A well-known 15-year-old program to encourage direct seeding and reduced tillage on Alberta farms now plans to wind down its operations by the end of August.
Members of Alberta Reduced Tillage Linkages (RTL) “felt the organization had no choice but to wind down” in view of “ongoing funding uncertainty,” according to RTL team leader Peter Gamache in a release Feb. 18.
RTL said its steering committee voted to begin winding down its work at its annual meeting Jan. 26.
RTL’s programs were supported by five three-year funding agreements from the provincial and federal governments and by a consortium of ag chemical companies, grower associations and other agribusinesses and agencies.
“We had the option to continue to operate on a very limited basis, but felt that we would not be able to deliver the type of program that our remaining funders deserve,” Gamache said.
“We felt an obligation to our staff and funders to celebrate our achievements and close on a positive note rather than continue to lose energy, waste resources, and become irrelevant.”
RTL had hired five extension agronomists to develop and implement extension programs that provided “high-value counsel” for farmers and ranchers through direct consultations, on-farm demonstrations and annual conferences such as the Direct Seeding Advantage. Its programs also included a substantial communications effort in Prairie farm media.
The closure will mean the loss of four extension agronomists and one management position, RTL said. Its fifth agronomist position is vacant.
RTL added that it still hopes to maintain its Farmer-to-Farmer Network and its website, which includes an archive of beneficial management practices on sustainable farming practices.
RTL said the number of farmers using no-till cropping practices in Alberta has “grown dramatically,” from 7.8 per cent of farmers no-tilling 10.3 per cent of annually seeded acres in 1996, to 27 per cent of farmers practicing no-till on 48 per cent of annually cropped acres.
No-till acres have gone from about 1.9 million in 1996 to nearly nine million in 2006, the group said, and “on nine million acres, the total value of no-till for Albertans is over $200 million per year,” Gamache said.
“This combination of environmental, economic and agronomic values adds up to far more than the dollar value; many of the environmental and landscape improvements can’t easily be measured.”