There is no shortage of information available to farmers to help them make management decisions on-farm, but often this information results in mixed messages, and can even be conflicting. The information is often broad in scope, while many challenges farmers face can be field-specific.
That’s why Al Mussel, research lead with Agri-food Economic Systems and Charles Lalonde, an agronomist and industry consultant, have developed a web-based tool that aggregates multiple sources of information to help Ontario farmers find sustainable solutions for field-based problems.
Why it matters: Farmers often face field-specific challenges and this app makes finding information on how to handle these challenges much simpler.
The web-based app, known as Resilient Fields, is free to farmers and is launching in mid-August. It was developed with the financial support from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, as well as the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO) and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).
“Resilient Fields is a tool that is designed to help farmers work through field-specific challenges and be directed to field-specific best practices that are backed by science,” says Lalonde.
He says he and Mussel have had concerns over the mixed messaging farmers receive on fertilizers and soil management, particularly from environmental groups, “because they tend to think one size fits all.”
There are trade-offs and considerations for each cropping decision made and numerous environmental factors that come into play throughout an entire crop rotation cycle, he says. The purpose of the app, he says, is to help farmers weigh their options ahead of the growing season and for an entire crop rotation in order to find sustainable solutions that work for their individual farm.
Development on the Resilient Fields app began three years ago. The first step was to perform a literature review and compile information that was specific to Ontario. “We wanted to build on a very solid footing based on science,” says Lalonde.
They also wanted farmers to have simple, easy access to this information, so the tool needed to be web-based and easily accessible on a smartphone or computer.
The Resilient Fields platform is not meant to replace advice from a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) or an agronomist. In fact, many CCA’s and agronomists in the province were consulted and their input was used in app’s development.
“Farmers can use the app on their own, or use it to have better conversations with their CCA or agronomist, or even with environmental groups,” says Lalonde.
How it works
In the application, a farmer inputs his or her specific field conditions and current agronomic practices. Then, the user can identify a particular concern he or she is experiencing. The app offers advice broken down into four categories of concern:
- Keeping your soils
- Managing nutrient loss
- Managing the growing season
- Handling water and drainage issues
“Even if your goals are straightforward, there are many potential scenarios you could follow to achieve them,” says Lalonde. The app features numerous articles and videos, and offers access to other tools such as the 4Rs, maps, cover crop choices, and much more to assist farmers with their decision-making.
It also helps for when several Best Management Practices (BMPs) may conflict and helps farmers decide which practices may be more important environmentally, how they may affect the bottom line, what limitations are presented by a particular field and weather conditions, and how decisions that are made today will impact the future requirements of a particular field.
“A farmer has to feel comfortable on a choice of practices that protects economic growth while mitigating some of the environmental issues that may be quite local or regional,” says Lalonde.
The app is available for free at resilientfields.ca.