UNITY – Six school classes from the three Unity schools came out to the wheat field west of North West Terminal Sept. 22 to learn about farming, and where the money that helps support their schools comes from. Proceeds from the Farming for the Future program, organized by North West Terminal and supported by a number of agricultural support businesses, is directed to the school community councils of Unity Public School, St. Peter’s School and Unity Composite High School.
At their Farming for the Future field day, the students were taken through the grain growing process, right from preparing the field and choosing the crop to its delivery to the terminal and subsequent shipping by railcar.
The south edge of the field west of North West Terminal had been cut for the harvesting equipment to be parked and so students and other community members had a place to assemble.
To start the presentations, NWT field rep and organizer of the day, Dan Feser, said the first thing that had to be done was preparing the field for growing wheat this year.
Feser, agronomist Kade Kettenbach of Cargill, Jaclyn Hunter from Delta Co-op and Tracy David of Syngenta took turns explaining the planting and growing process to the students. Because diseases can overwinter in the soil, the same crop is not grown each year. Also different crops take different nutrients from varying parts of the soil.
The first step in preparing to plant the wheat was to harrow the ground, which removed any trash and also helped break down the straw. Then the field was sprayed “to get rid of all the bad weeds.” The seed was treated to protect it from diseases and to help it get nutrients and moisture from the soil. Later fertilizer was added to ensure the wheat plants received all the macro and micro nutrients they needed.
To put it into kid-friendly terms, Hunter compared macro nutrients to the food and water people need, while micro nutrients are like vitamins.
Feser led the students to the standing wheat and pointed out that pretty well the only plant growing in the field was wheat. David explained spraying was done in the middle of June to kill weeds so any moisture and all the nutrients would go to the wheat plants.
Reference to the weather station set up in the field to help determine when would be the best time to spray for diseases led to a discussion on chemicals. The chemicals have to be sprayed early enough to be metabolized or broken down out of the plant before harvest and there are many other rules and regulations to be followed to keep food safe.
Samples would be taken now and sent for analysis for both disease and chemicals; if either was present, the elevator could reject the grain. If rejected, the grain could not be used for food but it could still be used as seed.
The students wanted to know how much it cost to spray the field – $9,000; and how much it cost for the fertilizer – $11,000. Interviewed later in the day, Feser said he has never had a company say no when asked to donate product, time or equipment to the Farming for the Future project. Those companies include North West Terminal, Tingley’s Harvest Centre, Pattison Ag, Nutrien, Syngenta, Alliance Seeds, Cargill, Veikle Ag, Delta Co-op, Bayer, Richardson’s, FCC, BASF, Pioneer Seeds, The Rack, Garan Farms, Schultz Acres, Bramiche Farms, Farmers Edge and CropMax.
Other questions from the students were also about numbers: how big was the field – 140 acres; how many days between seeding and harvest – 105; how much fertilizer – 100 tonnes; how long would it take to harvest – with two combines, approximately two to three hours.
Then it was time to have a look at the combines, a John Deere from Pattison Agriculture presented by Dave and a Claas from Tingley’s presented by Adam (last names not available).
After general explanations of how the combines worked, the students again were interested in numeric details, such as horsepower, the width of the headers, the weight of the combines, etc. Dave had to do some quick math after one student asked how many loaves of bread could be produced from a full combine hopper of wheat. His estimate was 40,000 to 50,000.
Adam led the group to the grain wagon, explaining it was essentially a large stationery bin which could be moved from field to field. Its purpose is to replace grain bags. The bin could hold three big semi-loads of grain and remotes for the augers meant the driver didn’t need to get out of the truck when coming to the field to load.
The students also checked out the tractor hooked to the grain wagon, learning tracks instead of tires mean more traction, tighter turning and no flat tires.
At the grain terminal, grains operation manager Neil Boser took the students, one class at a time, for an outside tour. The tour started in the receiving bay, where he explained that, once the wheat had been combined and loaded in the truck, the truck would be driven in and the wheat poured into the pit below. Then it would go up all the way to the top of the terminal where it was redirected to the proper bin.
Boser and the students walked all around the terminal to the opposite side to have a look at where the grain is loaded onto the railcars. Even the dust, said Boser, is used. It is collected into big vacuum bags and then goes to West Central Pelleting at Wilkie where it is made into feed pellets.
Boser concluded his portion of the tour by taking the students back into the receiving bay and having them all get on the scale to determine the weight of the class as a whole.
Along with the on-site learning, students enjoyed barbecued burgers and NWT 25th anniversary cake before boarding the buses to return to school.
At the end of the day, once the wheat had been harvested, Feser said the yield was good. Each school is receiving approximately $17,000 from last year’s canola crop and he is “hoping for about the same this year with strong wheat prices.”