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Agricultural Services Topics and Tips

Rural Living & Ag Extension logo: sun against a blue sky and wheat sheaves on either side. Gold and green field at the bottom.Below you'll find tips, topics, and resources on farming and rural living:

Click the link to view more information on the role of Alberta's Agricultural Service Boards: Alberta ASBs

Field experiencing soil erosionIn Southern Alberta, it is not uncommon to experience cycles of freezing and thawing, along with high winds.  These conditions can make soil susceptible to erosion.  When these weather conditions occur, producers are encouraged to monitor fields for erosion and take steps to prevent future issues. 

Soil erosion can be devastating as it causes substantial damage to agricultural land and subsequent losses in crop production.  For each inch of topsoil lost to erosion, crop yields can be lowered by several bushels per acre.  Erosion also removes nutrients from the soil, making it less productive.

The Agriculture Service Board is mandated by the Alberta Soil Conservation Act to “prevent the loss or deterioration of soil from taking place.” 

Allowing your soil to blow and erode is an infraction under the Soil Conservation Act.  To learn more about this, click the link: Article: Yes, Blowing Soil Breaks a Law

If a field has begun to experience soil erosion, there are many steps you can take.  Lethbridge County has knowledgeable staff that can assist in preventing and reducing soil blowing as a result of erosion.   The ASB has equipment such as a bale processor, straw crimper, chisel plow equipped with Lister shovels, and heavy equipment with rippers available to assist landowners.  Please do not hesitate to call the County’s resources if assistance is needed.  Staff can be reached at 403-732-5333 Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information on soil erosion, click the following links: 

 

Cleanfarms is testing the use of a manual compacting system for producers who want to recycle their bale wrap and silage plastic.  The system aims to quickly compact these items for easier transport to a recycling facility.  

Some compactors are available for free on-farm use. Contact Cleanfarms’ Alberta Program Advisor, Davin Johnson (e-mail or call 403‑942‑6012) to inquire about obtaining a manual compactor for your operation. 

For more information on the manual compacting system, visit https://cleanfarms.ca/pilot-program-for-lethbridge-county-ab-recycle-bale-wrap-and-silage-plastic-bags-tarps-bunker-covers/

Click the link for more information: Burning Un-Harvested Crops

Plant with clubroot vs. withoutLeft: Plant with clubroot
Right: Plant without clubroot

Photo courtesy of Canola Council of Canada
Clubroot is a serious soil-borne disease of canola, mustard and other crops in the cabbage family.  Cole crop vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, radish, rutabaga, and turnip are susceptible to clubroot, as are many cruciferous weeds like wild mustard, stinkweed and shepherd’s purse.

As the name of this disease suggests, roots of infected plants may exhibit a club-like appearance.  However, overall symptoms will vary depending on the growth stage of the crop when it becomes infected. Infection at the seedling stage can result in wilting, stunting and yellowing symptoms by the late rosette to early podding stage, while premature ripening or death can be observed in canola or mustard plants nearing maturity. Plants infected at later growth stages may not show wilting, stunting or yellowing, but may still ripen prematurely and seeds may shrivel, thus reducing yield and quality (oil content). The objective of the Clubroot Management Plan is to minimize yield losses due to clubroot and reduce the further spread and buildup of clubroot in canola, mustard and market garden vegetable fields in Alberta.

Michael Harding, a Research Scientist from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry tells us, “Harvest time is an ideal time to scout for clubroot for two reasons. The first is that the disease symptoms have reached their apex and they’re easy to spot by pulling up the roots. The second reason is that for fields that are swathed, if you can get in during swathing, or right after the swather, it’s much easier to move and walk through the fields and scout multiple areas. Make sure to look in areas around low spots or along fence lines or shelterbelts where snowdrifts accumulate. The field entrance is also a good place to scout, and anywhere the growth is unthrifty or poor, or where weedy patches exist. Early detection makes an infestation manageable.”

