Environment

While drones have a foothold in the game of precision agriculture, some researchers are toying with the idea of using them as pollinators as well. 

Researchers ordered a small drone online and souped it up with a strip of fuzz made from a horsehair paintbrush covered in a sticky gel. The device is about the size of a hummingbird, and has four spinning blades to keep it soaring. With enough practice, the scientists were able to maneuver the remote-controlled bot so that only the bristles, and not the bulky body or blades, brushed gently against a flower’s stamen to collect pollen – in this case, a wild lily (Lilium japonicum). To ensure the hairs collect pollen efficiently, the researchers covered them with ionic liquid gel (ILG), a sticky substance with a long-lasting “lift-and-stick-again” adhesive quality – perfect for taking pollen from one flower to the next. What’s more, the ILG mixture has another quality: When light hits it, it blends in with the color of its surroundings, potentially camouflaging the bot from would-be predators. | READ MORE

When farmers spray their fields with pesticides or other treatments, only two per cent of the spray sticks to the plants. A significant portion of it typically bounces right off the plants, lands on the ground, and becomes part of the runoff that flows to streams and rivers, often causing serious pollution. But a team of MIT researchers aims to fix that.

By using a clever combination of two inexpensive additives to the spray, the researchers found they can drastically cut down on the amount of liquid that bounces off. The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper by associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, graduate student Maher Damak, research scientist Seyed Reza Mahmoudi, and former postdoc Md Nasim Hyder.

Previous attempts to reduce this droplet bounce rate have relied on additives such as surfactants, soaplike chemicals that reduce the surface tension of the droplets and cause them to spread more. But tests have shown that this provides only a small improvement; the speedy droplets bounce off while the surface tension is still changing, and the surfactants cause the spray to form smaller droplets that are more easily blown away. | READ MORE
Published in Corporate News
A popular fertilizer for farmers is urea, a nitrogen-rich organic compound found in human urine. Urea is water soluble and volatile, which means that irrigation or a heavy rains often sweeps it away in surface run-off or it escapes as a gas before it can be absorbed by plants.
Published in Fertilizer
Guelph, ON – The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) has launched a new partnership through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) AgriRisk Initiatives (ARI) program. The project, entitled “Controlled Tile Drainage – Calculate Your Benefits,” will partner OSCIA with scientists at the University of Ottawa to research the crop yield benefits of controlled tile drainage.

“The research indicates that there may be economic benefits to farmers under specific field conditions”, says Gord Green, President of OSCIA. “Under drought conditions, research has confirmed as high as a 25 per cent increase in corn yield where controlled drainage was used to retain water to better supply the growing crop.”

Research shows the benefits from controlled tile drainage vary depending on the crop, amount of rainfall, and timing of rainfall in relation to the stage of crop growth. Under the new partnership, a new tool will be developed to allow extension staff and farmers to better calculate the crop yield benefits of controlled tile drainage under varying conditions.

“With extremes in weather increasing due to climate change, every competitive edge counts”, says Dr. Michael Sawada, scientist at the University of Ottawa. “Additionally, controlled drainage can reduce the flow of phosphorus and other nutrients to help protect our water resources.”

The collaborative project runs until the winter of 2018.

Funding for the “Controlled Tile Drainage – Calculate Your Benefits” project is provided through Growing Forward 2, AgriRisk Initiatives, which supports the research and development, as well as the implementation and administration of new risk management tools for use in the agriculture sector.
Published in Corporate News
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has announced a new mission for 2017: “Farms and Food Forever.” This new mission statement will build on current advocacy work and focus on growth in the farming community across rural Ontario, including the need for affordable, accessible energy – including natural gas.

Agriculture has an important role in climate change, and the OFA is advocating for the sector to mitigate impacts as they participate in the Climate Change Action Plan. Also, the OFA is preparing to work on new legislation, like the Waste Free Ontario Act, which will reduce waste and the dependence on rural landfills.

The work on regulations is ongoing. There’s a push for a more effective regulatory system for the agriculture sector. Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, Brad Duguid, has emphasized his parliamentary assistant will pursue Burden Reduction legislation (Bill 218) to modernize and update legislation.

The Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Jeff Leal, reinforces the need for effective programs and services to rural communities. Other priorities include the importance of economic growth, which will include investing in better infrastructure, affordable education and a competitive low-carbon economy.

For more information, visit ofa.on.ca.
Published in Corporate News
A team led by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Jeffrey Herrick has developed an innovative cloud computing platform and suite of mobile apps. The Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) “identifies (and in the near future will deliver) knowledge relevant to specific soils to anyone with a mobile phone,” says Herrick, who is based at the ARS Range Management Research Unit in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The LandPKS mobile app, which includes the LandInfo and LandCover modules, taps cloud computing, digital and traditional soil-mapping, and GPS data to provide information on the sustainable potential of land under current and future climate conditions.

The current version of the LandInfo module allows the user to collect soil and site topographic data, while the LandCover module is used to document ground cover, vegetation height, plant density, and spatial patterns of vegetation affecting soil erosion. Domestic and international development organizations and land-management agencies are already using the app to crowd-source the local information needed to inform management decisions.

Read the full story here.
Published in Corporate News
If the conditions of the Dust Bowl were replicated today, modern agriculture would be devastated, according to scientists at the University of Chicago. Researchers analyzed how extreme drought and heat would affect maize, soy and wheat crops in the United States. The results show conditions similar to the 1930s would drastically reduce modern crop yields. | READ MORE
Published in Corporate News
Inocucor Technologies Inc. has announced that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has registered its first two specialty ag biological products for use by Canadian farmers and greenhouse growers.
With the continued difficulties in getting the crop harvested this fall, an Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) specialist is recommending producers get their crops any way they can, as long as it goes through the combine.

“This year’s harvest has been a long, drawn out affair, filled with frustration and disappointment,” said Harry Brook, crop specialist, AF, in a press release. “Many producers still have crop left to be harvested or are taking it off wet, with grain being binned or bagged or piled at unheard of moisture levels. These crops cannot be left out in the cold for extended periods of time unattended.”

Once the crop is harvested and in storage, the excess moisture must be dealt with as soon as possible. “If you don’t have ready access to a grain dryer or have aeration for your bins, you must closely monitor the grain or oilseed for signs of heating. If you see signs that there is heating, you will need to cool the grain by circulating the grain out of and back into the bin. Depending on bin or pile size, this may have to be done fairly frequently.”

Brook has a caution for producers who are using grain bags for short term storage. “Remember that very damp or wet grain in a bag will start to mould. Some moulds will grow at cold temperatures and losses can be high. If bags are used for wet grain storage it should only be short term until crop drying occurs and close monitoring can again begin.”

When drying grain, there are maximum temperatures that should be used on the various crops. “There are tables that outline the maximum temperatures to be used to dry grain. Don’t exceed those maximum drying temperatures to avoid quality losses. With a large amount of moisture to be removed or a big seed, multiple passes of drying and cooling will be needed. In large seed like fababeans, drying might take three or four cycles to bring it down to safe storage levels. The cooling is required to let the moisture content in the seed equalize.”

If there is aeration, some supplemental heat can be used to help dry down the crop. However, Brook said, in this case smaller bins will be more useful than large bins. “To make this work, the fan has to have sufficient air flow to provide at least 0.5 cfm/bushel before adding the supplemental heat. Success will depend on the cleanliness of the grain and, even then, a load or two will have to be circulated out of the bin and back in to help equalize moistures and prevent dry and wet channels in the grain.”

Brook recommends restricting the air temperature increase to 10 C or less as higher temperatures can reduce efficiency and increase the chances of over-drying. For every 10 C increase in air temperature, the relative humidity is halved.

