...And what other farmers are learning
Like many producers, Olds producer Gordon Ellis likes the idea of testing himself. So when the opportunity came to develop an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP), he jumped at the chance to identify the environmental strengths and weaknesses on his grain and oilseed operation.
"The bottom line is that I wanted to know where I stood," he says. "Once I completed my EFP, I was pleased to find out that I had already been doing a lot of things right from an environmental perspective. However, it also helped me find opportunities to improve and offered guidance on how to put those management practices into place."
Here are some of the lessons Ellis learned:
Lesson #1: No-till holds value. Four years ago, Ellis moved to a no-till, paired-row system by using an air drill that applies seed and fertilizer at the same time. "Now, instead of putting a lot of fertilizer on in the fall, I place the fertilizer in a single band in between, and one inch below, my seed rows when seeding. It saves money on fuel, makes better use of fertilizer and doesn't disturb the soil as much. Best of all, my yields have increased as a result."
Lesson #2: Understanding tillage vs herbicide trade-off. Many producers have found there's a trade-off when it comes to minimum and no-till practices. Although they're tilling less, they generally have to use more herbicides. "An EFP helps producers come to a business and environmental conclusion which, ultimately, focuses on the best interests of the individual farm," says Ellis.
Lesson #3:GPS means quality and consistency. Buying a GPS system for his tractor has meant greater seeding accuracy, less overlap and better per-dollar value for his seed and fertilizer. Taken together, it has contributed to more consistent, higher quality crops.
"Using the GPS system has reduced overlap significantly, saving on fuel, seed and fertilizer, with plants emerging and maturing at the same time," he says. "GPS has also allowed us to expand our farm due to the fact that we can operate at greater efficiency for longer hours and at higher speeds. The end result has maximized equipment usage and resulted in lowering our cost per acre."
Lesson #4: Simple fuel solutions make a difference. Another project on Ellis' farm that has been driven by his EFP is fuel storage. "We've taken steps to modify fuel storage, simple things like putting locks on fuel tanks and flow meters to reduce fuel waste and document use. The locks protect my fuel from theft and the flow meters have shown us that we use two gallons per hour more when seeding into cereal stubble versus canola stubble."
Lesson #5: Go to the experts. Ellis hires an agronomist to test his soil and help provide him with the information he needs to develop an effective nutrient management plan. The knowledge a nutrient management plan provides helps him save money on inputs and protects the soil and water by knowing how much, or how little, fertilizer to apply to a given area.
The information on this website is available for reprint with credit to "The Alberta Environmental Farm Plan, www.albertaEFP.com".
Article development courtesy of The Alberta Environmental Farm Plan Company