Sustainability
Tree-based intercropping – growing trees together with crops – is a historical agricultural practice. These days primarily smallholder farmers use it in tropical systems, but researchers are focused on potential applications in the temperate soils of southern Ontario and Quebec.
Published in Other Crops
Send five soil test samples to five different labs and you’ll likely get five different recommendations. Understanding why will help you get the most out of your fertilizer dollars and optimize yields over the long term.
Published in Soil

Annually, diseases, weeds, and insects are estimated to cause more than $1.3 billion in losses for sunflower growers. To combat this, researchers are preserving the genetic diversity of wild sunflowers. Wild plants retain the genes needed to resist pests and survive in different environments.

| READ MORE

Published in Corporate News
Many consumers think organic is better for humans and the planet, but a new UBC study published today in Science Advances finds that might not always be the case.

“Organic is often proposed a holy grail solution to current environmental and food scarcity problems, but we found that the costs and benefits will vary heavily depending on the context,” said Verena Seufert, a researcher at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES).

In their study, Seufert and her co-author Navin Ramankutty, Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change and Food Security at UBC, analyzed organic crop farming across 17 criteria such as yield, impact on climate change, farmer livelihood and consumer health.

It is the first study to systematically review the scientific literature on the environmental and socioeconomic performance of organic farming, not only assessing where previous studies agree and disagree, but also identifying the conditions leading to good or bad performance of organic agriculture. [Explore their findings in-depth in this image]

Take two factors that are top of mind for many consumers: synthetic pesticide use and nutritional benefits of organic. Seufert and Ramankutty argue that in countries like Canada where pesticide regulations are stringent and diets are rich in micronutrients, the health benefits of choosing organic may be marginal.

“But in a developing country where pesticide use is not carefully regulated and people are micronutrient deficient, we think that the benefits for consumer and farm worker health may be much higher,” said Ramankutty, professor at IRES and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC.

Another important measure of the sustainability of farming systems is the yield of a crop. To date, most studies have compared the costs and benefits of organic and conventional farms of the same size, which does not account for differences in yield.

Previous research has shown that on average, the yield of an organic crop is 19 to 25 per cent lower than under conventional management, and Seufert and Ramankutty find that many of the environmental benefits of organic agriculture diminish once lower yields are accounted for.

“While an organic farm may be better for things like biodiversity, farmers will need more land to grow the same amount of food,” said Seufert. “And land conversion for agriculture is the leading contributor to habitat loss and climate change.”

While their findings suggest that organic alone cannot create a sustainable food future, they conclude that it still has an important role to play. Buying organic is one way that consumers have control over and knowledge of how their food is produced since it is the only farming system regulated in law.

“We need to stop thinking of organic and conventional agriculture as two ends of the spectrum. Instead, consumers should demand better practices for both so that we can achieve the world’s food needs in a sustainable way,” said Seufert.


Published in Corporate News
For potato growers in Western Canada who are nervously watching the progress of potato psyllids (Bactericera cockerelli) moving in from the northwest United States, there’s good news: none of the potato psyllids found in Western Canada are carrying the zebra chip pathogen, Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum (Lso). The Lso pathogen is transmitted by the potato psyllid, and zebra chip has caused severe damage in potatoes in the western United States, Mexico, Central America and New Zealand.
Published in Insect Pests
Manitoba's forages, grasslands and cover crops and the healthy soils they grow in is a sure thing for any made in Manitoba carbon plan according to Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA). The MFGA fast-tracked the organization's carbon position and a suite of seven key recommendations out to leaders and decision-makers this week.  

MFGA's timing bodes well given last week's call by Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox for input into a Manitoba Climate and Green Plan for Manitobans to have their say on the carbon pricing plan being imposed by the federal government. The key takeaway point of the MFGA position is the MFGA's advocacy for the plants above the soil and the microbial activity below, looping forages, grasslands, cover crops and annual crops as positives on the carbon front. 

The MFGA recommends that the following needs should be addressed with regards to understanding and promoting carbon sequestration in grasslands, forages, cover crops and annual crops and the soils they grow in: 

1. As a producer-led group, MFGA should be involved in all policy and partnership discussions around carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services provided by well-managed forage and grasslands, cover crops and annual crop production. 

2. Soil carbon benchmarking and monitoring should be done across the Manitoba agricultural lands and the potential benefits of increased soil carbon on a landscape scale should be modelled. 

