The Taber Times does a special agriculture section each year and I was fortunate to be profiled in it. The article was print-only but I've been given permission to post the text on my website.
Gillespie brings plenty of agronomy experience
Taberite Scott Gillespie has ventured out on his own with Scott C Gillespie Agronomy, helping anyone big or small with their agricultural needs. Be it large farms, market gardeners or those looking to improve their green thumb in their own back yard, Gillespie can fill the niche.
“What an agronomist does is anything to do with crops and soils. It’s anything to do with growing crops and what a farmer would need to do that,” said Gillespie. “Something typical would be working through the winter, going through soil tests and other crop plans and me coming up with optimal crop rotation plans. Review the year and go through if there are goals or changes they want to make. It would be up to me to also see what they are doing and then look at their whole system to see if there are things they can do better on. For myself, the winter is for me to upgrade education which is part of keeping the designations for the CCA (Certified Crop Advisor) and the P.Ag. (Professional Agrologist).”
Gillespie has a agriculture degree from the University of Guelph and also a masters in plant science at the University of Manitoba. He worked at Growers Supply and S-Scan Farms for a combined 11 years as an agronomy consultant, while also achieving his certified crop advisory designation and professional ag designation from the Alberta Institute of Agrologists.
“I’ve wanted to have my own business and do my own agronomy consulting for a while, and I felt this was the time to step out and do it. My experience is all in the irrigated land and the high-value crops like potatoes, but I’m also interested in all the main crops around here,” said Gillespie. “Knowing with the Cavendish expansion, you know there is going to be a good demand for potatoes and there’s going to be a lot of need for businesses like myself.”
While Gillespie works with major farm operations, he is also looking for solo clientele as well for people’s personal gardens. “I like doing it on my own garden at home too. I grow all types of stuff in my garden. I’ve learned with my job, I like the root crops — onions, carrots, beets. But I also have tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkins. The stuff that I have found that works for me can sit and wait in the ground for me,” said Gillespie. Gillespie hasn’t rototilled his soil for six-plus years. “When I’m digging things like onions or carrots, I’m going to be disturbing the soil a little bit, but it’s just enough to get it out of the ground. Seeding, it’s as close to no-till seeding as I can get, where I just work up enough to get the seed in the ground and then let it go,” said Gillespie. “I’ve implemented my own drip irrigation set up in my garden. I have seen the results in my own garden and I can see how it works.”
Gillespie scouts fields, checking fields to verify current plans or adjust them as he sees needed for farmers. “Every year is different. It’s not scouting to figure out what to do, it’s scouting to maximize things,” said Gillespie.
He sees some of the biggest changes in agriculture being an increased focus on the soil as a biological system and not strictly as a chemical system/medium to grow plants in. “The biggest buzz words are ‘soil health.’ It can take on many things, but instead of seeing things as entirely matching nutrients with what you are going to apply.
There is so much going on in the soil that we don’t see,” said Gillespie. “The way people are starting to see soil health and taking care of the soil differently is going to be a similar concept to what no-till has been in more of the intensively farmed crops. There are people who are experimenting with many different things with cover cropping and keeping roots in the soil, keeping biological systems active so that you have a resilient soil.”
A big challenge in southern Alberta is trying to implement these systems in very tillage-intensive areas like potatoes and sugar beets. “It is similar to what no-till would have been 30 or 40 years ago. There was the assumption you plow the land and you had to do that to make a good seed bed. But people have learned there is a way of doing it without having to do all that disturbance. It takes time and it is not a perfect system, but there are a lot of benefits,” said Gillespie. “On a garden, there’s not much concern on soil erosion, but on large scale, soil erosion is huge. The challenge is making that work in a potato or sugar beet rotation. For those crops, there is no way to not till the soil, but there are things you can do to minimize the chance of blowing and protect the soil. You minimize the time it is exposed.”
Farming has always been in Gillespie’s blood, having grown up on one. The green thumb aspect came later when he settled into an agronomy job, bought a house and had a family. “I did some community gardens when I was in university. It is still a hobby, but what I have found playing over the years is it’s an area I can play in whenever I want,” said Gillespie of his current 1/100th of a acre garden he has at his home. “I have my own drip irrigation and I have a rain barrel collection system. As I learn stuff, it can go back and forth to the field recommendations. I’m constantly reading new things and wanting to go to more than the minimum amount of conferences to keep my designations.”
With new research coming out in soil health and the soils being relatively young in the southern Alberta region in being worked, there has been some degradation from farming. With the irrigation infrastructure the area possesses and the optimum growing conditions, the need for Gillespie’s services is crucial for the longevity of the region. “We want to maintain things at a sustainable pace and to build the soil for future generations, it’ really important to keep that up. It’s a very unique area here, even world wide for what we can grow here,” said Gillespie. “To protect it and make it even more productive is really important.”
Scott can be found on his website at www.scottcgillespie.com.