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Five New Tricks You CAN Teach an Old Dog in Agriculture

Yes, it turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I’m very thankful for that fact as 2014 comes to a close, as more and more studies were released throughout this year not only on the changes that are taking place in terms of the climate , but many studies were devoted to what should be, as farmers, considered our most precious resource, our soil.

Soil is our lifeline, it is what makes or breaks a crop, along with sufficient warmth and rainfall, and it is quickly becoming the centre of more and more discussion in coffee shops and garages, as we all try to digest all of the information being thrown at us about what we can do to “save our soil”. Even the UN has taken up the cause, and has declared 2015 to be The International Year of Soils, which kicked off on World Soil Day, December 5th. You will see many initiatives over the next year to encourage soil health practices to spread across the globe. I encourage you to participate in these initiatives, and be the change you want to see. I personally want to learn more about cover crops. I think this is the future for improving soil conditions and using up excess moisture. And if we start using GMO technology on cover crops we could see them provide nutrients and pest control also.

Change can be hard. We all know this. There seems to always be a little voice inside that competes to get out, whispering something like “this is the way we’ve always done things…” and the power of tradition in the ag community is strong. However, those of us who have met hard times straight on and lived to tell about it had no choice but to innovate when faced with the threat of the dust bowl returning to the prairies. We made those hard changes then, when many called us crazy, and we thrived. Innovative thinking like this led to the birth of Seed Hawk.

With that task in mind, I wanted to quickly list a few new tricks I’ve learned this past year, that might get you started on a list of your own-the end of the year is a great time to reflect on past decisions, and plan for the future, so let this be a little motivation for you.

1. Social media is FUN! And informative, and a little distracting, but mostly, a great resource to bounce ideas off of colleagues and acquaintances, and to hear what all kinds of folks think about issues. I thank all of you who I have met and interacted with this year, and thanks to those who have read and commented on my blogs. I’m learning a lot from you, and I hope to continue to hear from you this coming year.

2. Agvocacy is a real thing, and it’s really, REALLY important! I wrote a blog series this past spring on my thoughts on the organic movement, some of which can be found here.

What I have learned is that it is one thing to get mad about something ridiculous you read in the papers or hear on the radio, but it’s another thing entirely to speak up about it. I discovered that there are a whole host of really intelligent, thoughtful people on the web, in our own community, who are working really hard at this, with the express interest in clarifying facts for the public, and clearing away the hype that makes us all so crazy! Two great examples from close to home are Dr. Cami Ryan, whose blog can be found at https://doccamiryan.wordpress.com/ and Sarah Schultz, whose blog can be found at http://www.nurselovesfarmer.com/ . I really enjoy writing agvocacy blogs from time to time, as I get a lot of satisfaction out of setting the record straight, and I love the conversations that come out of these blogs. Thanks for all of your participation this past year. I look forward to ranting more over the next year. Send me any topics you might be interested in!

3. It’s easy for a dog to forget those new tricks! It’s true, the South East Prairies on both sides of the border got hammered again this year with some of the wettest weather we’ve ever seen. And in those cases, it might have been necessary to till a bit to have any hope of getting a crop off (many didn’t anyway). The temptation has been creeping in for a few years now, and I have blogged on my concerns. That blog can be found here: http://www.notillville.com/blog/2014/vertical-tillage-wet-years. It sure is hard to drive down Highway one and see beautiful topsoil blowing off the field onto the snow drifts. We have worked so hard to re-build our organic matter over the last 25 years or so. I would hate to see the great example that we have set for elsewhere in the world blow away.

4. Headlines are a powerful thing! A study was published by UC Davis in October which was the first of its kind. It gathered a vast amount of data on no-till agriculture and pulled it together to make some general observations about the state and effectiveness of the practice. There were a lot of promising conclusions that came out of the study, information that could help to strengthen the legitimacy of the practice in the eyes of the public, something that any sector in agriculture badly needs. Yet, when the study came out and was distributed, the headlines said things like “No-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields, study finds” Not exactly glowing praise for no-till, and not exactly accurate either, as when I dug deeper, the sources they were citing were not comparable, and painted an entirely different picture than the reality that I have witnessed in my years in no-till. This realization (about the way a story is marketed online) was a truly disturbing one, as I figured out that websites are merely competing for eyeballs and a few minutes of our time, and headlines that are meant to shock and draw in readers may lure a reader to information that is of no real value, or to draw false conclusions (the study itself actually had great things to say about the value of no-till, if anyone bothered to read that far down the page!) In future I will be wary of click-bait, and I urge you to do the same (though those cat videos are pretty hilarious!)

5. Different regions have vastly different challenges. I have travelled to many different places over the years, and seen all manner of different kinds of operations. This year I got to see firsthand some of the challenges faced by farmers in Sweden and England. Changes in law and policy in these places are going to directly impact the way they can farm their land, and I have a feeling these kinds of changes are going to spread, as the voice of the public increases around food issues. We can only hope that the power of agvocacy can increase to meet this pressure head on, and that new research can rise to meet the challenges of pest and waste management, solutions that are badly needed if we are going to be able to feed 9 billion mouths in 2050. So, if you’re up to it, pick up a pen, type a blog, a Facebook post or tweet, or even a letter to the editor if you’d like. Every voice we can add will strengthen our cause! 2014 was a tough year for some, a year of change for others, but it should have been a year of learning if you were lucky. Please take a few minutes to look back on your year, and let me know if anything came up that you’d like me to talk about in future blogs. I wish you the very best for health and prosperity in 2015, and promise to do my best to keep you entertained and coming back for more on the blog.

Reach out to me @PatrickBeaujot or @NOTILLville

Photo courtesy Chris Bettschen

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