An intensifying water cycle can substantially overload waterways with excess nitrogen runoff – which could near 20 per cent by 2100 – and increase the likelihood of events that severely impair water quality, according to a new study published by Science. | READ MORE
Since 2011, Morrissey has been studying the impact of neonics on Prairie wetlands. More specifically, she’s been charting the extent to which wetlands could be contaminated by neonic residues, and the impacts on invertebrate life that form the basis of the food web, as well as effects on bird populations in those wetlands.
“We were interested in wetlands in the Prairie pothole region because of their ecological significance,” she says. “There’s an obvious interaction between water and agriculture in this region of Canada.”
Morrissey and her graduate students have analyzed hundreds of wetlands in the Prairies, and have bird studies at five sites in a range of landscapes across Saskatchewan. Almost all of these sites are located on private land. Morrissey says most farmers are receptive and interested in her work.
“Most people genuinely think the chemicals they’re using are safe because they’re on the market and they are generally following guidelines as to how to apply them,” she says. “It’s the guidelines that we believe are flawed. They aren’t necessarily as safe as [people] were led to believe they are. They do say you shouldn’t use the chemicals near water, but that isn’t possible in the Prairies.”
Last year, Morrissey co-authored a review paper looking at neonicotinoid use in more than 230 studies to come up with guidelines for safe levels. In Prairie wetlands, she says, the levels routinely exceed guideline levels researchers would set as being safe.
“These compounds are extremely toxic at very, very low levels — 1,000 times more toxic to an insect than DDT [dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane]. At these low levels, and because the compounds stick around for a long time, that is enough to cause effects on native aquatic insects,” she says.
Anson Main, formerly one of Morrissey’s graduate students, is the lead author on a study released last year looking at spring runoff transport of neonicotinoid insecticides to Prairie wetlands.
Main studied 16 agricultural fields on a single farming operation, each of which had at least one wetland collecting runoff from a surrounding field. He took samples of top and bottom snow, particulate snow and wetland water. “In the wetland water you could be detecting up to 200 nanograms of neonicotinoids per litre, but for meltwater it could be 489 nanograms per litre. The mean was something like 170,” he says.
“Prairie wetlands are 85 to 90 per cent formed by snowmelt, so these pothole wetlands were accumulating this runoff,” he explains. “Meltwater is scouring the surfaces of the fields where there is some residual insecticides that are persisting. In the spring, the residues are being washed in as these basins are filling with water.”
Depending on the chemical, the half-life of some neonicotinoids (including clothianidin) is about three years, Morrissey says. Neonics are highly water-soluble and re-mobilize when water pools.
Francois Messier is the owner of a 10,000-acre farm near Saskatoon, where Main conducted the study. He grows canola and cereals (including barley, wheat and oat), of which only canola seed is treated with neonicotinoid insecticide.
Messier, once a wildlife ecologist at the University of Saskatchewan, now makes his operation available to university collaborators for studies such as Main’s.
For Messier, the use of neonicotinoids is unavoidable when it comes to canola. “The impact of flea beetles could be so devastating,” he says. “The average seed cost is about $75 per acre, and you don’t want to lose the crop right off the bat. I don’t think there is an alternative to using insecticide.”
But Messier says a distinction must be made between canola systems and cereal systems. He believes neonics are used preventatively against wireworms in cereal crops but in most cases are unnecessary. “I never use any insecticidal seed treatment on my cereal seed, and I would put my yield against anyone else’s in my neighbourhood,” he says.
Morrissey says the biggest take-away from the research is that neonicotinoid insecticides should never be used as an “insurance policy” due to the potential long-term negative effects, such as the development of resistance. “A, it’s expensive,” she says. “And B, it’s a toxic chemical that is environmentally concerning.”
Over the next few years, Morrissey hopes to connect the research community with farmers in the Prairie pothole region in a new “resilient agriculture” project that will develop and implement sustainable practices at a field scale. The project will aim to find strategies to keep crop yields high and environmental impacts low, with farmers as the key decision-makers.
“The information farmers are getting is almost all from seed and chemical companies that are selling them a product,” Morrissey says. “That’s not all the information out there.
“The word hasn’t gotten out to producers as much as I would like. They need to know this information more than anyone,” she adds.
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Rice researchers in Earth science, economics and environmental engineering have determined that widespread use of biochar in agriculture could reduce health care costs, especially for those who live in urban areas close to farmland.
