By Harry Brook
Various local or government agencies may be viewed as providing minimal services. However, it is often the case that a lot of what they do is not common knowledge. It’s a lot like wetting yourself in a dark suit; you get that warm feeling but nobody notices. The Agricultural Service Board (ASB) is a group, under the county, that provides services, but of what sort?
The Alberta Agricultural Service Board was formed in 1945 as an Act by the provincial government. “This legislation assigned specific duties and powers to municipal and provincial partners, while encouraging a cooperative and coordinated effort to develop agricultural policies and programs of mutual benefit.”
Part of the act was the hiring of an agricultural fieldman to enforce the Weed Act and Pest Act. You must remember farms were smaller then and agricultural producers did not have the tools we have today to control weeds or pests. As well as enforcing the two acts, the fieldman was also responsible for working with provincial agriculture department staff. Together, they were to improve the profitability and livelihoods of producers through extension of agricultural knowledge. As time has passed, more responsibility for public information dissemination has fallen to the fieldman, but the main focus is still to enforce the various acts that affect agriculture.
Agricultural fieldmen apply the Weed Act, Pest Act and Soil Conservation Act. They can also be involved in helping with the Animal Health Act, such as when local help is needed with an outbreak of a reportable animal disease (such as avian flu). ASBs were also formed to guide the activities of the agricultural fieldman and give grassroots input into needed programs and activities specific to the county. The ASB board for Flagstaff County consists of three county councilors and four farmer/advisors. This gives the ASB the flexibility to tailor programs specific to the county and address current challenges facing agricultural producers.
The ASB is very active in weed control, trying to limit the spread of problematic noxious weeds and keeping prohibited noxious weeds out of the county. It is an uphill battle, but summer spray programs and weed inspectors try to keep problem weeds under control. A third of county roadsides are sprayed for weeds annually, as well spot spraying is conducted anywhere where noxious weeds raise their flowers. The ASB also assists Public Works in road recovery by hydroseeding roads after they are rebuilt.
Under the Pest Act, the ASB also has pest inspectors who take part in field surveys for controlled pests as listed in the Pest Act. Clubroot of canola is one such pest. ASB staff annual survey about 200 canola fields in the county for signs of the disease. Once found, pest notices are issued to limit the spread of the disease to surrounding fields. Some surveys our staff may conduct for Alberta Agriculture include: canola diseases, cereal diseases, bertha armyworm trapping, pea diseases, and diamondback moth trapping. The province provides some funding for ASB programs and, in return, the county ASB provides the ability to survey the entire province for possible emerging and growing pests. The surveys are vital to understanding the prevalence and spread of registered pests in the county.
At one time, when cultivation of fields was popular, the ASB was very active in promoting reduced and zero tillage. Flagstaff County also helps with field windbreak and shelterbelt establishment through partial funding of tree purchases and tree planters available for rent. We also provide training and educational opportunities for county residents, such as our recent tree pruning course.
The ASB provides these and other services to the public as their part in keeping the agricultural industry healthy and growing. The agricultural fieldman and assistant agricultural fieldman wear many hats but serve the interests of agriculture locally, and on a provincial basis. If you see needs not being met, of an agricultural nature, please contact the fieldman at 780-384-4100.
Harry Brook is Flagstaff County's former Agricultural Fieldman. He has retired this month (May 2022). This is his penultimate column.