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Competition Encourages Ag Producers To Try New Technologies, Methods

(From left) Rodrigo Werle, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture; Jacob Nickel, irrigation research technician; and Himmy Lo, research assistant in biological systems engineering, perform stalk nitrate sampling on a plot at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte.
A new University of Nebraska-Lincoln-led partnership is helping agricultural producers explore emerging technologies and identify ways to strengthen profitability without increasing risk during the growing season.
Organized by Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Testing Ag Performance Solutions farm management competition involved managing center pivot-irrigated corn. Seventeen producers squared off against university scientists and two student groups in three categories: most profitable farm, highest input use efficiency and greatest grain yield.
"We came up with the idea for the UNL-TAPS competition as a way to help producers become familiar with new ag technologies and techniques, while also leveraging a peer-to-peer exchange of information," said Daran Rudnick, assistant professor of biological systems engineering and agricultural water management specialist with Nebraska Extension.
The competition took place at the university's West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte. Each participant managed three small plots under a variable rate irrigation system. Preseason decisions included hybrid selection, population density and crop insurance selection. Each week, participants made decisions regarding irrigation and nitrogen management, and grain marketing. Decisions were submitted through a password-protected website, which also included in-season photographs of the plots, weather data and additional farm management resources.
"With today's low commodity prices, we really wanted to focus on profitability," said Chuck Burr, an extension educator. "It's not just about highest yield; it's about highest economic yield, meaning at what cost did it take to achieve a certain yield.
The competition attracted the attention of several industry partners, who were curious about the management practices being used. The industry representatives were able to share information about their new technologies with producers. 
John Walz owns and operates a farm 22 miles north of North Platte. He participated in the competition because the knowledge needed to manage an operation is constantly expanding. 
"I've really learned a lot by participating in the UNL-TAPS competition," he said. "There were a lot of really cool tools at our disposal, and we've had the opportunity to see if they can add value to our operation without risk." 
Some of the participating producers implemented the same management practices they use on their farms while others used the competition to evaluate different practices. Not only were producers able to expand their knowledge, but the contest allowed Nebraska Extension to expand its expertise.
"We recognize that the university plot might not be the most successful one in the group, but that provides a great learning opportunity," Rudnick said. "It's critical for us to understand different management practices that take place on individual operations so that when a grower comes to us and asks 'Why?' we have actual scientific background on why that outcome took place." 
Cash prizes will be awarded to the top-performing producer, excluding university scientists, in each category at a Dec. 12 awards banquet. In the coming weeks, each producer will share their management strategies and discuss their successes and challenges during educational workshops. 
While all of the participants have embraced the competitive nature of the project, Walz says everyone will walk away a winner thanks to this exchange of information.
“There’s too much knowledge to be shared to care about winning and losing,” he said. 
Others involved in launching the competition were Matt Stockton, associate professor of agricultural economics, and Rodrigo Werle, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture. The competition is supported by Nebraska's Natural Resource Districts, the Nebraska Corn Board, AquaMart and several industry partners. 

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How a Desire to Lead Brought This Wheat Breeder to Canada

Video: How a Desire to Lead Brought This Wheat Breeder to Canada

Gurcharn Singh Brar is a wheat breeder whose path meandered from the breadbaskets of Punjab, India, to the sprawling fields of the Prairies. In a candid conversation, Brar shared insights into his journey, the challenges faced, and the undying passion that fuels his quest for better crops.

It all began with a childhood rooted in the wheat fields of Punjab, where agriculture isn’t just a livelihood but a way of life. His fascination with wheat and its potential led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences at Punjab Agricultural University. It was during this time that he encountered the spectre of rust diseases, particularly stripe rust, which plagued the region’s wheat crops. Determined to combat this menace, he set his sights on a journey that would take him across continents.

Venturing abroad for his graduate studies, he found himself in Saskatchewan at the Crop Development Centre (CDC), working under the mentorship of renowned researchers like Randy Kutcher and Pierre Hucl. Here, he delved deep into the world of wheat genetics, focusing on stripe rust resistance — a quest that would shape his academic pursuits for years to come.

After completing his master’s and Ph.D. in six and a half years, he embarked on a professional journey that would see him traverse academia and research. From brief stints as a research officer to landing his dream faculty position at the University of British Columbia’s Plant Science program, his career trajectory was marked by a strong drive to make a difference in the world of wheat.

Despite the allure of British Columbia’s unique agricultural landscape, he found himself wanting to return to the vast expanses of the Prairies, where wheat reigns supreme. He recently returned to the Prairies and is the new wheat breeder at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

“The opportunity to lead an established wheat breeding program at the University of Alberta was a dream come true. With the necessary resources and infrastructure in place, I’m excited to drive innovation and develop high-yielding wheat varieties tailored to the unique conditions of northern Canada,” he says.

Brar, one of Seed World Canada‘s 2024 Next-Gen Leaders, has become known for identifying novel sources of resistance to priority diseases and his efforts in developing wheat germplasm with multiple disease-resistant traits.

In addition to his groundbreaking research, Brar is committed to mentoring the next generation of agricultural scientists.

“I believe in nurturing talent and empowering students to pursue their passions,” he says. “Watching my students grow and thrive in their research endeavours is hugely rewarding.”

As he looks ahead, Brar’s vision for the future of wheat breeding is clear: “My number one target is to develop high-yielding wheat varieties adapted to the northern climates of Canada. By focusing on early maturity and strong straw traits, we can maximize yield potential while ensuring resilience to environmental challenges.”

His decision to also join the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye, and Triticale (PGDC) executive as member-at-large came from a desire to play an even more important role in the world of Canadian cereals.