Behind The Lines - June/July 2010

What is the fastest growing crop on Ontario farms this summer? We’ll give you a hint. This crop has reinforced concrete roots and stalks that connect to the province’s electrical grid.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s those solar panel units that are popping up like mushrooms after a summer rain on farms across Ontario.

Field Editor Mary Baxter looks at the ins and outs of this phenomenon starting on page 14 – with a reminder that this phenomenon is spawned by a shower of government policies and that these contain quirks.

In the same vein, engineer Jake DeBruyn of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs writes on his visit to Europe, where he looked at existing solar electricity producers and reports on what it takes to get the most out of a system. That story begins on page 30.

Anhydrous ammonia, that ubiquitous nitrogen fuel made from natural gas and used to grow corn crops across North America, has rarely been tagged as a “green” energy source. It may not always be so. Baxter also looks at the research going into making ammonia from renewable sources and using it, not just to fertilize crops, but also to fuel tractors, trucks and cars. Whether the technology is close to reality remains to be seen.

It certainly seems like Ontario farms in the future are going to be producers of energy as well as food and fibre. Energy might be the most profitable of the three for the time being as Ontario’s farm sector faces yet another year when profits will be hard to squeeze from crops and livestock.

And one more note on energy. Beginning at the end of this month, most of us will face the impact of smart meters on our electrical costs. On page 51, engineer Ron MacDonald concludes his two-part series on the most effective ways to deal with time-of-use billing.

Good news and bad news with our highly popular Crop Scene Investigation feature. The bad news is that the column takes its annual hiatus for the summer while farmers do their own real life crop investigations on their farms. The good news is that, since the problem in our May issue has everyone stumped, we are extending the opportunity to submit your solution until our next issue. So if you are interested in winning a free weather station, pull out your copy of the May issue and tell us what you think is ailing Art’s alfalfa. CSI will return in the fall. BF

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman

Better Farming - June/July 2010