Alberta farmers tout new digital technologies to save costs, time

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Breadcrumb Trail Links Local News A barley field south of Edmonton. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia, file Article content Some Alberta farmers say fast-advancing digital technologies have already become ingrained in their multi-generational family operations. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content Willie […]

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Some Alberta farmers say fast-advancing digital technologies have already become ingrained in their multi-generational family operations.

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Willie and Nick Banack help operate a 2,800-hectare (7,000 acre) grain farm in the Camrose area. They spoke at a panel discussion Thursday with farmers from across Canada about their adoption of new agricultural technologies, from light bar GPS guidance for machinery to auto-steering technology and more sophisticated apps that collect and analyze data from the field.

“This technology is easier to use than it ever has been,” said Willie Banack, who said the digital age has produced profound changes for his industry since he started farming in the early 1990s.

“Our farm has expanded almost three-fold in that time frame,” he said, adding digital tools have allowed operators to work longer with less fatigue, and end up with less overlap or miss in the field, especially when spraying herbicides or pesticides.

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The panel was hosted by Matt Eves, a representative from Bayer’s Climate FieldView, a digital agriculture platform that collects and analyzes data from the field to help producers track things like crop yield.

An agribusiness market study from the Calgary Economic Development Forum published in 2020 noted the “precision farming” market, including the use of information technology and GPS, was estimated to grow from US $7 billion in 2020 to US $12.8 billion by 2025. Producers on Thursday’s panel said they’ve bought into digital tools to help them make better decisions about where to invest resources.

“One of the biggest things that has changed for us, as in keeping track of data, is the ability to really look at where input costs are, making sure that we’re putting the right amounts of product on the right fields in the right time and the right place,” said Willie Banack.

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Nick Banack said during last summer’s heatwave, using an app to quickly find where crops were being affected by drought conditions helped the farm to determine where in the fields they should apply fungicide.

“That was a pretty big cost savings for us this year because for a pretty large portion of our fields, we were really not going to do anything with that fungicide,” he said.

Brian Witdouck said at the panel he knew his family’s Lethbridge-area seed production operation needed to adopt digital tools for the long term.

“I knew if we did not take advantage of it, you were already checking out, it was a slow decline for you,” said Witdouck.

Kevin Witdouck said his father and uncles used to check their irrigation equipment manually every morning, but now he uses an app to get notifications on his cellphone if an irrigation pivot shuts off. His message to older generations when it comes to adopting digital tools is to “get on it.”

“I guess we have a few headaches, but then there’s a huge (return on investment) on it,” he said.

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