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Survey asks about farming’s future

What will prairie grain farms look like in the future?

According to a recent survey conducted for the Western Grains Research Foundation, they’ll be larger and more dependent on autonomous machinery, artificial intelligence and data collection.

In addition, they could also be subject to greater regulation when it comes to the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

The WGRF recently distributed a 67-page survey report summarizing changes that survey respondents see as likley to occur on prairie farms over the next five, 10 and 20 years.

The survey, conducted by Amaethon Agricultural Solutions, is aimed at identifying expected changes and anticipating new priorities in agricultural research.

Its findings were based on an early-2021 survey involving 60 stakeholders in the prairie ag industry, including farmers, farm groups, research organizations, scientists and private sector companies.

The WGRF plans to use the report to make future programming decisions and to make future research funding decisions.

“I think some of the key takeaways (from the report) were the larger farm sizes continuing, and the continued focus on those major crop types like wheat, canola and pulses,” said WGRF executive director Garth Patterson.

“There were some diverging views on what will happen with some of the intermediate or smaller acreage crops.”

Survey respondents also shared their views on the role of new technologies and on the tools that will be needed to deal with yield-limiting factors such as weed-pressure, plant diseases, insect damage and weather-related stresses.

“I found it very interesting, the views on technology, whether it be precision farming and biotechnology and the increased roles that those could be playing in the future,” Patterson added.

“There were also concern about biotic stresses — weeds, diseases, and insects — and the loss of some of the tools, perhaps, through regulation in the future.”

The WGRF is one of the leading funding sources for agricultural research in Western Canada.

Since 1981, the farmer-directed organization has invested more than $200 million in field crop research in Western Canada.

The survey of stakeholders was conducted between January and March 2021.

“Respondents were asked what western field crop production could look like in the short term … and longer term,” said George Clayton, who co-authored the report along with Stephen Morgan Jones.

“Research implications were identified in the areas of crop and soil management, sustainability and precision agriculture.”

Patterson said WGRF will review the report and discuss its findings with its member organizations.

“WGRF will be conducting a series of workshops in 2021 to identify research implications that will influence WGRF’s future research funding initiatives.”

The full report can be found on the WGRF website here.

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