Land shortage hinders irrigation research

Demand for trial research on variable rate applications, rotations and variety research is growing but the land available is not

OUTLOOK, Sask. — There is nothing like success to create problems.

Irrigation agriculture research in Saskatchewan is alive and well, so much so that a shortage of a critical element has caused its primary research group to turn down opportunities, along with the associated funding.

The Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre in Outlook, Sask., couldn’t take on any more projects this year due to a shortage of the one thing they don’t make more of —land.

The research station appears sizable from the outside looking over the fence with 266 acres of owned land and another 15 on a new lease from the town for this season. But looks can be deceiving.

“There is only about 98 acres we can use for research,” said Garry Hnatowich, research director for the Irrigation Crop Diversification Corporation, which manages the centre.

A combination of transitional soil, wind blown sand and odd shapes that preclude locating pivots cut into the prospects for research at the site.

“And the more (research) we deliver, it seems, the greater the demand,” he said.

New research, such as variable rate application through irrigation, requires pivots rather than linear systems to be relevant.

All members of the research initiative — Agriculture Canada, Saskatchewan Agriculture, the University of Saskatchewan, the Irrigation Projects Association and the ICDC — have their priorities for the site and eat up 35 to 40 acres each. With a four-year crop rotation to maintain sustainability and data quality at the site, this more than takes up the available land.

“We need about 160 acres to keep up with what we are doing now,” Hnatowich said.

“We literally are stepping on one another around the plots.”

The system is now using one-in- three year rotations and has to cope with filler years on some plots, which are stretching what can be accomplished at Outlook.

New opportunities for the centre include last year’s doubling of irrigated lentil acres, the demand for research on soybeans as a recent crop of interest for the Prairies and a provincial push to see expansion of Saskatchewan’s irrigation production.

“You hate to turn down research dollars and requests, but reality has set in,” Hnatowich said.

Sixty-six research and demonstration trials were run at the centre last year, resulting in more than 5,000 plots.

“There was something like 130 or so cereal varieties, 100 oilseeds, 100 pulse crops, 36 creamer potatoes, forages and then the specialty field crops like quinoa and borage. There is a lot going on,” he said.

“If you want to do more in lentils, you can’t because there is too much root disease pressure if we can’t run a proper rotation.”

The centre’s management committee is looking at the short-term fix of leasing more land. However, the long-term repair will require a purchase. Funding that in an area where producers are also looking to expand acreage and in a community where pockets run deep will be challenging.

“This is one of those situations in agriculture where we have to take the long view, and that has always been challenging,” said Hnatowich.

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