The experiments, currently in their second year, take place at the ISU Horticulture Research Station just north of Ames. The researchers are testing what happens when a flock of broiler chickens lives on a vegetable field for part of the year.
The chickens forage on the plant matter left behind after the vegetables are harvested and fertilize the soil with manure. This integrated approach could reduce off-farm inputs and also provide producers with sustainable crop rotation options.
The researchers are testing three different systems on a half acre of land at the research farm. The first system involves a vegetable crop – one of several varieties of lettuce or broccoli – early in the growing season, followed by the chickens, which are then followed by a cover crop later in the year.
The second system involves the vegetable crop, followed by two months of a cover crop, with the chickens foraging on the land later in the year. The third system is vegetables followed by cover crops, with no chickens.
The experiment involves roughly 40 chickens, which live in four mobile coops that the researchers move every day. Moving the coops around ensures the chickens have access to fresh forage and keeps their manure from concentrating any particular part of the field. An electric fence surrounds the field to keep out predators.
Moriah Bilenky, a graduate assistant in horticulture, checks on the chickens every morning to make sure they have food and water. She also weighs them periodically to collect data on how efficiently they convert food into body mass. The researchers designed the trial to uphold animal health, and Bilenky said she keeps a detailed log on how foraging in the fields impacts the birds’ health and performance.
Nair said the researchers are looking at several facets associated with sustainability. Nitrogen and phosphorous deposited in the soil from the chicken manure could alleviate some of the need for fertilizer application, while working cover crops into the system can prevent the loss of nutrients into waterways. Economics must also factor into the research, he said.
“We might come up with results that really help the soil, but if the system is not economically stable, I doubt growers will be willing to adopt it because it has to work for their bottom line as well,” he said.
The trials also adhere to food safety regulations. For instance, all vegetables are harvested before the chickens are introduced to the fields, ensuring none of the produce is contaminated. The researchers consulted food safety and animal science experts at Iowa State while designing their experiments, and the work undergoes regular IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) inspection and documentation, he said.
The trials remain ongoing, so the researchers aren’t drawing any conclusions yet about the success of their integrated system. The project is currently supported through a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) grant. Nair said he’s seeking additional funding to investigate the animal health and integrated pest management aspects of this research.
So why did the chicken cross the road? It’s too early to tell, but maybe so it could get into the lettuce and pepper fields.
But an international team of authors, including Megan O’Rourke, assistant professor in the Virginia Tech School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, found that natural habitat surrounding farm fields is not always an effective pest-control tool for farmers worldwide. The team’s analysis was published Aug. 2 in the journal PNAS.
“For the last 20 years, many scientists have suggested that you will have fewer insect pests on your farm if the farm is surrounded by natural habitats, such as forests,” O’Rourke said.
To test that assumption, lead authors Daniel Karp, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, and Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, of the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University, organized an international team of ecologists, economists, and practitioners at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.
Together, they compiled the largest pest-control dataset of its kind, encompassing 132 studies from more than 6,700 sites in 31 countries worldwide — from California farmlands to tropical cacao plantations and European wheat fields.
Surprisingly, the results were highly variable across the globe. While many of the studies showed surrounding natural habitat does indeed help farmers control pests, just as many showed negative effects on crop yields. The analysis indicates that there are no one-size-fits-all recommendations for growers about natural habitat and pests.
“Natural habitats support many services that can help farmers and society, such as pollination and wildlife conservation, but we want to be clear about when farmers should or should not expect the land around their farms to affect pest management,” said O’Rourke, who works within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Fralin Life Science Institute. “Diverse landscapes are not a silver bullet for pest control but should be considered as part of a holistic and sustainable pest management plan.”
Critically, Karp and his team of 153 co-authors have made their pest-control database publicly available, opening the door for further scientific insights. Karp hopes the database will grow over time and help inform predictive models about when surrounding habitat helps control pests and when it does not.
The research was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and the National Science Foundation.