3. Research and testing for Manitoba producers needs to be conducted within Manitoba to quantify the amount of carbon sequestered across a variety of landscapes using forage and grasslands as well as cover crops and perennial stages in crop rotation. 

4. Reward or compensation should be provided for producers who are able to retain or restore forages and grasslands and/or manage their soils to store and sequester carbon via incentive programs such as Alternative Land Use Services. This also applies to any other ecosystem services (water retention, flood prevention, biodiversity, etc.) that forages, grasslands and soils provide to society from Manitoba's agricultural lands. 

5. The MFGA Aquanty Project Model for the Assiniboine River Basin should be used to run simulations for demonstrating the role that organic carbon stored under forages and grasslands plays in flood and drought mitigation. The MFGA Aquanty Project is on schedule for completion March 2018.

6. Rotational grazing, cover crops and zero-till farming practices for soil health should continue to be supported and promoted by government and industry. 

7. An emphasis needs to be placed, in policy and public communications, on the positive linkages of livestock production, well-managed grasslands and sustainably-managed crop lands to soil health, carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services. 
Published in Corporate News
"Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world's growing population." This has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture.

Research published in Bioscience suggests that production likely will need to increase between 25 percent and 70 percent to meet 2050 food demand. The assertion that we need to double global crop and animal production by 2050 is not supported by the data, argues Mitch Hunter, doctoral student in agronomy, in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. He says the analysis shows that production needs to keep increasing, but not as fast as many have claimed. | READ MORE
Published in Corporate News
The Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) celebrates Canada’s first national Agriculture Day (February 16th, 2017) with the launch of its Better Seed, Better Life program.

Seed is the start of it all, the entire agriculture and agri-food value chain. Through Better Seed, Better Life, CSTA plans to engage with Canadians on the role of seed as the foundation for the foods and drinks we enjoy, the clothes we wear and the fuel in our cars. This program is based on materials created by the American Seed Trade Association and is a collaborative effort between the two associations. 

CSTA’s Better Seed, Better Life program starts with the launch of the fact sheet, “The A to Z of Garden Seeds.” This is the first of a series of fact sheets to be released over the next months, connecting the seeds produced by CSTA members and the crops grown from those seeds to the products used in everyday life. The fact sheets are available at cdnseed.org. Profiles of CSTA members and a video will be added over the year to complement the fact sheets.
Published in Seeding/Planting
Modern crop production has a lesson or two to learn from the ancient Amazonians, including the benefits of using biochar to enrich infertile agricultural soils.
Published in Soil

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
Soil microbes provide billions and billions of teeny helping hands to your crops. Those helping hands are key to sustainable, profitable crop production. Crop growers can choose practices that promote healthy soil microbial communities, and researchers like Bobbi Helgason are developing ways to further enhance agriculture’s ability to tap into the remarkable capacity contained in soil microbial life.
Published in Soil
Agriculture and conservation groups from across Canada have unveiled a plan to create a sustainable future for the country’s agri-environmental landscape.
Published in Corporate News
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
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
Improving fertilizer use efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon footprints, thereby improving sustainability is becoming increasingly important to the agriculture industry and its markets. For agriculture, nitrous oxide (N2O) is a very powerful GHG, so reducing losses and intensity not only improves the GHG footprint of cropping systems, but also benefits growers directly by improving economics and efficiency.
Sept. 15, 2016 - This summer’s drought crisis and how it’s having a serious affect on crop yields was the focus of a round-table discussion between local farmers and Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs last week.

Agriculture minister, Jeff Leal, met with about 30 farmers at Reynolds Bros. Farms in Prince Edward County for a discussion arranged by Mayor Robert Quaiff, to hear firsthand how 60 days without solid rainfall is producing burnt and premature crops forcing them to again seek claims from the province’s insurance program as many did during severe drought conditions in 2012. | READ MORE.
Published in Soil
August 12, 2016 - New-Life Mills, the animal feed division of Parrish & Heimbecker, Limited and P&H Eastern Grain Division have pooled resources to launch the new "Science of Sustainable Agriculture Expo" at this year’s Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, Ont., which is being held from Sept. 13th-15th, 2016.

 “It’s amazing how nearly every aspect of what we do in agriculture is connected on some level. We are among the most responsible of industries when it comes to ensuring nothing goes to waste,” says Sherry Slejska, marketing communications specialist, with New-Life Mills.

