“We need to be on the road to figuring things out before we get to tipping points on climate change or food security, or we could be left way behind. In future environments, people might get paid for ecosystem services or carbon credits, or food might become more valuable. If so, these systems become much more attractive for landowners,” says Sarah Taylor Lovell, an agroecologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I.
Lovell believes multifunctional woody polyculture is the way forward. She and several co-authors introduce the concept and discuss their experimental design in a recent paper published in Agroforestry Systems.
Essentially, the idea is to incorporate berry- and nut-bearing shrubs and trees in an alley cropping system with hay or other row crops. The combination is meant to mimic the habitat features, carbon storage, and nutrient-holding capacities of a natural system. “We wanted to capture that aspect, but we also wanted it to be commercially viable,” Lovell says. “The trees and shrubs need to fit in perfect linear rows 30 feet apart, so you can fit equipment. That was a much more practical agronomic consideration.”
Lovell and her colleagues are three years into what they hope will be a long-term experiment on the U of I campus. Their trial consists of seven combinations of species in commercial-scale plots, from simple combinations of two tree species to highly diverse combinations including multiple species of trees, shrubs, and forage crops. “We added increasingly diverse systems so we can get a sense of how much is too much diversity in terms of trying to manage everything in a feasible way,” she says.
The researchers will measure crop productivity, management strategies, and economic potential as the experiment gets established. “We’re keeping track of all the person-hours that go into each of these different combinations, so we’ll capture the labor involved and figure out whether it’s economically viable,” Lovell says.
Farmers accustomed to traditional row crops may be daunted by the long wait associated with nut crops. Lovell says chestnuts and hazelnuts don’t produce worthwhile harvests until 7 to 12 years after planting. But, she says, the other species can bring in profits while farmers wait. Hay or vegetable crops can be harvested from the alleys in year one. And shrubs could start bearing high-value fruit crops, such as currants or aronia berries, within a couple of years.
Lovell points out that the market for some nuts is growing. For example, Nutella lovers may recall headlines about an international hazelnut shortage a couple of years ago. “It would take a while to saturate that market,” she says. But she also points out that some nuts could be used more generically for their starchy or oily products.
Another barrier to adoption may be the cost of specialized equipment needed to harvest tree nuts, berries, and row crops. “There’s a tradeoff in terms of how complex to get and still be able to manage it in a reasonable way,” Lovell says. But she suggests the potential of farming cooperatives with shared equipment as a way to defray costs.
It will be several years before Lovell will have results to share, but other trials have shown that multifunctional woody polyculture could be both economically viable and environmentally beneficial. Lovell’s article details the outcomes of long-standing experimental sites in France and Missouri, but she says those two sites are the only large-scale examples in the temperate region. “That really shows just how little research there is on this so far,” she says. “We need to invest in this research now because it’s going to take so long to get to the solutions.”
The research team is working with regional farmers to replicate small- and large-scale versions of their experimental setup on-farm. Lovell knows it might take some convincing, but points out that many farmers are willing to set aside portions of their land into the Conservation Reserve Program. “If we can provide the same benefits in terms of water quality, habitat, biodiversity, and nutrient cycling as CRP but then also have this harvestable product, why wouldn’t you consider that?”
“I’ve been working with CAFNR assisting them in experiments where we helped to create 3-D images of root growth in the laboratory,” DeSouza said. “Now, we’re creating robotics to assist in creating images of corn shoot growth out in the field.”
The engineering and plant science research team developed a combination, two-pronged approach using a mobile sensing tower as well as a robot vehicle equipped with three levels of sensors. The tower inspects a 60-foot radius of a given field to identify areas affected by environmental stresses, while the vehicle collects data on individual plants. The sensors have the ability to measure various heights of the corn plant in order to reconstruct the 3-D image.
“Measurements taken from the tower alert us if any of the plants are under stress, such as heat or drought,” DeSouza said. “The tower then signals the mobile robot, which we call the Vinobot, to go to a particular area of the field and perform data collection on the individual plants. The Vinobot has three sets of sensors and a robotic arm to collect temperature, humidity and light intensity at three different heights on the corn plant. This is called plant phenotyping, which assesses growth, development, yield and items such as tolerance and resistance to environmental stressors by correlating these to physiology and shape of the plants.”
While the tower covers only a relatively small area, it can easily be moved to cover an entire field. This cost-effective measure means it is less expensive to have more towers, stationed at various points in the field, operating simultaneously.