Biochar is ground charcoal produced from waste wood, manure or leaves. Added to soil, the porous carbon has been shown to boost crop yields, lessen the need for fertilizer and reduce pollutants by storing nitrogen that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere.
The study led by Ghasideh Pourhashem, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, appears in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Pourhashem worked with environmental engineering graduate student Quazi Rasool and postdoc Rui Zhang, Rice Earth scientist Caroline Masiello, energy economist Ken Medlock and environmental scientist Daniel Cohan to show that urban dwellers in the American Midwest and Southwest would gain the greatest benefits in air quality and health from greater use of biochar.
They said the U.S. counties that would stand to save the most in health care costs from reduced smog are Will, La Salle and Livingston counties in Illinois; San Joaquin, San Diego, Fresno and Riverside counties in California; Weld County in Colorado; Maricopa County in Arizona; and Fort Bend County in Texas.
“Our model projections show health care cost savings could be on the order of millions of dollars per year for some urban counties next to farmland,” Pourhashem said. “These results are now ready to be tested by measuring changes in air pollutants from specific agricultural regions.”
Pourhashem noted the key measurements needed are the rate of soil emission of nitric oxide (NO), which is a smog precursor, after biochar is applied to fields. Many studies have already shown that biochar reduces the emissions of a related compound, nitrous oxide, but few have measured NO.
“We know that biochar impacts the soil nitrogen cycle, and that’s how it reduces nitrous oxide,” said Masiello, a professor of Earth, environmental and planetary science. “It likely reduces NO in the same way. We think the local impact of biochar-driven NO reductions could be very important.”
The Rice team used data from three studies of NO emissions from soil in Indonesia and Zambia, Europe and China. The data revealed a wide range of NO emission curtailment — from 0 per cent to 67 per cent — depending on soil type, meteorological conditions and the chemical properties of biochar used.
Using the higher figure in their calculations, they determined that a 67 per cent reduction in NO emissions in the United States could reduce annual health impacts of agricultural air pollution by up to $660 million. Savings through the reduction of airborne particulate matter — to which NO contributes — could be 10 times larger than those from ozone reduction, they wrote.
“Agriculture rarely gets considered for air pollution control strategies,” said Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Our work shows that modest changes to farming practices can benefit the air and soil too.”
Medlock is the James A. Baker III and Susan G. Baker Fellow in Energy and Resource Economics and senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and lecturer of economics.
The research was supported by the NASA Air Quality Applied Sciences Team, Rice’s Shell Center for Sustainability and the Baker Institute.
An Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a voluntary, whole-farm, self-assessment tool that helps farmers and ranchers identify and build on environmental strengths, as well as mitigate risks on their operations. A National EFP (NEFP) would not be a replacement program, but rather a harmonization effort across the existing EFP programs nation wide.
Building on an inaugural event held last year, summit attendees will further develop a national standard designed to connect environmentally sustainable practices at the farm level with global food buyers' growing need to source sustainable ingredients.
The NEFP program is well into development, led by a steering committee comprised of participants from across the agri-food value chain. Four sub-committees are working toward developing a national protocol as it relates to data collection, standards and verification, all of which will be supported through comprehensive communications and stakeholder outreach. Summit attendees will hear from each committee, along with subject matter experts, about the progress to-date - information that will further guide steps toward this national standard.
Learn more and register for the 2017 National EFP Summit by visiting nationalefp.ca. The NEFP is always seeking to add to its list of stakeholders involved in shaping this made-in-Canada solution. Interested organizations should contact co-chairs Drew Black or Paul Watson.
GrassLander is designed to be accessible to farmers, whether they’re out in the field or sitting at the kitchen table; the platform is optimized for computer, tablet or smart phone. Completely free, an online tutorial is available to take registrants through the steps of how to use GrassLander. All the information collected through GrassLander is secure; and to protect the privacy of GrassLander participants, the data is aggregated and only you are able to see your individual information.
GrassLander is ideal for producers who work agricultural land that includes pastures, meadows, native grasslands, restored grasslands, hayfields, or any other agricultural grassland spaces. Ontario producers and OSCIA have contributed to grassland bird conservation across the province in a variety of ways, including cost-share programs, research, education, and awareness initiatives; GrassLander is the latest addition to these valuable conservation efforts.
For more information on GrassLander or to get involved and start recording your sightings, visit ontariograsslander.ca.