“If you have crop that is damp or wet, monitor it closely for signs of heating and, if it occurs, take the appropriate measures to retain the value of the crop. It is too costly to do otherwise.”
Published in Harvesting
Members of the Canadian 4R Research Network gathered in Ottawa on Dec. 1 to share important agronomic data that may assist the federal government in meeting sustainable development goals and greenhouse gas mitigation targets.
Published in Soil
Delivery points report a spike in heated canola, and the Canola Council of Canada is advising growers to check all canola bins as soon as possible. | READ MORE
Published in Canola
As part of the regular review process, Health Canada has completed its re-evaluation of imidacloprid, and has published its draft risk assessment for public comment. The assessment proposes current use of imidacloprid is not sustainable, and the levels of this pesticide that are being found in waterways and aquatic environments are harmful to aquatic insects, such as mayflies and midges, which are important food sources for fish, birds and other animals.
Published in Insecticides
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are among the most common and ubiquitous soil microorganisms in almost all soil systems. They contribute to nitrogen and phosphorus absorption and translocation, alleviation of water stress, resistance to soil-borne pathogens and improvement of soil structure. Several studies have reported organic farming systems tend to have more diverse AMF communities.
Published in Soil
Does no-till increase the concentration of phosphorus in tile drainage water? That’s the question researchers set out to answer with plots on three farms in southern Ontario.

Despite efforts to reduce phosphorus levels in freshwater lakes in North America, phosphorus loads to lakes such as Lake Erie are still increasing, resulting in harmful algal blooms. This has led to increased pressure to reduce phosphorus from non-point sources such as agriculture.

While no-till has long been touted for its ability to reduce phosphorus (P) losses in field run-off by minimizing the amount of phosphorus leaving farm fields attached to soil particles, recent research raised concerns that phosphorus levels in tile drainage from no-till fields were higher than from conventionally tilled fields.
A group of long-time no-till farmers, called the ANSWERS group, wanted to see if this was the case on their own farms under their management practices. The farmers approached the government and researchers in order to set up a scientific study.

Funding came from Environment Canada’s Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Agricultural Adaptation Council’s Farm Innovation Fund and the Grain Farmers of Ontario. “It was a collaboration between researchers, farmers and government,” says Merrin Macrae, a researcher from the University of Waterloo. Macrae was involved in the project, along with Ivan O’Halloran, University of Guelph (Ridgetown), and Mike English, Wilfrid Laurier University.

The results were good news for farmers who have adopted no-till. There were no significant differences in the P losses between any of the tillage treatments, Macrae says.

The multiple-site, multiple-year project took place from 2011 to 2014 on farm fields near St. Marys and Innisfil under a corn-soybean-wheat rotation. A modified no-till system had been in place at both locations for several years prior to the study. This system is a predominantly no-till system but with some shallow tillage at one point during the three-year crop rotation, for example, following winter wheat. This tillage system is referred to in the study as reduced till (RT); the other two tillage systems in the comparison were strict no-till (NT) and annual disk till (AT) treatments.

Tile water was monitored for three years for each of the tillage treatments. The tile drains were intercepted at the field edge (below ground) to capture edge-of-field losses at each study plot. Discrete water samples were collected from each tile using automated water samplers triggered by tile run-off. The weather was also monitored.

Tillage type did not affect either the dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) or total phosphorus (TP) concentrations or loads in tile drainage. Both run-off and phosphorus export were episodic across all plots and most annual losses occurred during a few key events under heavy precipitation and snow melt events during the fall, winter and early spring, Macrae explains. The study shows the importance of crop management practices, especially during the non-growing season, she says.

Both tile drainage flow and phosphorus losses were lower than the researchers expected, Macrae says. Previous studies suggested about 40 per cent of precipitation leaves cropland in tile lines but in this study that proportion was significantly lower.

Macrae admits the researchers were surprised there wasn’t more dissolved phosphorus in the tile drainage water from the NT and RT sites due to the increased presence of macropores and worm holes. However, she points out that these farmers also use best management practices (BMPs) for phosphorus application in addition to using a reduced tillage system. For example, the farmers apply only the amount of phosphorus that the crop will remove. The phosphorus fertilizer is also banded below the surface instead of being surface-applied.