The same concept applies when using living organisms for pest control. Whether you are using parasitoid wasps, predatory mites, microorganisms, or nematodes, you need to know whether your biocontrols are compatible with each other and any other pest management products you plan to use.
For example, a biocontrol fungus might be killed if you tank mix it with (or apply it just before) a chemical fungicide. Insecticides (whether or not they are biological) could be harmful to natural enemy insects and mites. Even some beneficial insects are not compatible with each other because they may eat each other instead of (or in addition to) the pest. | READ MORE
The study also found these production increases fuel highly unsustainable production practices and the misallocation of natural resources.
The comprehensive study, Understanding Agricultural Support, was prepared by Al Mussell, Douglas Hedley, Kamal Karunagoda, and Brenda Dyack of Agri-Food Economic Systems, with support from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The report seeks a better understanding of the impacts of domestic income support programs in key markets and competitors on the competitiveness of Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector.
Since then, Vineland has been turning heads across Canada and internationally with its needs-based innovations. The organization reflects the entire horticulture value chain from farmers to consumers, and they’re not afraid to take big steps to help the industry solve problems.
“We started by understanding what needed to be done and how we needed to work to make a difference, which is real results with real impact from acres in the field to shelf space in the store,” says Vineland’s CEO, Dr. Jim Brandle.
Addressing the labour intensive nature of horticultural production was a need identified early on. Today, machines designed in Vineland’s robotics program and built in Ontario are coming into use in fruit and vegetable greenhouses, which Brandle says will go a long way in helping to keep growers competitive, as well as boost the local manufacturing and automation sector.
Sweet potatoes, okra and Asian eggplant are offering new market opportunities for growers and consumers eager to eat more locally produced food.
And Vineland’s rose breeding program made a big splash earlier this year when its Canadian Shield rose – a trademarked low-maintenance and winter hardy variety bred in Canada – was named Flower of the Year at Canada Blooms.
Another significant milestone was the construction of the largest, most modern horticultural research greenhouse in North America with commercial-scale height and growing rooms dedicated to horticulture, which opened in 2016 and was built around the needs of Canada’s greenhouse vegetable and flower growers.“Today, we’re commercializing innovations, from the Canadian Shield rose to new apple and pear varieties,” Brandle says. “We are having the kind of impact that we sought in those early days.”
Natural ways to control greenhouse pests – called biocontrols – are making a real difference to flower growers and a new technology that can identify genetic variants for traits in all plants has just been spun-off into a for-profit company.
“We’re creating a reputation and that alone is an achievement because we’re the new kid on the block,” he says. “We have a ton of good people with and around the organization and on our board who are making this happen.”Vineland is an important partner to the horticulture industry, according to Jan VanderHout, a greenhouse vegetable grower and Chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association.
“They are very good at asking us what we want and taking a whole value chain approach to research and innovation,” VanderHout says. “You need the right facilities and expertise and Vineland fills that need to the benefit of the industry as a whole.”
Looking to the future, both Brandle and VanderHout predict that cap and trade pressure and high energy costs will result in more work around energy use and carbon footprint reduction.And Vineland’s consumer-focused approaches will continue to drive new innovation, from high flavour greenhouse tomatoes to Ontario-grown apple varieties.
“We will further lever consumer-driven plant breeding and work with the intent around pleasing consumers and trying to understand what they want so we can build that into our selection criteria,” Brandle says.
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAulay, announced a $365,291 investment for the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture (NLFA) to develop a comprehensive consultation process to identify all the risks associated with farming in the province, potentially including production, financial, labour, market, transportation and climate change risks.
Once completed, the risk assessment will form the basis for future programs and initiatives that will improve the resilience and growth of the Newfoundland and Labrador agriculture sector.
Almost 200 weed scientists across the U.S. and Canada participated in the 2016 survey, the second conducted by WSSA.
A 2015 baseline survey explored the most common and troublesome weeds in 26 different crops and noncrop areas.