The BadgerWay Program provides funding opportunities for farmers in southwestern Ontario who wish to implement specific Best Management Practices (BMPs) that create new habitat or connect existing on farm habitat. Up to 75 per cent cost-share is available, to a maximum of $20,000 per farm business. The eligible BMPs are:
BMP 1: Establishment of perennial contour cropping or other in-field perennial grass strips
BMP 2: Tree and shrub planting
BMP 3: Native grassland restoration
For full program details or to apply, visit the OSCIA website.
The team, headed by Loma Linda University (LLU) researcher Helen Harwatt, PhD, suggests that one simple change in American eating habits would have a large impact on the environment: if Americans would eat beans instead of beef, the United States would immediately realize approximately 50 to 75 percent of its GHG reduction targets for the year 2020.
The researchers explained that beef cattle are the most GHG-intensive food to produce and that the production of legumes (beans, peas, etc.) results in one-fortieth the amount of GHGs as beef.
“Given the novelty, we would expect that the study will be useful in demonstrating just how much of an impact changes in food production can make and increase the utility of such options in climate-change policy,” Harwatt said.
In a 10-page paper released May 12, Harwatt and her colleagues noted that dietary alteration for climate change mitigation is currently a hot topic among policymakers, academics and members of society at large. The paper, titled “Substituting beans for beef as a contribution towards U.S. climate change targets,” can be found online.
In addition to reducing GHG, Harwatt and her team – which included Joan Sabate, MD, DrPH; Gidon Eshel, PhD; the late Sam Soret, PhD; and William Ripple, PhD – concluded that shifting from animal-sourced to plant-sourced foods could help avert global temperature rise.
Sabate, who serves as executive director of the Center for Nutrition, Healthy Lifestyle and Disease Prevention at LLU School of Public Health, said the findings are substantial.
“The nation could achieve more than half of its GHG reduction goals without imposing any new standards on automobiles or manufacturing,” Sabate said.
The study, which was conducted while Harwatt was an environmental nutrition research fellow at Loma Linda University, also found that beef production is an inefficient use of agricultural land. Substituting beans for beef would free up 42 percent of U.S. cropland currently under cultivation — a total of 1.65 million square kilometers or more than 400 million square acres, which is approximately 1.6 times the size of the state of California.
Harwatt applauds the fact that more than a third of American consumers are currently purchasing meat analogs: plant-based products that resemble animal foods in taste and texture. She says the trend suggests that animal-sourced meat is no longer a necessity.
“Given the scale of greenhouse gas reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, are we prepared to eat beef analogs that look and taste like beef, but have a much lower climate impact?” she asks. “It looks like we’ll need to do this. The scale of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed doesn’t allow us the luxury of ‘business as usual’ eating patterns.”
In recent decades, Prairie producers have taken steps – such as using minimum tillage, improving water supplies for livestock, and storing extra feed – that enable them to survive short droughts. But the Prairie climate in the coming decades could include droughts that last five, 10 or more years, as well as extreme swings between really wet and really dry conditions. So Prairie people are starting to come together to plan and prepare for whatever the future might hold.
Many people on the Prairies have experienced dramatic shifts between extremely dry and extremely wet periods in the last few years. “For instance, from April to June in 2015, Regina had 43 millimetres of rain. Normally it would see about 147. Looking at the records that go back to the 1880s, it turns out to be the third driest such period in 120 years. But the previous April to June was the wettest on record for Regina. That is the kind of weather whiplash that farmers are dealing with. The weather has a Jekyll and Hyde personality,” David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, says.
He adds, “Farmers build into their strategies dealing with things like too wet to seed and too dry to grow – those things happen when you’re in farming. But when you get back-to-back weather conditions you would expect to see only once in a career of 40 or 50 years of farming, how can you deal with that?”
Looking at the period from 2009 to 2011, University of Manitoba atmospheric scientist John Hanesiak and his colleagues found that precipitation ranged “between record drought and unprecedented flooding.” In some instances, drought and very heavy rains occurred at the same time in different parts of the Prairies. And some locations experienced both weather extremes within those three years; for example, some southern Manitoba farmers had insurance claims for both flooding and drought in the 2009 growing season.
This type of wild variability is predicted to be part of the future climate. “We are expecting to see greater variability from year to year, going from droughts to really wet periods. Even the older climate models were telling us 10 or 15 years ago to expect that kind of a pattern,” Hanesiak says.
The current variability in the Prairie weather may be one indication that the predicted patterns in the atmosphere are starting to become a reality. “Recently some articles have suggested that we’re on the verge of seeing these things happening now, where the wave in the jet stream tends to meander a little more. That potentially could create a more stagnant pattern, where you get longer periods of drought and longer periods of wet, depending on where you are on that wave,” Hanesiak explains.
