Farmers shown ways to increase plant production

An increasing global population and growth in greenhouse gas emissions is becoming a hot topic among farmers.

An increasing global population and growth in greenhouse gas emissions is becoming a hot topic among farmers.

The intelligent use of sustainable agriculture is becoming more important, explained agronomist Dan Heaney at a workshop at the Ponoka Fish and Game Association camp last week.

The event was hosted by Ponoka County and despite inclement weather, some farmers came out to hear what he had to say at the daylong event.

Heaney, who does some consulting work with the Canadian Fertilizer Institute, presented ideas of a stewardship program called 4R, designed to increase production of plants while at the same time maintaining sustainability.

By 2050 the global population is expected to reach 9 billion people but not much farmland is coming into production, Heaney explained. To meet the demands of this rapid growth, farms are expected to improve production.

“Higher productivity tends to increase greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

He suggests the best way to keep production sustainable is to do it without government regulation. He provided three sustainability components.

• Economic: To improve farm profitability by improving return on fertilizer dollars spent

• Social: Create carbon offsets that assist society adapting to climate change and increase global food supply

• Environmental: Reduce industry GHG emissions and prevent nutrient loss from crops

“If a nutrient gets into the crop it’s going to do some good and economic return,” explained Heaney.

The 4R approach was initially developed for fertilizer use but Heaney says it can be used with manure and other natural fertilizers. These are the 4Rs:

• Right source

• Right rate

• Right time

•Right place

These four tools will help farmers track how each crop does and they can evaluate performance based on what type of fertilizer was used on a crop, and whether it should even be used; how much fertilizer was used, when it is applied and where the fertilizer is being used in the proper location.

“The idea is that these kinds of feedbacks will help producers,” said Heaney.

The approach requires more work on the part of producers, though, and Heaney suggested the benefit is in the improved performance of crops and nutrients in crops. “There’s some room to squeeze more out of the nutrients economically.”

Demand for sustainable agriculture is growing

Companies or buyers such as Walmart and Unilever are now requiring more sustainable options from farmers. Indeed, on Walmart’s United States website, Heaney says the company refers to the 4R approach.

“They’re going to want to have anybody who’s selling products on the supply chain to have sustainable practices,” stated Heaney.

A farmer who can show they already use a system such as the 4Rs would have half the battle won. Some of the questions companies ask relate to proper storage of fertilizer and what type of safety practices a farm has for family and workers.

And, “They all want some kind of nutrition plan,” said Heaney.

Good record keeping will be a benefit as well. For more information see the website www.farming4rfuture.ca.