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    Mark Carlson
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    Mark Carlson is the Managing Director of the Ag Tech Investment group Verdex Capital Inc., and is a former rancher/farmer.

Technology helps farmers use less water and grow more

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The drought situation in California has attracted a lot of concern from people both in and outside of ag. Fortunately current conditions have not yet impacted Canadian ag and many Albertans are working to make sure it doesn’t.

At their meeting late last year, the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association announced that Alberta farmers are reducing water use while expanding acreage and productivity. Over a nine-year period in 2005-2014, the total irrigated acres in the Southern Alberta irrigation system grew 5% to 1.4MM acres, but actual water supplied to growers decreased by 26%. This means that acreage expansion is occurring from water that is saved through more efficient irrigation methods, all while increasing yield productivity by 23% over the same time.

And best of all it  was accomplished primarily by the farmers themselves investing in more efficient, low-pressure irrigation pivots and by infrastructure efficiencies undertaken to improve delivery of water to the farmer. They are being active stewards of the land.

The conference also recognized other gains to be realized in the future. When I spoke with the Directors of some of the individual irrigation district boards, who are generally producers themselves, the desire to do more, and to do it better, was more than evident.

We discussed technology that’s coming online to assist in the determination of soil moisture on a continuous basis, rather than having to constantly check field conditions to avoid over- or under-watering. Growers are pressed for time. They understand crop stage water needs are relative to moisture conditions. The idea of being able to integrate that knowledge with data on future conditions, delivered in real time to your smartphone at the breakfast table is a tempting concept. There are also potential advantages in the management of the water system itself to anticipate weather or grower changes in demand. If the demand can be accurately anticipated in advance it would avoid mismatches in delivered supply that could remain stored in reservoirs for future use later in the season or during dry spells.

Now being a city dweller, but having operated a pivot or two myself, I know the advantage that a new technology such as this brings to enhance water conservation, cost savings, and yield, in addition to saving work by irrigating only when needed. Making the implementation of such tech simple and trouble-free will only increase uptake with farmers looking for water-saving solutions.

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