Macrae believes soil type also plays a role in the amount of dissolved phosphorus leaving farm fields in tile lines. “These sites were not on clay soils,” she says. “Clay soils are more prone to cracking, which could lead to higher phosphorus concentrations in tile lines.”

The research highlights the importance of bundling BMPs, Macrae emphasizes. “It’s not just tillage. Farmers should adopt a 4R’s approach: right source, right rate, right time, right place.”
Macrae also says farmers should do what they can to ensure nutrients stay in place, such as maintaining good soil health, using grassed waterways, riparian buffer strips and water and sediment control basins (WASCoBs) where needed, and carefully choosing when and how to apply nutrients.

“Since most of the water movement occurred during the non-growing season, the study showed the importance of how fields are left in winter and why it is important to not spread manure in winter,” she says.

The variability of rainfall intensity, duration and timing will also impact phosphorus losses, she adds.

In future, Macrae hopes to study the impact of tillage on phosphorus losses from clay soils as well as the impact of other management practices such as manure application and cover crops.
Published in Tillage
Canada's carbon price may weaken the farm sector in one of the world's biggest grain-shipping countries, raising farmers' costs and discouraging investment in fertilizer production, industry groups say. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Published in Business Management
It's been a soggy year on the Prairies, with Saskatchewan the ground zero of rain and snow. New maps from Agriculture Canada show precipitation was higher than average in virtually the entire grain belt this year. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Published in Agronomy
Researchers at Rice University in Houston are leading an effort to build tools that can detect, quantify and track the dispersal of genetically modified crops and animals, as well as their byproducts, in the environment.
Published in Genetics/Traits
Do the best yields come from the healthiest soil? Not necessarily. But new research suggests farm management practices can impact soil health – and improve a crop’s chance of thriving when times get tough.

Dr. Amanda Diochon, a professor in the Department of Geology at Lakehead University, is part of a multi-partner research study that aims to develop an improved soil health test for Ontario.

The project focuses on how different management practices impact soil health from four Ontario sites – in Ottawa, Delhi, Elora and Ridgetown. For Diochon’s part, she’s tracking how components of organic matter change over time.

“It’s possible for a farmer to optimize fertilizer levels and optimize yield, but that doesn’t necessarily mean soil will be healthy,” Diochon says. “And sometimes yields may be consistent across seasons or crop locations, but soil health in different fields can be variable.”

So if it’s possible to produce a high-yielding crop with less-than ideal soil, why does soil health matter? Diochon says the answer is simple: insurance. Healthy soil will be more productive when conditions are less than ideal.

Healthy soil is more resilient and can deal with stressors brought on by a changing climate. For example, soil with healthy levels of good quality organic matter will hold on to more moisture when climate is dry. And soil with a more diverse and productive microbial community is better able to buffer change.

Diochon is evaluating the effects of crop rotation and tillage on the different properties of organic matter. The key, she says, is in finding indicators in organic matter that are sensitive to change.

“We know what soil health is, but can we measure it? Nobody has that nugget yet,” Diochon says.

Her research team has zoned in on seven key indicators that she says will respond over time. Together, the indicators allow her to measure the physical, biological and chemical properties in soil.

“It’s hard to detect change by measuring organic matter or organic carbon,” Diochon says. “But by looking at certain attributes in organic matter, such as light fraction or sand fraction, we see they are sensitive to change.”

By examining soil samples from four sites in Ontario, Diochon says researchers will have a more comprehensive understanding of how organic matter responds across location and soil type.

“The hope is this research will identify best management practices to maintain or enhance soil health,” Diochon says. “We want to make it as profitable as possible for farmers while minimizing the impact on the environment – and ultimately enhance the resiliency of the entire system.”

This research is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Grain Farmers of Ontario.
Published in Soil
The National Farmers Union says it supports steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but is concerned that Ottawa’s proposed carbon pricing could hurt producers. The Toronto Star reports. | READ MORE
Published in Business Management
Farmers on the Canadian Prairies are "literally" the only agricultural winners on the planet as a result of global warming, according to an economist studying global food supply. The Times Colonist reports. | READ MORE
Published in Agronomy
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