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Crop trials highlighted at ag station

Although she had hoped for a better turnout at the Emo Agricultural Research Station open house last Tuesday evening (July 24), research technician Kim Jo Bliss still was happy to highlight several of the crop trials for the nearly two dozen people who did attend. Two of the crops she showed during the tour through the large fields were trials of switchgrass and hybrid poplar trees. “There's still a lot of people interested in them . . . but you have to be cautious,” she warned. “There’s all kinds of opportunity, but it’s such a high management crop that you have to be prepared to work.” Switchgrass can be found along roadsides, pastures, and in gardens and has several uses, such as being grazed by certain animals and as ground cover to control erosion. It sometimes is farmed as forage for livestock, as well. It also is a drought-resistant ornamental grass and often is considered a good candidate for biofuel production. Meanwhile, hybrid poplars often are used as farmstead and field shelterbelts and have environmental benefits, such as riparian zone protection and wastewater management. Bliss explained there’s a big push on right now to use rootstock, instead of cuttings, for the trees. “I think that’s one thing we’ve learned,” she told those on hand for the open house. “We were trying to plant relatively inexpensive hybrid poplar cuttings. “But I think you’re going to have to start with rootstock now, which is a little more work.” Bliss noted as long as people keep talking about these crops and passing the information along, then she is doing her job. “That’s really what we’re here for,” she stressed. Another crop Bliss spoke about at the open house was the malting barley trials. “We can grow barley here,” she stated. “But the reason the malting barley is being done in the north is to see if we can grow the quality of barley they want for malting purposes.” She explained the brewing industries look for high-quality, low-protein barley that they want to market. “We can produce what they are looking for,” she added. “But the weather plays such a big role in a lot of that and we have no control over it. “You can be the best manager out there, but it depends on the weather.” Bliss said the weather so far this season has produced more rain for the crops than last year, when most of the area was hit with drought-like conditions. “At the first of the year, we were pretty wet here and we have some signs . . . of excessive moisture,” she indicated. “It seems so funny now, but earlier we were lacking a lot of heat. “June wasn’t all that warm of a month.” Bliss said when you have a lot of moisture and you don’t have the heat to dry it up, it’s that much harder on the crops. “Now it seems we’ve sort of moved out of that, which often happens,” she remarked. “Rainy River District is so extreme. We don’t seem to have the in between conditions.” Still, Bliss stressed it hasn’t been a bad season to date. “I’m happy with the trials that are important to us and the trials that are important to the whole province—they’re doing well,” she noted. “So hopefully we do have some decent yields.” Bliss added people need to start thinking about crops not just for feed and food, but for health benefits. For instance, she noted the health food industry is craving Timothy—a grass relatively high in fibre. “There are enzymes in it that are really good for your intestine bacteria,” Bliss explained. “That’s one thing we have to remind ourselves—we’re not just feeding cow and we’re not just making beer. “There are other benefits to things we can grow and Timothy is one of the examples.” She indicated Timothy can be grown easily in Northern Ontario. “Health is important and everyone is looking for that one thing you can take to make you healthy and strong, so I think that’s some of the ways we will be moving,” she predicted. Bliss was pleased overall with the annual open house and enjoyed welcoming visitors such as Frank Hoftyzer (president of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association), Keith Reid (a soil fertility specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs), and Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff. In addition, Mike Neilson, president of the Rainy River Soil and Crop Improvement Association, presented long-time volunteer Lyle Wheatley with a framed map of the area as a token of appreciation for all of his hard work.(Fort Frances Times)

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