Agriculture has the potential to change the world

Welcome to our annual special edition, which we at the Western Producer affectionately call Issue 52.

Each year, for the last edition, we select a topic and take a deep dive with our entire newsroom. We parse the topics and go long, finding out what’s new and improving in the industry.

We started this back in 2006, when then editor Barb Glen oversaw an effort to cook up a tasty “Prairie Potluck” – a meal using ingredients grown on the Prairies, which our reporters and editors then consumed, and of course, they wrote all about it.

Since then, we have also published end-of-year editions on water, soil, manure, weather, renewables, the Home Quarter (about stuff around the farm) and movers and shakers in agriculture on the Prairies. The last three editions, including this one, focused on innovation in agriculture; in research, in practical techniques, in imagination.

The topic has proven to be popular with readers.

Managing Editor Michael Raine marshalled the edition this year, while Creative Director Michelle Houlden oversaw the page presentation.

Together, the diverse stories in these pages offer insight into just how much agriculture can contribute to improving our world. And not just in consumption.

When automated machines first came on the scene, there was some skepticism. Were the wheels too small? Would they get stuck in muddy fields? Could the machinery adapt? But in Ed White’s story on page 49, DOT CEO Leah Olson-Friesen vows to “change farming across the globe” with autonomous technology. This approach is already with us, in underground mines and in oil sands. Can agriculture be far behind?

Then there is simply a new discovery, not eureka in a research lab, but by enterprising folks who put two and two together. On page 36, Barbara Duckworth writes about Hugo Bonjean and Ilse de Wit, of Millarville, Alta., who introduced more bees to their garden to increase production through better pollination. It worked, but what to do with the bees’ homework? Honey wine! It’s now in 200 Alberta stores and even flows in Belgium and Japan.

On page 35, Ron Lyseng writes about the GrainBall, which is designed to be tossed into grain bags. Its sensors monitor temperature, moisture and carbon dioxide. It has a data transmitter and even a vibration detector to let farmers know if someone – or some critter – is messing with the grain bag.

And drones are getting bigger and stronger. You’ll see them in Bond movies soon, I suspect. On page 41 Robin Booker writes about the Hercules 20, which can carry up to 25 kilograms of payload and flies up to 50 km-h. Some drones are already being used to spray crops.

Then there are the more esoteric efforts that can pay off in ways you’d never have imagined in agriculture. Robert Arnason writes about one such project on page 13: can bio-plastics be made from canola meal, thus reducing the huge amount of non-biodegradable plastics in the landscape and in our oceans? Qiang Liu, an Agriculture Canada scientist in Guelph, Ont., says yes indeed, even arguing that some of the technology is close to commercialization.

Along the same lines, on page 3 William DeKay writes about the potential for straw to be used to soak up certain antibiotics and industrial organics from polluted waterways.

The 2018 version of Issue 52 presents a remarkable collection of enterprise, research, technology and vision.

We hope you’ll enjoy it.

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