Studies of past climate patterns show that such weather extremes are not new to the Prairies. Research by Dave Sauchyn of the University of Regina has found that multi-year and multi-decade Prairie droughts have occurred during the past 1,000 years.
“We tend to get caught off-guard [by extreme weather] and we use the excuse that ‘we couldn’t have anticipated it because it has never happened before.’ We’re implying that it has never happened in our lifetime because we all think in terms of our own situation,” Sauchyn says. “But if you get outside your own local experience and look at the longer records, you find that it has happened over and over again.”
Adapting as individuals and groups
Sauchyn has been sharing the results of his climate research with Prairie people who need the information, and he has been learning from them about their drought adaptation strategies. For example, in October 2015, Sauchyn and his research group met in southwestern Saskatchewan with local people including farmers, ranchers and government officials.
“They told us that much of what they have already done over the decades, and especially the last few decades, is putting them in good shape because, in general, agricultural practices are more sustainable than they were in the past. That is reflected in less soil erosion and more resilient agricultural ecosystems. In general, if you maintain a healthy and resilient agro-ecosystem and take proper care of pastures, crops, soil and water, then agriculture will be less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” he says.
“But they also told us that individual farmers and ranchers can only do so much, especially if drought exceeds more than one or two years. They can store water for a couple of years. There is an extensive water storage and diversion infrastructure on the Prairies, especially in the drier parts, and it has been very effective in withstanding one- or two-year droughts. Beyond that, there is only so much water that can be stored. Similarly, feed can be stored for one or two years. But they tell us that after a couple of years of drought, the local options are pretty much exhausted.”
At that stage, people turn to their social capital. Sauchyn explains, “We’re all familiar with concepts like ‘fiscal capital,’ money, and ‘natural capital,’ ecosystem goods; there is also ‘social capital,’ maintaining good relations among neighbours. Especially when people are faced with climate extremes like flooding and drought, they rely very much on that social capital.”
He notes, “One of the most effective ways to adapt to a changing climate is to work collectively, with your neighbours within your watershed. Local organizations such as watershed stewardship groups are especially effective.”
Preparing for extreme
One example of a Prairie watershed agency working to prepare for climate variability is the Battle River Watershed Alliance (BRWA). The Battle River has its origins in east-central Alberta and flows into Saskatchewan where it joins the North Saskatchewan River. The BRWA is an Alberta group created in 2006 and it operates in the Alberta portion of the Battle River and Sounding Creek watersheds. The BRWA describes itself as “an inclusive, collaborative and consensus-based community partnership that is working to guide, support and deliver actions to sustain or improve the health of the Battle River watershed.”
BRWA research and stewardship coordinator Susanna Bruneau outlines how the Alliance is approaching climate variability. “At conferences, they talk about preparing for extremes, where you could get really wet events, like the flood in Calgary a couple of years ago, or a multi-year drought. We’ve been trying to work on things that can help in managing both those extremes, especially natural infrastructure like wetlands and riparian areas and even shelterbelts.” Those types of features can have benefits like reducing flood peaks, capturing water in case of drought, and protecting water quality.
She notes, “Another part of how we approach things is trying to have our systems – whether it’s our social support systems, agriculture systems or water infrastructure systems – made in a way that can be adaptive to whatever comes our way.” She explains that the BRWA recognizes the complexity and uncertainty in these systems so it works to continually learn from experience and adjust its plans and actions to more effectively deal with emerging realities. If the BRWA finds that an approach is not working, then it evaluates the approach, asks stakeholders what should be done differently, and modifies the approach to make it work better.
Drought planning a priority
In a watershed-wide consultation process, local people identified drought planning as a top priority for the BRWA. So it developed drought guidelines and policies, which were released in 2012. These documents provide a framework to help agencies in the watershed when developing drought plans for their own area of responsibility. The guidelines relate to agriculture, social issues, natural areas, and water quantity and quality, and consider the social, economic and ecological impacts of drought.
The BRWA’s drought guidelines cover both “drought adaptation,” preparation for future droughts, and “drought management,” responses during a drought. A few examples of the drought adaptation options for agriculture include: actions that research agencies could take, such as developing drought-tolerant crop varieties; actions that governments could take, such as monitoring water supplies, developing drought plans and policies and modifying crop insurance programs; and actions that producers could take, such as choosing crops adapted to drier conditions, developing drought farm plans, managing grazing rates, conserving wetlands and riparian areas and diversifying farm income. The drought management guidelines for agriculture include actions like implementing drought plans, and sharing drought monitoring information.
