Data-driven decisions at the Discovery Farm

Field-size trials and commercial equipment make farm adoption simpler

Research results are always interesting — but will they scale up for the farm?

Glacier FarmMedia’s Discovery Farm, located at the Ag in Motion show site near Saskatoon, is answering that question by doing field-scale trials on a 180-acre site known as Field of Excellence.

Blake Weiseth
photo: Supplied

“By doing it at the field scale with commercially available equipment, growers or agronomists can quickly implement these practices on their farms or with their customers,” says Blake Weiseth, Discovery Farm’s research lead.

Weiseth, an agronomist with a master’s degree in soil science from the University of Saskatchewan, says there’s two ongoing large-scale trials. One uses forages to manage saline soils and the other implements a variable-rate fertilizer program.

The variable-rate fertility project has seeded 160 acres of wheat and 60 acres of canola.

“Looking at wheat and canola we’ll be doing a variable-rate, top-dress application of nitrogen both at seeding and in season,” he said.

Weiseth said their goal is to implement a variable-rate fertility program using the equipment and technology that’s available to every farmer. The move from small plots to field scale aims to better measure the natural variances bound to occur in a larger field.

“Working with the larger plot allows you to capture the variability within the field better than you might with smaller plots in a replicated trial,” Weiseth added.

Helping conduct this year’s trials are METOS Canada and CropPro Consulting, providing the Discovery Farm with the sensors, hardware and data collection software to inform their decisions later in the growing season.

“One of the key pieces of tech in our trials is the soil moisture probe, which is connected to precipitation gauges and a weather station.”

Examples of a soil probe and weather station provided by METOS to the Discovery Farm.
photo: Spencer Myers

The soil characteristics and weather data are recorded and categorized so that Weiseth and his team can determine the rates for their in-season nitrogen application and spray treatments.

While METOS is providing some of the sensors and hardware, CropPro Consulting is providing the software and consulting to turn data into decisions.

“By partnering with CropPro Consulting it allows us to model the crop’s estimated nutrient demand based on the soil characteristics and environmental factors we’re seeing throughout the season.”

The information captured using the soil moisture probes, weather stations and precipitation gauges is fed into the management software from CropPro Consulting and collected to inform decisions later on.

CropPro Consulting is also known for its SWAT Maps (Soil, Water and Topography) and soil zone mapping capabilities.

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“The overall objective for the variable-rate fertility project is to illustrate what it would take to implement a variable-rate fertility program on your farm,” Weiseth said.

“Our goal isn’t really to come up with new technology or software, it’s more focused on using the tech and equipment that are already available to implement a variable-rate program, and the field scale makes it that much more realistic.”

The other ongoing trial at the Discovery Farm is attempting to improve saline soils by establishing different forage species.

“We have a two-acre site affected by varying degrees of salinity. In this trial we’re illustrating three different treatments of forage species to look at how well they establish according to the varying salinity,” Weiseth said.

He plans to measure the forage’s biomass of each species along with the soil salinity through this growing season and over time. He’s hoping for a long-term establishment over five to 10 years to see how, or if, the salinity will improve in each of the three treatments.

You can follow along with Weiseth’s research at the Discovery Farm through his Twitter account @blake_weiseth where he posts regular updates on the Field of Excellence projects.

The final data from this year’s trials on the Discovery Farm will be published in a research report estimated for December of 2020.

At the Ag in Motion site in past years, equipment demonstrations like the seeding demo have attracted large crowds.
photo: Robin Booker/Western Producer

About the author

Reporter

Spencer Myers

Spencer Myers grew up on a beef and grain farm in Belmont, Man. He is a graduate of the University of Manitoba’s Agriculture Diploma Program and Red River College’s Creative Communications program. Adding to his on-farm experience, Spencer has worked as an agronomist-in-training at Zeghers Seed Inc. in Holland, Man., and a conservation technician with Ducks Unlimited’s Native Plant Solutions division. Spencer is currently based in Winnipeg.

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