The exhibit will explore the elaborate connectedness of today’s agricultural world with sustainability in the forefront. The display at the Farm Show will be both educational for the inexperienced and eye-opening for the savvy farmer. 

“To my knowledge, this will be the largest initiative P&H has ever started to show the community how deeply involved we are in helping them produce crops, market crops, transport crops and feed livestock through a spider web of interactions between Ontario’s livestock and cash crop growers as well as many other commercial players," says Jeff Jaques, of Parrish & Heimbecker. "We are involved in almost every step from fertilizing the crop to grinding it into flour and opening up their marketing opportunities to the world. Most farmers don’t realize that."
Published in Corporate News
July 7, 2016 - Ontario represents over 12 million acres of Canada's most viable and productive farmland and Ontario's agriculture industry has been a leader in nutrient management planning for crop production using 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Source at the Right Rate, Right Time, and Right Place) as a method to improve the health of Ontario's watersheds.

To date, more than 113,000 acres of farmland in Ontario can be attributed to 4R Nutrient Stewardship, with roughly 67 per cent of farms applied some form of this nutrient planning and management method. 

"Introducing subtle changes to the way a crop is fertilized using 4R Nutrient Stewardship can not only produce higher yields, but also takes measurable steps to benefit Ontario watersheds, including the great lakes," says Henry Denotter, an Ontario 4R demonstration farm participant.

As the leading international standard for on-farm nutrient application, farmers and agri-retailers alike are embracing 4R Nutrient Stewardship.

"Ontario's agri-retailers are committed to sustainable agriculture.  4R Nutrient Stewardship allows agri-retailers to adopt a science-based framework that can benefit both the environment and crop production systems," says Dave Buttenham, CEO of the Ontario Agri Business Association (OABA). "This practical tool considers not only the agronomic aspects of soil and crop nutrition but also helps to accomplish enhanced farm profitability and accountability." 

As a result of the Ontario Memorandum of Cooperation, formalized in 2015 the province has:

  • Successfully implemented 20 4R demonstration farms, with four currently in practice
  • Reached more than 115 Ontario growers through 4R Nutrient Stewardship workshops
  • Enrolled 21 agri-retailers in OABA's voluntary 4R "Designated Acres" pilot program; and
  • Launched the Ontario Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) 4R Nutrient Management Specialty Certification (65 of Ontario's CCAs are registered to write the certification exam in August 2016)
"The strength of this relationship lies in the shared-value partnership approach. Collectively, each organization brings expertise which helps the province of Ontario meet its environmental goals while enhancing the economic benefits for farmers in these highly productive farming zones. Together, we are a part of the solution," says Garth Whyte, president & CEO of Fertilizer Canada.

Ontario has embraced 4R Nutrient Stewardship as a valuable tool for meeting agricultural and environmental goals and is recognized as a part of the Ontario Government's strategy to restore, protect and conserve water quality and ecosystem health. 

"Sustainable water quality and land use are a priority for Ontarians," says Jeff Leal, Ontario's agriculture minister. "The agriculture industry understands how important a healthy Great Lakes system is to maintain agriculture now and in the future. The Government of Ontario has embraced 4R Nutrient Stewardship as a tool to support the province's agricultural and environmental goals. This support is amplified by partners in the agriculture industry, who have undertaken efforts to adopt and promote 4R Nutrient Stewardship in Ontario."

Progress on 4R Nutrient Stewardship in Ontario will be shared at the upcoming 4R Demonstration Tour Field Days departing from Chatham, Ont. on July 27th and July 28th 2016. For more information about the tour days in Ontario and about implementing 4R Nutrient Stewardship in Ontario, visit fertilizercanada.ca.
Published in Corporate News
June 24, 2016 - In the UK, the British people voted to exit the European Union in a historic vote which was announced in the early Friday hours. Following the vote, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he would resign, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “highly likely” that the SNP would seek a referendum on leaving the United Kingdom after Scotland voted strongly to “Remain”.

UK markets were roiling this morning, with the pound off more than 10% initially to its lowest point against the US dollar since 1985, while the FTSE 100 index took a huge hit in early trading before trimming losses to the 8 per cent mark. German Chancellor Angela Merkel termed the result a “terrible disappointment” and called for a meeting with the heads of the French and Italian governments on Monday to discuss next steps. | Read more.
Published in Corporate News
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