For more information on scouting for fields call the Lethbridge County Agriculture Service Board at 403-732-5333. The Alberta Clubroot Management Plan is available at https://open.alberta.ca/publications/7089438


Click the links for fact sheets on trees and shelterbelts:

View the videos below for more information on the importance of shelterbelts on rural properties, and how to establish them:

Grant Colling - Trees and Shelterbelts (Grant Colling of Grant's Plants provides information and tips on tree health, pruning, and pest detection in Southern Alberta tree species)


Lethbridge County Shelterbelt Workshop - April 2022


Shelterbelt Series: 

  • Part 1 - Why Plant Trees and Shelterbelts

  • Part 2 - Benefits of Shelterbelts

  • Part 3 - Steps to Establish Shelterbelts


  • Part 4 - Tree and Shrub Selection for Shelterbelts


  • Part 5 - Tree Species


  • Part 6 - How to Plant Trees


  • Part 7 - Weed Control for Shelterbelts


  • Part 8 - Follow Up Care for Shelterbelts


By: Grant Colling

Do trees talk? 

Of course they do. Trees communicate through the release of pheromones & vibrations.

That is why when they get an infestation, competing plants, or challenging environmental conditions they respond the following season by changing their chemistry to adapt. 

This is especially true in monocultures like shelterbelts.

An example is sawfly on immature Spruce trees can lead to significant defoliation, whereas a mature Spruce will show minimal damage as it has changed its flavor or smell to deceive the sawfly.

When we humans intervene early with chemical controls the trees don’t realise there was a problem & therefore no internal chemical changes are made. This leads to a dependency for external controls. Along with continued attacks year over year.

The 2022 season brought us an outbreak of Spruce bark Aphids. The cause was drought. Trees require water to move nutrients by translocation in the vascular system to roots, twigs, buds, foliage, flowers, and cambial cells. When a tree does not have the water it requires it goes dormant, leaving the existing plant material without any protection thus sacrificing those plant parts. 

How can we address the health issues? It starts by making the soil microbes happy. The addition of organics creates a buffet of food for the microbes. Grass clippings, wood chips, leaves, vermiculture products, composted animal waste & seaweed extracts all make great readily available nutrients. The addition of nitrogen prior to the application of your mulches will offset the nitrates used in the breakdown process. These soil additives will also create a consistent buffer zone controlling the pH issues caused by irrigation water.

Watering is the most frequently asked question; how much is enough? There is no accurate answer but I recommend putting out a soup can & running the irrigation system until it is full once a week. Reducing the frequency of watering to once every 2 weeks in September will give the trees a notice to start hardening off for the winter months.

By consulting with a certified Arborist that has a pesticide licence a Plant Health Care (PHC) program can be developed reducing dependency on chemical controls & embracing cultural, mechanical & biological methods. Trees live long and die slow. Play safe.

Wood wasps in poplar

Spruce Bark Aphid

By: Grant Colling

Plant health care professionals around the globe all agree that most plant issues start in the soil.

Trees supply us with oxygen, soil retention, noise buffering, wind abatement, shade, pollution absorption, food & many other benefits.

Here are some of my cultural, mechanical, and chemical solutions for assisting our big green friends.

Heavy clay soils in our region cause water to run horizontally rather than vertically. These soil types also preserve fungi for a much longer time than the loam or sandy soils. Due to the anaerobic conditions associated with heavy clay, it creates a challenge for root establishment. Roots require good soil tilth (pore spaces).

To establish better soil tilth and water retention we suggest vertical mulching. The process requires a 3 to 5 cm soil drill (like an ice auger). At the dripline of a tree or in the case of a shelterbelt a grid pattern would be incorporated. Drilling holes 20 to 30 cm deep below grade at the dripline, excavating the soil from the hole. Then mixing a base filler composed of peatmoss, compost, small gravel (not sand), & possibly amendments such as acidifiers or fertilizers, then backfill the holes. Do not tamp. 

By measuring the circumference of the tree at 100 cm above grade you can determine the volume of holes to be drilled by a 2 to 1 ratio. Example, a 30 cm circumference tree will require 15 drill holes staggered at and just inside the dripline. Avoid drill holes any closer as you will cause damage too the roots. This process can be repeated annually.

Depending on the substrate at grade be it soil, turf, gravel or mulch you are going to have activities that may cause damage or stress to the roots. Bare soil allows weeds to proliferate and we attempt control either mechanically by rototilling that causes absorptive root damage. Chemical controls over time may leach into shallow rooted trees like conifers. Horticultural vinegar is my go too product. It is only a top kill but if your timing is good, you will prevent seed head production.

Turf creates a competition for water & nutrients as well as compaction from mowing. 

Gravel retains the days heat and has been known to cause root & foliar damage. It does however provide needed minerals.

Organic mulches are the best choice as they moderate heat in soils, conserve water, and reduce compaction all while providing nutrients to the soil.

Trees live long and die slow, play safe.

Lawnmower damage