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U of A farm science tour comes to Sturgeon County

Free showcase at St. Albert Research Station
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GROWING SCIENCE — U of A agriculture Prof. Linda Gorim supervises students planting crops at the St. Albert Research Station. Gorim is co-hosting a Crop Science Field Day at the station north of St. Albert on July 18, 2024. LINDA GORIM/Photo

Science is sprouting just outside St. Albert, and you can learn all about it at a free field day later this month.

About 250 people will be at the University of Alberta’s St. Albert Research Station just north of St. Albert in Sturgeon County July 18 for the inaugural U of A Crop Science Field Day. This free event aims to showcase the latest in crop research happening at the university.

U of A researchers are working to solve many problems faced by today’s farmers, including market pressures, crop pests, and climate change, said field day co-organizer Linda Gorim, a professor of cropping systems at the university. Doing so takes years of work, as crop experiments often take multiple growing seasons to complete.

“This has been a very weird year,” Gorim said, as the dry spring and late rains mean some fields are now well advanced while others have barely sprouted.

Gorim said the field day will start with tours and poster presentations at the U of A’s South Campus near 122 St. and 51 Ave. Guests will then drive to the St. Albert Research Station on Range Rd. 253A next to Hwy. 2 north of St. Albert for a free lunch and a chance to see in-field experiments.

The St. Albert station was once a farm run by the Bocock family, who sold their land to the U of A at a steep discount back in 2008, Gorim noted.

“It has been a lifesaver for the crop unit,” she said, and has given researchers the space needed to do large-scale studies.

Crop science

U of A agronomics Prof. Malinda Thilakarathna will show guests his research into fungi and wheat at the St. Albert station.

Wheat, like many plants, interacts with symbiotic fungi called mycorrhizae to absorb phosphorous and water from the soil, which helps it survive drought, Thilakarathna said. But since canola doesn’t support such fungi, today’s wheat-canola crop rotations could disrupt this fungi-wheat relationship.

Thilakarathna said he and his team want to see if spraying mycorrhizal inoculants (which are expensive) on wheat will restore their fungi and boost growth. They seeded six plots with canola last year and have seeded them with different wheat varieties this year, with some sprayed with inoculant and others not. In a year or so, they hope to learn which crops work best (if at all) with the sprays, which should help farmers increase productivity while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Gorim said her team was studying oats — specifically, how to stop them from falling over (lodging) when they grow too tall.

“Oats are notorious for lodging,” she said, and lodged plants harm a farmer’s bottom line, as they shade out other plants and are harder to harvest.

Plant growth inhibitors are chemicals that can stop a plant’s vertical growth if applied at the right time, Gorim said. That “right time” has traditionally been a two-day window that overlaps with when farmers are already busy spraying other chemicals, which makes it very challenging for farmers to get the inhibitors sprayed on time.

Gorim said she and her team are spraying growth inhibitors on oats later in the growth process to see if they still work. If they can add about a week to that two-day window, it would mean less work for farmers. Her team was also studying how to get crops to use fertilizer more efficiently to raise yields while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Gorim said she hoped to make this field day an annual event.

The field day runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the south campus and 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the St. Albert Research Station. Guests can visit either or both locations, but have to find their way between them on their own.

Visit www.ualberta.ca/events/agriculture-life-environment-sciences/2024_crop-science-field-day.html for details.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the Thestreetgypsies in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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