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New choices for area ag producers

 
New industries are bringing new choices for Lethbridge-area producers. And ongoing investments in water conservation will make southern Alberta’s irrigation system even more valuable.
 
Hundreds of irrigation farmers heard more about those opportunities during a two-day crop production conference, ending here today. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry hosted the event, which also attracted producers from Saskatchewan and nearby U.S. states.
 
The event was first held in 2006, says soil and water scientist Shelley Woods, and alternates between an irrigation focus in Lethbridge and then a dryland conference the next year in central Alberta.
 
Southern Alberta producers were featured speakers both days, along with industry sector representatives and researchers for both the federal and provincial governments.
 
Woods, one of the Lethbridge-based scientists, was scheduled to speak on managing soil moisture. That’s basic to all crops, so it’s studied in the provincial wing of the two-government research centre at Lethbridge.
 
In an interview, she said the province and the irrigation districts are partners in continuing projects to conserve irrigation water through such on-the-farm measures as low-pressure pivots as well as installing water pipelines in place of open irrigation canals.
 
With less water lost to evaporation or seepage, she said, more becomes available for irrigation districts to expand their service. Even so, Woods said older approaches including wheel-turn irrigation or even flooding are appropriate for some crops on some difficult land.
 
While irrigation systems have improved, so have southern Alberta producers’ options. Speakers outlined developments in bean crops, sunflower seeds, alfalfa and sugar beets, as well as such widespread crops as canola and potatoes. Participants also heard talks about plant diseases, fungicides, insects and insecticide resistance – along with predictions about water supply and reservoir levels in 2018.
 
“We try to get them updated with the latest that’s going on,” Woods says.
 
In the Lethbridge area, for example, she predicts more producers will move into potato crops as the new Cavendish Farms plant prepares for production. That adds another major buyer, in addition to McCain’s, Lamb Weston, Hostess-FritoLay and the Old Dutch plant in Calgary.
 
“We’ll probably see potato production move farther west.”
 
Southern Alberta is also known for its trademark crops like beets and corn, as well as forage crops and grains. But the specialty crops sector is expanding as well, Woods said.
 
Along with dry beans and other pulse crops, producers may also consider soon-to-be-legal marijuana. While today’s start-up crops are being grown in greenhouses, scientists say varieties could also be grown on secured irrigation land in years to come.
 
Source : Lethbridge Herald