P.E.I. grain growers looking at the past to plant for the future

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P.E.I. grain growers looking at the past to plant for the future

Investments from Island farmers have yielded a new online visualization tool from scientists with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The online tool is expected to be available in April and will allow farmers to look at information on P.E.I. soil quality, weather and crop yields.

It will allow people to see what worked and what didn't for similar seeds and crop management styles. Grain growers could then make more informed decisions when it comes to planting their own fields.

Researchers built the visualization using data from the early 1980s until now.

Technical advantage for growers

Growers can go in and click on a postal code location and see how the crops there have done from year to year.

"To actually turn it into a visualization where you see how things have changed through time, I think it's really valuable for growers," said Allan Ling, president of Atlantic Grain Council. "They're into it."

The online tool was developed with financial support from members of  the Atlantic Grains Council.

The council raised about $100,000 through money taken from producers at the time of sale.

It's matched by government funding to produce research projects like this one.

"I realize how important the research is and how important the data is to producers," Ling said. 

"We can't control the price for what we receive for products but if we can increase our yields through modern technology and modern research then that is a plus for us." 

A challenge for the researchers is finding crop yield data from farmers.

There is enough historical data on weather and soil quality but for privacy reasons they can't show data that would identify individual farms.

Researchers only include areas where there are at least five growers in a postal code — that has left some gaps in the information when it comes to crop yields.

Sharing the knowledge

Researchers are hoping more Island growers will agree to share their yield data so that information can be added to the map, improving the quality of the information for everyone.

"As growers become more comfortable with their yield data being part of this tool then we can put that data on top of it as a layer," said Aaron Mills, a research scientist with Agriculture Canada.

Mills was demonstrating the new online visualization tool to local grain growers at the Harrington Research Farm.

He said researchers plan to continue to update the online tool as more information becomes available.

"This is part of a graduate student's thesis at Dalhousie and we'd like to see the tool be completed and have a framework that we can actually add to in the future," Mills said.

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