Farmers taking part in a controlled traffic farming field day near Lacombe last year get a look at what’s happening to the soil beneath their crops.

Controlled traffic farming stirring interest

It’s too soon to declare controlled traffic farming the next big thing in agriculture, but the early results of field trials in Alberta should at least raise some eyebrows.

It’s too soon to declare controlled traffic farming the next big thing in agriculture, but the early results of field trials in Alberta should at least raise some eyebrows.

A recent report by Controlled Traffic Farming Alberta suggests that the practice of using permanent traffic lanes in fields could increase the rate of water absorption, reduce fuel cost and improve efficiencies.

It analyzed the results of the first two years of a three-year project involving controlled traffic farming — or CTF — on five Alberta farms. These include sites near Lacombe and Trochu.

Although data is limited, the report pointed to apparent trends related to fuel saving, better infiltration rates and more efficient operations on CTF plots as compared with those farmed using traditional methods.

“Result-wise, it’s pretty positive,” said project leader Peter Gamache.

He said during the first year of the trial, in 2011, participating farmers were still trying to get used to the system. By 2012, they had become more comfortable and saw improved results.

The CTF plots at Lacombe and Trochu — which were both seeded to barley — produced higher yields than adjacent control plots. The same was true at another site at Dapp, while a CTF plot at Rolling Hills was lower and the final one at Morrin didn’t have a check plot to compare to.

“Three of the five are plus, one we can’t compare and one is lower,” summed up Gamache.

He’s optimistic the results will continue to improve over time, although 2013 is slated to be the final year of the project.

“We’re trying to find a way to keep it going for a couple more seasons.”

Gamache thinks producers are intrigued by CTF, with about 143 taking part in four field trials last year, and about 120 sitting in on CTF presentations at FarmTech in Edmonton.

“I think farmers are very interested, but they’re obviously a bit skeptical in the sense of, ‘Does this make sense?’ or ‘Should I even try this?’ or ‘Why would I do this?’”

What’s needed to win them over are documented benefits, particularly with respect to improved yields and cost savings.

“We need those results, and what’s happening with our soils.”

Controlled Traffic Farming Alberta is funded by the Agriculture & Food Council, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the CAAP program. Additional help has come from the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund, the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, the Alberta Barley Commission, the Alberta Pulse Growers, the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission, Farmers Edge, Beyond Agronomy, Point Forward Solutions and the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta.

More information about controlled traffic farming can be found online at www.controlledtrafficfarming.org

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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