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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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Atlantic Farm Women's ConferenceFri Apr 28, 2017
Food and Beverage Ontario Annual ConferenceWed May 31, 2017
Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame Induction CeremonySun Jun 11, 2017
Canolapalooza SaskatchewanTue Jun 20, 2017
Canada's Farm Progress ShowWed Jun 21, 2017
Canolapalooza ManitobaThu Jun 22, 2017