, said Gary Lewis with Agriculture and Community Services, “am I a success or failure or am I someone who succeeded or failed at something?”  

The difference is crucial.

“An incorrect view of who I am is a dangerous place to pitch my tent,” Lewis continued. “it’s important to recognize, whether I fail or succeed, is not supposed to define me.   

In the book “Attitude 101” John C. Maxwell talks about “failing forward” by “cultivating a positive attitude about yourself, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in or what kind of history you have.”

Maxwell uses the life of Julia Child, the famous food expert, to illustrate a healthy approach to success and failure.  

Julia would announce to her audience “tonight we are going to make a souffle!” and then launch into the production combining ingredients with flair and confidence.  When she dropped or forgot something, she seemingly took it all in stride.  

With the pan is in the oven she would chat with her audience.  

Then she’d announce, “it is ready” only to find the souffle had fallen flat.  Did she call herself a derogatory name, burst into tears, show panic or anger?  Nope.   She smiled and said “Well, you can’t win them all. Bon Appetit!”

Recently, most rural mailboxes received a publication from Farm Credit Canada titled “Rooted in Strength”.   It acknowledges there is stress, anxiety and even depression in the farm community.  It also reminds there is hope and help available.  

If you missed your copy of “Rooted in Strength” we have copies available in our office or go online to www.fcc-fac.ca/en/ag-knowledge/wellness.