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Farm Focus

More than 1,000 Alberta farmers will be in Edmonton this week to learn about the future of their industry. It’s FarmTech time again, and the conference is sold out.

More than 1,000 Alberta farmers will be in Edmonton this week to learn about the future of their industry.

It’s FarmTech time again, and the conference is sold out. The annual conference in Edmonton — organized by Alberta grain-growing groups and the Wild Rose Agricultural Producers — is one of the largest farm-meets in the province.

This is the sixth year in a row that the event has sold out, said chair Kent Erickson, and they’re expecting some 1,200 people to attend. Guests will hear from up to 42 international experts on everything from canola to climate change during the three-day event and get hands-on with the latest agricultural products.

Australia’s Robert Ruwoldt and Alberta’s Steve Larocque are set to speak on the power of no-till farming, while plant pathologist Stephen Strelkov will run through Alberta’s clubroot situation. The Alberta Canola Producers and Seed Growers associations will also hold their annual meetings.

Technology has become ever more important as farms grow in size, Erickson said. “A lot of people would look at GPS and auto guidance systems and say, oh, it makes the job easier,” he said. It does, but it also helps save on gas, water, seed and fertilizer. “The problem is a lot of this technology is very computerized, and some older farmers struggle with it.”

The conference also offers several sessions on succession planning. “We have a lot of farmers that are 60 to 70 years old,” Erickson noted. “They need to find a way to transfer out of the farm.”

The conference runs from Wednesday to Friday at the Mayfield Inn and Suites. Call 1-866-327-6832 for details.

About 100,000 farmers have issued a new call for the federal government to reinvest in agricultural research.

The Grain Growers of Canada joined with farm groups from Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada last week to form a new group called the Farmers for Investment in Agriculture. The group, which includes Alberta barley, grain, oat and winter wheat associations, represents about 100,000 farmers from across Canada.

The group wants the federal government to double its core agronomic research funding within 10 years, says Doug Robertson, president of the Grain Growers of Canada. This would restore funding to 1994 levels, he said, and be equivalent to about $28 million a year for 10 years. “It’s not an extravagant ask.”

Consecutive governments have chopped research funds to about 40 per cent of 1994 levels, Robertson said, which puts Canadian farmers at a competitive disadvantage. “We’re competing with guys like Australia that are putting piles more in.” These dollars fund basic research into fields corporations often aren’t interested in — fertilizer efficiency, for example, or field variety tests of new crops.

This would be an investment, he argued — research suggests that every dollar put into agriculture research yields a 40 to 60 per cent return. “It’s an investment in something that’s going to make them money.” Agriculture was one of the few sectors to survive the recent recession relatively unscathed, he added.

Grain growers run the risk of losing control of their crops to multinationals without federal research, said Bob Russell, a St. Albert resident and chair of the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta’s agriculture committee. He urged the government to do more basic research like field trials and to create scholarships for young new researchers. “Let’s keep it in the public domain rather than the corporate domain.”

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