“The towers not only are inexpensive, they also are available throughout the day and night and can generate more data than any aerial vehicle could,” DeSouza said.
The team’s study, “Vinobot and Vinoculer: Two robotic platforms for high-throughput field phenotyping,” recently was published in Sensors.
“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.
Okra is one such crop.
Over six million kilograms of okra is imported into Canada every year and the demand climbs annually. India is the top producer of the world's okra, growing more than 70 per cent of the global crop. Other big producers are Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq and Pakistan.
The United States is the 20th largest producer, accounting for only 0.1 per cent of the world’s production. In the U.S, okra is grown in southern states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana, where the vegetable is used in the popular gumbo dish. It’s a subtropical crop that thrives in a hot and dry environment, so Canada hasn't always been the most logical place for production.
Dr. Viliam Zvalo is a research scientist in the area of vegetable production at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland). A native of Slovakia, he joined the team in 2014 with a mandate to investigate opportunities for world crop production for Canadian farmers.
The biggest challenges in growing okra in Canada are the shorter growing season and the labour requirements. During the harvest season, plants need to be harvested daily to give the immature pods time and space to grow, which requires a big staffing commitment.
To help boost the crop's potential and maximize growing time, seeds are started in greenhouses and then transplanted into fields covered in black plastic mulch to increase heat to the plants. Spacing of the plants is critical - the further apart, the higher their yields.
To date, crop trials have shown that three particular varieties - Lucky Green, Elisa and Jambalaya - do the best in Canada.
Last year, 22 farmers grew small trials across Canada from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and have had similar results in all areas. This year the number will increase to about 30 growers.
The crops are planted into fields in late May and bloom a month later. Peak production is between the middle of July and the end of September. Each plant (which can grow seven feet high) can generate 60 to 70 okra pods. Pods are light though - between seven and 10 grams each - so the entire harvest per plant is about 0.6 to 0.7 kilograms.
Growers, researchers and retailers are all optimistic about the results to date and the work is garnering international attention.
Recently, an Indian company contacted Zvalo to see about providing seeds from a late season variety for Vineland to test in Canada.
"Attention like this will help us continue to look for better varieties,” Zvalo noted.
"Okra's an interesting crop. It can be quite finicky but there's great potential," Zvalo said.
He concluded, "It's a matter of finding the right varieties, the right location and the right buyers."
The project is funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.
Canadian agriculture representatives today announced February 16, 2017 will be Canada’s Agriculture Day – a time to celebrate and draw a closer connection between Canadians, our food and the people who produce it.
Jan. 26, 2016, Camrose, Alta. - Last year's drought conditions in some areas on the Prairies had many farmers looking for greener pastures, and this year's forage program recently launched by Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and Crop Production Services (CPS) might be the perfect solution.
Available to agricultural producers in the three Prairie provinces, the DUC/CPS forage program offsets the cost of Proven Seed forage varieties when producers convert cultivated land to hay or pastureland. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, producers receive a rebate of $100 per 50 lb. bag of forage seed; in Manitoba, producers receive a rebate of $50 for every new forage acre seeded as part of the program.
The response to this year's forage program has been very positive, says Craig Bishop, DUC's regional forage lead, especially in light of recent economic and climatic conditions.
"Declining prices for wheat and other cereal crops, as well as a simultaneous increase in beef prices, are leading many landowners to seriously consider the move to increase their cattle herd," explains Bishop. "This, in turn, spurs a demand for increased forage. The drought of 2015, in particular, resulted in many poor hay crops in several areas and further motivated producers to convert additional land to forages. That year, we saw 25,000 acres of cultivated fields across the Prairies be put into grass with this program with CPS — a significant increase from previous years."
Bishop adds that reducing input costs, especially at a time when expenses are rising more quickly than revenues, makes a real difference to a farmer's or rancher's bottom line. "Offering an incentive to producers to convert their cultivation to forage is an extremely cost-effective means for increasing grassland and makes good agronomic sense. Essentially, the program covers approximately 40–50 per cent of the producer's seed investment."
In addition to helping cattle producers and their herds, more seeded forage acres also benefits waterfowl. Bishop explains that research shows that the level of waterfowl nesting and success is significantly higher in areas of perennial cover or grasslands than in cultivated fields. It also helps with other conservation measures such as critical wetland restoration efforts.
"The link between wetlands, associated grasslands and waterfowl productivity is well understood," says Bishop, "and initiatives like the DUC/CPS forage program ensures that farmers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba also receive the benefit from increasing their forage base."
