In any career, peer support and access to new knowledge can make the difference between success and struggle. Many professions have an association where learners and innovators can deliberate ideas, explore latest research, and share stories of success or busts. Farming Smarter Association and its fellow agriculture innovation hubs fit that bill for farmers who tend to work in isolation.
Isolation means that if you keep your head down and mind your business, external forces can blindside you. What you need is a peer support group that understands the challenges and offers solutions.
Farm owner Richard Fritzler remembers "The federal government came out and said we had five years to change water erosion and wind erosion." He also remembers some municipalities put erosion control into constitutions.
"That was my big concern back then (1980s)," he adds. Fritzler spoke up and began his journey toward becoming an agvocate. He didn't like the government decision and thought it may cause harm. "I didn't want that to happen."
Corny Van Dasselaar notes a key change over the decades is public influence on government agriculture policy. As well the career agronomist adds, "consolidation on the supply side of agriculture created proprietary chemicals or seed traits," he says. He adds that they fund their own research and do not publicly share data. His concern prompted him to serve on the Southern Alberta Research Association (SARA) board.
Agronomist George Lubberts came to the SARA board to help his clients as agriculture intensified.
"The next generation came along and wanted to farm. Now the farm had to support a second family or sometimes even a third. They needed to improve their productivity."
Ron Svanes, retired farm owner, remembers dark days early in his farm career. People around him didn't see a value in his university education or the unconventional practices he tried.
"Some years I didn't go into coffee shops much. So, you need that peer support group," he says.
Svanes and Fritzler both have an innovation streak. They each tried controversial practices and crops. In 1961, when they both started farming, summer fallow was common and considered an essential practice.
While the two men came to be founding members of Farming Smarter, they took different paths to the table. Fritzler sat on the Southern Alberta Conservation Association (SACA) and the SARA boards drawn to these organizations because of the information around conservation tillage that denounced the practice of summer fallow. Svanes went to university with Wayne Lindwall who pioneered zero tillage in southern Alberta through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
"He needed some plots off the research station and asked me if I would give up 12 acres of land for some plots," Svanes remembers. Lindwall encouraged him to get involved with SARA and SACA.
Each of these men have careers that span decades in prairie agriculture. They've seen massive change in crop types and farm technology. Each of them turned to a trusted peer support network that included researchers, communicators, farmers, agronomists and others. They pulled together to experiment, learn and cast around innovative ideas. All are richer for it.
Fritzler is convinced that if he hadn't started growing pulse crops in the 1980s, he would have lost the farm. He attributes his success to his involvement in SARA and SACA because of the exposure to new ideas.
"Well, I enjoyed it and that's the main thing. I made more good friends than enemies," He chuckles.
If you would like to take an active role in agriculture innovation, visit our Get Involved page.