Attending farm plot tours is often pretty farmer specific.
I mean that in the sense comparing one canola variety against another is something of interest only to a canola producer.
But there are elements of such tours which are interesting to a broader range of producers, and in some cases should make the general public take a bit of notice too.
Such was the case recently when Friendly Acres Seed Farm held its plot tours.
The father and son operation near Saltcoats has long been known for growing oats, but more recently has diversified into what are new crops for the region, in particular soybeans.
For Canadian Prairie producers soybeans are just now becoming viable as new varieties have been developed requiring less days to reach maturity.
On an international basis soybeans are a huge crop, in particular in the United States and South America, so it is a well-developed market.
At present Saskatchewan is just starting to explore with soybeans, with less acres planted this spring than those devoted to chickpeas, said Kevin Elmy, and chickpeas are a very minor crop in the province.
While offering Prairie farmers here a chance to enter a very large market crop, growing soybeans is not just about producing bushels and hauling them to market, or at least that is how Elmy looks at the crop as part of a larger picture.
Soybeans as a legume crop, actually produces nitrogen as part of their natural growth process. As a general rule every inch of green plant growth fixates 10 pounds of nitrogen.
To produce those yields Nitrogen is a key nutrient, and as a result farmers invest a sizable amount of the annual crop input costs into adding it in the form of fertilizer.
While soybeans of course use a sizable amount of nitrogen, Elmy said for every bushel per acre produced six pounds of nitrogen are utilized, over time soybeans can give back to the soil.
Elmy said that is a key for him as he looks to create as low a cost, sustainable, crop production system as possible.
That is why Elmy also grows alfalfa and sainfoin. They too are nitrogen fixing legumes, and while harvesting one cut of the crop for livestock feed, a second cut can be left as essentially a green manure nutrient source which goes back to the soil.
Mix in soil building crops such as field radish, and over time the nitrogen needs for a crop such as canola are built up in the soil from previous crops.
Elmy said the fertilizer bill on the farm is down to an average of $10 per acre. That is a miniscule number compared to most.
The system borrows many of its principles from organic production, although Elmy is not full blown into organics. He inoculates seed, top dresses nutrients when needed, and sprays if weeds and insects come along.
But he is working hard to create a crop rotation less reliant on the fertilizer agent and chequebook, and he says it’s working.
One can imagine that while full organic systems might not be viable on the largest farms, and in terms of maximizing yields in the face of a growing population, there are principle which can help reduce inputs.
The ability to control weeds and pests with particular crop rotations might drop the crop protection product costs just as Elmy has used them to reduce his fertilizer bill.
Ultimately that is a key for farmers, reducing costs while keeping yields high, and there is growing evidence it is possible to do both via good crop rotation planning.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor of Yorkton This Week.