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Rotational study shows promise

Multi-site research focuses on ideal stubble for staple, novel crops

By Trevor Bacque

Farming Smarter knows that when a farmer wants to try something new, they need agronomic research available. This prompted it to join a rotational study and produce new data for staple and novel crops.

The project, Introducing High Value Speciality Crops to Western Canadian Crop Rotations, focuses on barley, canola, pea and wheat in conjunction with multiple novel crops, but mostly focused on hemp and quinoa.

Led by Jan Slaski of Innotech Alberta, the research plots are in Vegreville, Alta., Falher, Alta., and Indian Head, Sask., as well as the home site of Farming Smarter.

The three-year study has two iterations and the overall focus is centred on emergence, biomass and yield. With Year two complete, Farming Smarter’s Mike Gretzinger is busy compiling data and preparing for the third trial year of 2020. He is excited about the project’s unique design.

crop matrix
Watch for final reports in 2022.

“It’s different than anything we’ve done in the past,” he says of the project. “What you end up with is each replicate is randomized, but each strip goes across something. You start with each crop as Year 1 stubble and end up with a grid of each crop as a Year 2 small plot across the stubbles.”

The Year 1 plots were 10-by-50-metre strips to simulate real farming conditions. Year 2 plots were four-by-10-metres. According to Gretzinger, the entire project was precipitated by Alberta farmers looking for more agronomic information on quinoa and hemp. He hopes this research will continue to lay an agronomic foundation for Alberta farmers interested in regularly growing these novel crops.

Although results won’t be finalized until late 2020, Gretzinger has seen key findings from Year 2 that should hold true regardless of what Year 3 brings.

Corn proved to be a less than ideal stubble choice to grow on due to poor emergence and low biomass of Year 2 crops. There were also a few surprises with Year 2 findings.

Peas grew extremely well on the stubble of every crop except hemp, which didn’t respond well to the project’s selected herbicide Odyssey.

“You could see every pea plot across stubble full and lush, but the ones we grew on hemp, we had just volunteer hemp coming through them,” he says. “It wasn’t really expected but it happened.”

Heavy rain following seeding gave rise to massive amounts of volunteer canola and, to a lesser extent, volunteer wheat and barley. The quinoa emerged best on drybean and pea. Meanwhile, hemp had the strongest emergence when grown on durum, wheat then pea.

One aspect of the project Gretzinger appreciates is that it gets back to some real agronomic basics and tries to answer two foundational questions. First, given the stubble, what’s the best crop to grow? Second: given the crop I want to grow, what’s the best stubble to grow it on?

“That’s the power of this study,” he says. “It brings it back to basic things, but at the same time, because of that design, we’ve had so many different interactions that it’s really been amazing how many factors we’ve had to consider. What do you do with that stubble?

“The whole point is to arm folks with good data to grow [hemp and quinoa]. It comes down to how do you integrate those crops with all the staple crops?”