Although people in the Battle River watershed are aware of the need for drought planning and preparedness, it is a challenge for local agencies to direct their limited human and financial resources towards this task. Bruneau doesn’t know of any agencies in the watershed that are currently using the BRWA’s guidelines to develop their own drought plans, but she’s hoping that will change.
“Drought is part of the climate cycles here on the Prairies. Drought is going to happen, no matter what happens with climate change. There is a lot we can do to mitigate the impacts of drought if we plan and adapt before a drought happens,” Bruneau says.
“Drought is not like a flood or an earthquake; it’s not a sudden crisis where you have to deal with things in the heat of the moment. Drought is sly and it sneaks up on you. Unless you are paying attention you’ll get caught. But we have opportunities to prepare for drought, and when we see drought coming or just less than normal precipitation, there are things we can do.”
The study, “Agricultural Landscape and Pesticide Effects on Honey Bee Biological Traits,” which was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology, evaluated the impacts of row-crop agriculture, including the traditional use of pesticides, on honeybee health. Results indicated that hive health was positively correlated to the presence of agriculture. According to the study, colonies in a non-agricultural area struggled to find adequate food resources and produced fewer offspring.
“We’re not saying that pesticides are not a factor in honeybee health. There were a few events during the season where insecticide applications caused the death of some foraging bees,” says Mohamed Alburaki, lead author and post-doctoral fellow with the University of Tennessee Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology (EPP). “However, our study suggests that the benefits of better nutrition sources and nectar yields found in agricultural areas outweigh the risks of exposure to agricultural pesticides.”
According to the study, hives located in areas with high to moderate agricultural vegetation grew faster and larger than those in low or non-agricultural areas. Researchers suggest the greater population sizes enabled better colony thermoregulation in these hives, as well.
Meanwhile, bees located in a non-agricultural environment were challenged to find food. Although fewer pesticide contaminants were reported in these areas, the landscape did not provide sustainable forage. In fact, during the observations, two colonies in the non-agricultural areas collapsed due to starvation.
Disruptions and fluctuations in brood rearing were also more notable in a non-agricultural environment. Interestingly, brood production was highest in the location that exhibited a more evenly distributed mix of agricultural production, forests and urban activity.
“One possible explanation for this finding could be the elevated urban activity in this location,” says Alburaki. “Ornamental plantings around homes or businesses, or backyard gardens are examples of urban activity that increase the diversity of pollen in an area. Greater pollen diversity has been credited with enhancing colony development.”
Researchers also evaluated trapped pollen from each colony for pesticide residues. Low concentrations of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides were identified, but at levels well below the lethal dose for honey bees. Imidacloprid was the only neonicotinoid detected, also at sub-lethal levels.
Agricultural pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, are considered by some to be a key factor in declining honeybee populations. The UTIA study found that higher exposure to pesticides in agricultural environments did not result in measurable impacts on colony productivity.
This study was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Pest Management Program.
Based on this re-evaluation, Health Canada will continue the registration of products that contain glyphosate, but will require updates to product labels. By April 2019, manufacturers will be required to ensure that all commercial labels on pesticides containing glyphosate include the following:
· A statement indicating that re-entry into the sprayed areas should be restricted to 12 hours after application in agricultural areas where glyphosate products were used.
· A statement indicating that the product is to be applied only when the potential to spread to areas of human activity, such as houses, cottages, schools and recreational areas, is minimal.
· Instructions for spray buffer zones to protect non-targeted areas and aquatic habitats from unintended exposure.
· Precautionary statements to reduce the potential for runoff of glyphosate into aquatic areas.
Health Canada will continue monitoring research on potential impacts of glyphosate products to ensure the safety and security of Canadians and the environment. The department also says they are committed to working closely with its international counterparts on evidence-based approaches to pesticide regulations.
Don't forget, the Pesticide Label Search App can help you find the latest detailed instructions, first aid statements and warnings on the label.
According to North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, when mixed into the lake, the bacterial properties of barley consumes the phosphorus that blue-green algae thrive on. | READ MORE
Compaction Action DayThu Sep 07, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Canada's Outdoor Farm ShowTue Sep 12, 2017
The Dirt on Phosphorus demo and tour dayFri Sep 15, 2017
Canadian Centre for Food Integrity Public Trust Summit Mon Sep 18, 2017
Third Global Minor Use SummitSun Oct 01, 2017