Ag Grow Consulting Ltd. (Saskatchewan)

Using agronomics to improve farm profitability and efficiency

Mackenzie is testing soil in a green field.

Mackenzie Wilson-Anderson, Science Horizons intern, testing soil in a field in Saskatchewan. Photo credit: Ag Grow Consulting Ltd.

As a girl in Saskatchewan, Mackenzie Wilson-Anderson would join her father on a tractor when he was checking the crops on their farm near Naicam. She was intrigued by how plants grew.

“How could we put these seeds in the ground and they would just grow?” she wondered. “I had a hard time keeping house plants alive so how could we do it on such a large scale?”

She went on to complete a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan and is now an agronomist with Ag Grow Consulting Ltd. in Nipawin in the northeast of the province. During university she worked summers with the company and in 2020 was hired as an intern. Her salary was subsidized by a BioTalent Canada Science Horizons Youth Internship financed by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Founded in 2008 by Wade and Kara Annand, Ag Grow seeks agronomic solutions to improve farm profitability and efficiency.

The couple felt there was a need for a business that offered independent agronomy services for growers. “Our people are a bit like pharmacists for plants,” says Kara Annand, pointing out that the company doesn’t sell fertilizers or pesticides so has no industry bias. “We work directly with farmers, provide our opinion, and help them grow the best crop they can,” she says.

Wilson-Anderson was hired to focus on variable-rate fertility, an intensive study of field conditions that enables more targeted use of fertilizers. A field is mapped using an EM38 conductivity meter, divided into zones and then the zones are soil-tested. Wilson-Anderson then makes recommendations to determine where nutrients should be added – or not.

Mackenzie is testing soil in a green field using a small black tent.

Mackenzie Wilson-Anderson, Science Horizons intern, testing soil in a field in Saskatchewan. Photo credit: Ag Grow Consulting Ltd.

“We don’t want to put fertilizer where it’s not needed,” says the young agronomist. “It can build up the soil in a way that’s not necessarily healthy.” Excessive use of fertilizers is also an unnecessary cost, she adds. “It can take as many as 100 years to build an inch of top soil,” she says. “So you want to be proactive and make sure you are taking care of it. They are not making more land.”

Annand says Wilson-Anderson has been a great asset for the company. Farm planning can be complex. Considerations include soil types, past yield goals, regional knowledge and optimal crop rotations. “Mackenzie excels at bringing together all those factors and coming up with really good prescriptions and recommendations for growers,” she says.

The company provides a year-round service. In the summer, employees check fields for insects, weeds and disease. In the fall and winter, soils are tested and analyzed and fertility recommendations are made. This is followed by meetings with the growers to finalize crop rotations.

Mackenzie pictured in a beige field.

Mackenzie Wilson-Anderson, Science Horizons intern, in a field in Saskatchewan. Photo credit: Ag Grow Consulting Ltd.

The size of farms, largely family-owned, has grown in Saskatchewan and younger generations are taking over the businesses, says Annand. Increasingly, growers look for outside expertise. Because Ag Grow’s field technicians share knowledge, they can often identify and solve problems rapidly.

The types of crops that can be grown in the province are limited by the short growing season and variable moisture levels, says Annand. For example, in 2018 the southern part of the province received too little rain and the north had too much which affects farming practices and crop choices. “We can do everything right, plan all winter, soil test and check the fields but if mother nature doesn’t cooperate a bit that’s challenging,” she says.

Growers look for ways to make farming more efficient and better for the environment, says Wilson-Anderson. “It’s why there is such an uptake in soil testing because you can learn so much about the nutrients in the soil,” she says. “It makes the land more efficient for the grower and at the end of the day you need to be profitable or you won’t have a farm.”

Page details

Date modified: