Lethbridge (Rural Roots Canada) – Southern Alberta farmer John Kolk has been honoured with the Orville Yanke Award for his soil conservation practices.

The Orville Yanke Memorial Award honours an early promoter of soil conservation in Alberta.

Kolk was presented with the award at the Farming Smarter conference last week.

“It’s an honour, but you feel a bit intimidated by some of the other people that have been awarded in the past,” says Kolk, who humbly adds that these are different times, different folks, different challenges.

“I guess the challenges that I’ve worked with is recognized now as important.”

John and his family own Kolk Farms Conrich Ltd, based in the Picture Butte, Alberta area.

READ MORE: Farming Smarter: The Healthy Soil Challenge – Soil Savvy

He says they use a number of practices to ensure their soil is sustainable.

John Kolk

“We got mostly irrigation, and of course, we’ve been no-tilling for quite a number of years,”

However, because they plant row crops and are really challenged by the wind in their region, they needed an alternative to full tillage. As a result, they tried out strip tillage and have learned a lot in doing so.

“We’ve been doing that about five years and pretty happy overall with the results.”

Another initiative they are working on is cover crops, which Kolk admits has been a bit of a challenge with the short prairie season.

Variable rate irrigation is the third example Kolk lists that the farm has invested in moving forward to ensure soil conservation. Kolk says while they are seeing results, it remains a work in progress. He hopes to improve on it in the coming years and has set a goal of a 15 to 18 per cent reduction in water use on some crops.

His advice to farmers is to always approach their operation with a problem-solving mindset.

“You got to understand your problem and say: okay, what am I trying to solve here? What’s the potential cost of solving it? Am I going to get a return on it?”

He is quick to caution that producers won’t always see a return and that they need to be patient and continue to work away at the problem.

It’s all part of a learning process, one that might require farmers to look to others for answers.

“Check over the fence, check around, check with some of the experts, challenge them with some questions. Sometimes you got to look across the world to see what’s going on.”

Once the information has been gathered and a possible solution presents itself, it’s time to figure out a way to test it at the farm level.

He says the key is to give these tests time to prove whether or not they are going to work. And when he says time he is referring to more than one year.

The Orville Yanke Award has been awarded annually at the Farming Smarter conference since 2009.

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