SUURD FAMILY RECOGNIZED AS FARM INNOVATORS

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For this edition our farming column we will examine the tools and techniques the Suurd family uses and promotes in order to increase the productivity and profitability of crop farming in Ontario.

 Last month, the Suurd family of Cavan was recognized for Leadership in Agriculture at the Peterborough County Recognition awards in Norwood.      Next month, the Suurd family will observe a different kind of achievement – July 2013 will mark 50 years since Julian’s father purchased their home farm on Highway 7A between Cavan and Bethany.  In 1963 Julian’s father began a mixed farm operation, and in 1972 started in the dairy business which they operated for 30 years.  The last of the dairy herd was sold in 2002 when son Kevin confirmed that he wanted to focus on crops.  This seems to have been a very wise decision.  Today Hilda, Julian and son Kevin have 1200 acres under cultivation where they grow wheat, corn and soybean, with an additional 100 acres in hay production.  They also operated Suurd Agri Business which sells fertilizers, soil amendment products, sprayers and GPS equipment and act as a crop consultant.

One of the many modern tools adopted early by the Suurd family is GPS (Global Positioning System) technology, which they have been using on their farm for more than 14 years.  When they first started using GPS, these tools were purchased as stand alone items, but this technology is now standard operating equipment found in most new models of large tractors manufactured by giants John Deere, Case International and others.  According to the US Department of Agriculture, this technology allows farmers to plan and document crops and crop treatments for specific fields, allowing customized field preparation, planting and maintenance that are site-specific and therefore optimal for each field. Julian and son Kevin use GPS technology to record all planning and crop maintenance activities on the iPads.  For each field treatment, a colour-coded map is produced identifying each fertilizer, herbicide or soil amendment application, seed location including spacing, planting depth and seed population (when a seed is skipped or more than one seed is dropped).  While this information is being recorded, the system communicates with the machine operator about what is happening in the field as they proceed, so if the seeds begin to fall erratically or are being planted at an inconsistent depth, the operator can make immediate adjustments to correct the problems, which can be as simple as reducing their speed.  The input requirements for each field are calculated with precision, and according to Julian this can save 3-4% of their input costs by ensuring the seed spacing, fertilizer and soil amendment products are optimized, as no spots are skipped spots or have duplicate applications.  

These field maps also document elevation changes which are helpful when planning the planting route to ensure optimal field use for machines and plants, allowing the operator to avoid overlap and “double wedges” of hay in the corners of a field.  The GPS system is not perfect – there is the occasional “skip” which can be observed in planting rows that sometimes have a slight jog in their otherwise straight track when the satellite signal from the cell phone tower drops off momentarily.   

 To illustrate how the Suurds use this system, they apply a granular fertilizer to a depth of 8-10” in the fall on a field destined for corn production.  When planting in the spring, this technology allows them to plant their seed 3-4” from the original fertilizer application using the documented map of the fertilizer from the previous fall, which significantly increases the effectiveness of this expensive input.

 Another innovative technique adopted by the Suurd family is planting corn in “twin rows” (see photo).    Corn is traditionally planted in rows with 5 3/4” between plants and 30” between each parallel row.  Using a “Twin planter,” Kevin plants corn in 2 narrow, staggered rows (plants on the diagonal instead of side by side) that are only 8” apart with a 30” gap between each pair of rows.  The same volume of seed is used per acre, but this spacing allows for greater sunlight to reach the plants, and because the rows of seed are slightly offset, the roots have more room to grow which increases the production of the plants.  Recent studies peg the increase in yield from this planning technique ranges from 7 to 10%.  (Better Farming, March 2009)

 Other progressive tools used by the Suurds to boost plant health is the application of foliar fertilizers and soil amendment products including organic enzyme stimulants that focus on plant activity below the soil where growth begins.  Through thorough soil analysis, they ensure the plants are able to access the nutrition they need to thrive against the tough competition of weeds and insect predators.

 As Julian explains, the plants are basically sunlight harvesters, so the plant with the largest canopy first wins the race.  These early growers establish large green canopies which make them good factories to for converting sunlight into chemical energy (sugar) to fuel growth through photosynthesis.  The Suurds focus on finding ways to maximize this production in crops to increase the health and yields of farms and fields across Ontario through innovative fertilizers, soil amendments and planting techniques and sharing their wealth of knowledge across Ontario and beyond in public speaking engagements for researchers and producers.

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