The 2014 Crop Diagnostic School was sold out this year, proof that after almost 20 years the school has something new to teach.
“We’re flattered by the interest,” John Heard, the school’s ringmaster and soil fertility specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD), said in an interview July 17.
“It has been a great way for our folks to interact with some real industry leaders. We can make a lot of impact when we talk to 450 field agronomists.
“Things keep changing and we keep evolving with the school.”
The Crop Diagnostic School is a joint effort between MAFRD and the University of Manitoba held for two weeks in July at the university’s Carman research farm.
What started as a half-day event focused on pesticides has evolved to include crop scouting and management. Although farmers are welcome, most students are professional agronomists working for grain, seed, agricultural input or agronomy advisory companies.
The $175 attendance fee may scare off some farmers, but Heard said most agree they’ve recovered the cost just from the session on weeds.
“People need to realize it’s not a field day,” Heard said. “It’s not a tour. It’s lessons. It’s more like school with a curriculum in training.”
This year the school featured new technology that might or might not help agronomists do their jobs better.
“It’s not that we’re endorsing them but just exposing scouts to them to see how they might be used,” he said.
These included tools to measure crop biomass and assess if crops had enough nitrogen and an unmanned aerial vehicle, which can give agronomists a different view of a crop and potentially pinpoint problems.
Part of the exercise included viewing aerial photographs of different fields, including some problem areas, which agronomists then examined and then tried to identify the problem. In one case where a bare patch in a canola field was identified from the air, the problem turned out to be caused by cutworms. (The cutworm damage was simulated, with staff having removed plants.)
Weeds and insects remain an important component of the school. This year glyphosate-resistant kochia was highlighted. Two cases of glyphosate-resistant kochia were discovered last year in the Red River Valley.
The lesson also provided information on controlling glyphosate-tolerant volunteer plants in glyphosate-tolerant crops.
A lot is known about growing wheat and canola, but there are always new agronomists to train in the basics, Heard said.
And then there are newer crops such as corn and soybeans to teach about, he said.
Every growing season is different. This year excessive moisture and flooding, in many parts of Manitoba, will provide fodder for next year’s school, Heard said.
We’re really dependent on the people we train feeding us back ideas,” he said.
“What are the fallow or non-crop problems? What are the weed and nutrient issues coming out of waterlogged or unseeded soils?”
Most of the money charged to attend the school is used to hire three summer students who assist in preparing the plots and fields for school, Heard said.
The school also receives contributions from companies, including seed and pesticide firms, but relies more heavily on support from farm commodity groups.
“The way I sell it is, you as farmers have a vested interest to make sure agronomists — your ag retailer — is trained and staying up with things,” Heard said.