Part three: Alternative to fungicides.
Axten Farms near Minton, Saskatchewan began to integrate a number of different cropping systems about 10 years ago including no-till, cover crops, inter-cropping, combination planting, compost teas and controlled traffic farming. The goal is to have high plant diversity and plants growing for as long as possible to help feed soil biology and make the whole system more sustainable and resilient to stress from drought.
For several years the farm has been growing an intercrop of flax and chickpeas, which are seeded in alternate rows, and has eliminated disease and the need for fungicide applications. “Since we started doing flax and chickpeas we’ve only ever had one application of fungicide, and that was in 2016 when it was wet and most guys that year sprayed five or six passes,” says Derek Axten. “By separating the rows of chickpeas, we have basically eliminated the need for fungicides.”
Subterranean clover crop
Axten is now going a step further and planting a subterranean clover crop under the flax and chickpeas, which he believes further helps reduce disease risk. “I think it stops rain bounce and splatter, which helps with disease control,” he says. “I don’t have any data to prove that, but I was out looking after a rain and because the clover covers the ground there is no bare soil, so the rain hits the leaf instead of hitting the ground and it doesn’t splash spores up on the chickpea plants.”
Reduced fungicide use and the inter-crop system has put more money in Axten’s pocket and reduced his overall risk. “We’ll usually be 10 to 15 per cent under the average yield for a chickpea monocrop for the area, but that usually comes with 10 to 15 bushels of flax and $100 per acre less fungicide bill,” says Axten. “We carry a lot less risk.”
Axten is also experimenting with pollinator strips to provide habitat for and encourage pollinators like bees, but also as a way to prevent erosion. Most of the farm is in controlled traffic farming, where the equipment always travels on established tramlines, leaving the no-tilled, cropping areas free from compaction. Because Axten initially was worried about possible soil erosion over time on the hills of the tramlines, he decided to use a small Valmar applicator to seed a mix of clovers in the tramlines as he is seeding the crop. “The idea is that every 60 feet we’re going to have two strips, 10 feet apart of clover growing in every crop,” says Axten. “I want those to be there forever, so it gives a bit of a buffer, and provides a pollinator strip every 60 feet. We lose that five per cent of the crop in the tramlines anyway, so we might as well do something that is useful.”