The DUC/CPS forage program is best suited for producers in the parkland and prairie regions. Anyone interested in the program or who wants more information should contact their local CPS retailer or DUC conservation program specialist.
Dec. 9, 2015 - Canadian beekeepers produced 95.3 million pounds of honey in 2015, up 11.4 per cent from 2014, according to Statistics Canada report released today (see Chart 1, below). There were 8,533 beekeepers in 2015, 365 less than in 2014.
The total value of honey rose 10.9 per cent from 2014 to $232.0 million as a result of increased production. The average price of honey was stable at $2.43 per pound.
On average, each colony had a yield of 132 pounds of honey, nine pounds more than in 2014.
The number of colonies rose 3.6 per cent from 696,252 to 721,106. This increase was attributable to favourable weather conditions that reduced winter losses, particularly in the Prairie provinces.
Honey production in Alberta, the top producer in Canada, was 42.8 million pounds, up 20.4 per cent from 35.5 million pounds in 2014. Yields rose from 125 pounds per colony to 145 pounds.
In Saskatchewan, honey production increased from 16.5 million pounds in 2014 to 18.8 million pounds in 2015, as a result of more colonies and higher yields.
In Manitoba, although yields were lower, production rose from 14.1 million pounds in 2014 to 16.0 million pounds. This increase was attributable to more honey-producing colonies in the province in 2015.
Chart 1: Production of honey
Source: Statistics Canada.
July 6, 2015 - The Canada and Manitoba governments will invest in new equipment to support the growth of the hemp seed processing industry.
Governments will provide nearly $390,000 to Hemp Oil Canada Inc. (HOCI) to purchase and install a new optical sorter and packaging system at its new processing facility in Ste. Agathe. The equipment will modernize the packing line, improve food safety and ensure the company can remain competitive in the international hemp seed market.
HOCI is the largest hemp seed wholesaler in North America, with annual sales of more than $25 million. The company employs 30 full-time staff and purchases 10 million pounds of hemp from prairie farmers every year.
The new facility, which is expected to open in summer 2015, will help create 10 new jobs.
July 7, 2015 - Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions has announced a new funding program entitled Accelerating Food Innovation in Alberta – 2015/16 Applied Research and Product Development Program.
The program is designed to provide funding for applied research and product development in the area of food, with a focus on the development of value-added ingredients, food products, and/or beverages that are derived from Alberta crop or livestock commodities.
The program helps to bring together academic researchers with food processors in a unique initiative that supports the development of globally competitive new food innovations for entry into local, national or international markets. The intent of the program is to support Alberta food and beverage producers and processors in their efforts to increase revenues from value-added food production.
The main applicant must be a qualified researcher or a team of researchers within academic institutions and/or provincial or federal research centres. The research must have a strong Alberta connection, with preference given to those projects that are led by an Alberta-based principal investigator. The qualified researcher must also have a company co-applicant that is willing to make a cash contribution of 25 per cent to the total cost of the project and is willing and capable of commercializing the end product.
Researchers are invited to submit a letter of intent (LOI) to the program as the first step in the application process for a non-repayable grant of up to $150,000.
Deadline for submission of the LOI is Thursday, September 3, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. MT. Late submissions will not be accepted.
To apply, follow the instructions and fill out the "Letter of Intent" form on the on-line application system.
January 15, 2015 - A global shortage of hazelnuts and an incentive from a major chocolate producer is prompting a number of farmers in southwestern Ontario to grow the nuts.
The Ontario Hazelnut Association predicts more than 240 hectares (600 acres) will be grown in 2015. That's up from 40 hectares (100 acres) last year.
Scott Deslippe sits on the association's board. He said hazelnuts could be a good source of income for farmers.
"This year, I was out in Oregon. They were harvesting mature orchards out there. They were getting 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg) per acre on average, and they were getting $1.71 (U.S.) at their receiving station. So do the math on that. That's a pretty good revenue," Deslippe said.
He's planting close to 10,000 hazelnut trees this year.
Agriculture Bioscience International Conference Mon Sep 25, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Third Global Minor Use SummitSun Oct 01, 2017
Canadian Agricultural Safety Association 23rd annual conference Tue Oct 03, 2017
Ontario Invasive Plant Council Invasive Plant Conference and AGMTue Oct 10, 2017
Global Fertilizer Day 2017Fri Oct 13, 2017
Farms.com Precision Agriculture ConferenceWed Oct 25, 2017