In the sprawling fields of Northern Alberta, where the Peace River meets the iconic Rocky Mountains, farmer Andre Harpe grows cereals in one of Canada’s most extreme climates.

The Scottish Farmer caught up with Andre to find out how his business Wieso Acres Ltd grows malting barley and canola (oilseed rape), along with a modest amount of peas and grass seed.

The Scottish Farmer: Andre HarpeAndre Harpe

The farm is considered large by Scottish standards but is only slightly above average in Canada, where the typical cereal grower manages around 3000 acres.

The large acreage necessitates big machines and efficient labour to ensure successful crop growth during the short growing season.

While Andre’s farm is at a similar latitude to Scotland, the weather is much more extreme, with the potential for snow showers every month of the year.

The Scottish Farmer: Andre's family helping out at harvestAndre's family helping out at harvest

Land prices are cheaper compared to Scotland, with ground in northern Alberta going for around $3000 per acre (£1747 per acre). Further south, the land price doubles.

The summer highs range from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius, but the bitter winters see temperatures plummet to minus 20 to 30 degrees, with the coldest days reaching minus 40.

Andre explained: “For five months of the year, the snow and cold mean there isn’t much that can be done on the farm.

The Scottish Farmer: Andre Harpe is also chair of the Grain Growers of Canada which repsesents 65,000 farmersAndre Harpe is also chair of the Grain Growers of Canada which repsesents 65,000 farmers

"The ground is blanketed in snow and even the diesel freezes, so you need to protect your fuel and ensure it is of the quality to cope with the temperature.”

Rainfall is modest, ranging from 8-10 inches, mostly falling from May to August.

This rainfall is dwarfed by up to five feet of snow in the winter.

The Scottish Farmer: Andre aims for two tons per acre for malting spring barleyAndre aims for two tons per acre for malting spring barley

The snow is vital for getting moisture into the soil in spring, with Andre estimating it is equivalent to five inches of rain from snow melt in April.

The crop rotation on Andre’s farm is quite standard for the area: two years of spring barley followed by one year of spring oilseed rape before returning to barley.

The severe weather means that leaving crops in the ground over winter is not an option.

Despite the tight rotation, Andre does not have an issue with clubroot in the soil, but he remains vigilant to ensure it does not establish.

Fields are all in one block, ranging from 50 acres to 700 acres, with most between 130 to 200 acres.

All the land has been direct-drilled for 25 years, with the land cultivated, seeded, and fertilised in a single pass.

Occasionally, the plough will come out if there are significant ruts from a wet harvest or stubborn grass weeds.

The farm has a soil testing programme that allows for variable rate application of inputs. This is all managed through an agronomist who logs the data directly into the drill.

The Scottish Farmer: Andre farms at a similar latitude to ScotlandAndre farms at a similar latitude to Scotland

However, the pH is a steady 6, which means that lime does not need to be regularly applied.

Andre explains that they have not been assessing carbon levels in the soil yet, but this may be coming down the line.

He said: “The government has been vocal about farmers reducing their carbon footprint. We think with no-till we may already be there – we are learning how best to measure.”

Spring barley is sown with 60-70lbs of nitrogen and 30lbs of phosphate per acre, which equates to 74kg of nitrogen and 32kg of phosphate per ha to establish the crop.

Currently, in Canada, straight nitrogen costs £495 per ton, and phosphate £700. When oilseed rape is sown, sulphur is added to the blend.

Sowing usually starts in the last week of April, with the oilseed rape planted first.

The changeable seasons mean that sowing often extends into May.

The latest Andre has sown was in the middle of June.

The Canadian government offers harvest insurance for farmers who can plant their crops by the middle of June. After that, the land is not covered.

This year, Andre said: “We are patiently waiting for spring, and I am planning to start seeding by May 1.”

He uses a Bourgault drill, manufactured in the Canadian Prairies, which stretches to 66 feet wide.

This large machine can seed 300-400 acres in a day and is pulled by a John Deere four-track which has 600bhp under the bonnet.

Barley is planted at around 135lbs (61kg) per acre, and the oilseed rape at 2.2 kg per acre. OSR seed is bought in, but saved home barley seed is used.

Before drilling, the land is treated with glyphosate using an Agrifac sprayer.

The Scottish Farmer: Long summer days help to increase oilseed rape yieldsLong summer days help to increase oilseed rape yields

A fungicide spray is also applied once the plants are established and a weedkiller three weeks after sowing, before canopy closure.

Fertiliser is the biggest cost on the farm, and no more is added during the growing season.

While there are bears, moose, and elk roaming around the farm, one advantage of the severe winters is that there are few slugs to impact the young oilseed plants.

However, Northern Alberta does suffer from cutworms, which are the larvae of moths.

The 1.5-inch bug has the ability to decimate cereals, brassicas, or legume crops.

The oilseed rape can also be attacked by flea beetles, and the barley can be hit with leaf stripe.

Harvest comes around late August, early September, with the barley first to be harvested.

Most fields ripen themselves, but if there are green areas, a desiccant is used.

Most of the oilseed rape is lifted directly by the combine, but some varieties with special oil contents require the crop to be swathed.

The crops are harvested by two Lexion combines with 40-feet headers and a 60t cart pulled by the John Deere four-track.

Straw is all chopped back into the soil with no bales made on the farm.

The aim is to achieve more than two tons per acre for spring barley with the plan being to cut at 15% moisture.

Anything below 20% is acceptable if time is against the team.

The protein level in the crop is usually 11% with a 98% germination rate, which is sufficient to keep the maltsters satisfied.

However, Andre explains that the same challenges with tightening specifications in a well-supplied market occur in Canada just as they do in the UK.

While specification deductions do happen, only once has Andre had his tonnage reduced to feed barley prices.

The grain is all stored on the farm and sold through the winter.

By the start of spring, Andre usually still has just under a quarter of his crop to market.

Normally, crops are sold on contract based on the futures market, with the depot close enough for Andre to deliver some loads himself.

Before sale, the grain is run through the dryer at 500 bushels or 15t per hour to reduce the moisture content and condition the crop.

“At harvest, we are being chased by the snow,” Andre explains.

“We don’t know when the snow will start. In Northern Alberta our challenge is our growing season. In July, we have around 20 hours of sunlight but cool nights, so spring and fall are quite easy to get frost.”