The current survey ranks the following weeds as the most troublesome or the most common among broadleaf crops, fruits and vegetables:
TOP 10 WEEDS IN BROADLEAF CROPS, FRUITS & VEGETABLES
- Palmer amaranth
- Common lambsquarters
- Horseweed (marestail)
- Morningglory (ivyleaf, pitted, tall)
- Waterhemp (tall, common)
- Nutsedge (yellow, purple)
- Common ragweed
- Giant ragweed
- Nightshade (eastern black, hairy)
- Common lambsquarters
- Foxtail (giant, green, yellow)
- Morningglory (ivyleaf, pitted, tall)
- Palmer amaranth
- Redroot pigweed
- Waterhemp (tall, common)
- Horseweed (marestail)
- Common ragweed
“Weed scientists have confirmed multiple cases of herbicide resistance in all six of these weed species, except for the morningglories where there is suspected resistance to glyphosate,” says Lee Van Wychen, Ph.D., science policy director for WSSA. “While each of these species has evolved traits that make them widespread and tough competitors in broadleaf crops like soybeans and cotton, there is no question that their difficulty to control with herbicides has pushed them to the top of the list in this survey.”
WSSA also sorted the survey data to produce the following crop-specific results, shown below by crop, most troublesome weed and most common weed, respectively:
- Alfalfa: Canada thistle; dandelion
- Canola: kochia; wild oat
- Cotton: Palmer amaranth; morningglory (ivyleaf, pitted, tall)
- Fruits & nuts: field bindweed; horseweed (marestail)
- Peanuts: nutsedge (yellow, purple); Palmer amaranth
- Pulse crops: common lambsquarters; common lambsquarters
- Soybeans: horseweed, waterhemp (tall, common); waterhemp (tall, common)
- Sugar beets: common lambsquarters; common lambsquarters
- Vegetables: nutsedge (yellow, purple); common lambsquarters
Common lambsquarters is widely distributed across the northern half of the United States and southern Canada. It is not surprising that it ranked as the most common weed in sugar beets, vegetable crops and pulse crops, such as dry edible beans, lentils and chickpeas.
WSSA plans to conduct habitat-specific weed surveys annually. The 2017 survey will focus on weeds in grass crops, pasture and turf, while the 2018 survey will focus on weeds in aquatic environments, natural areas and other noncrop settings.
The 2016 survey data is posted online at http://wssa.net/wssa/weed/surveys.
For more information specific to herbicide-resistant weeds, see the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, available at http://weedscience.com.
The report can be found at:4R Nutrient Stewardship Sustainability Report
For more information, visit: http://fertilizercanada.ca/
This collaborative effort will see the current compliment of 80 automated weather stations across southwestern Ontario expand to a goal of more than 400 reporting locations when completed. Producers who sign up for the AGGrower Daily Dashboard will have the ability to have field specific climate information delivered directly to their laptop, cellular phone or tablet.
"Our web based weather service will assist producers in managing their crops by providing real time precipitation, relative humidity, wind speed, growth models on individual fields and notifications of critical stages during the growth cycle," says Dale Cowan, senior agronomist and sales manager for AGRIS Co-operative and Wanstead Farmers Co-operative. "The AGGrower Daily Dashboard will also assist in timely do it yourself crop scouting using integrated pest management principles," added Cowan.
To supplement the web based weather reporting network, Cowan is now recruiting dedicated "citizen scientists" to join the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow network, (CoCoRahs).
"These volunteers would be part of a larger community of like-minded people that would help support our automated weather stations with additional rainfall data to support our new initiative of the AGGrower Daily Dashboard program," says Cowan.
Volunteer "citizen scientists" must live in Essex, Chatham-Kent, Lambton, West Middlesex or Elgin Counties, have a keen interest and dedication to collecting rainfall and a smart phone.
Installation and training on the use of the special rain gauge is provided at no charge to those participating. For more information on how you can become a "citizen scientist" contact Paul deNijs at 226-626-1048.
This 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.
Although Canada is home to internationally award-winning wines, the cold winters and short growing season are a constant challenge. Photo by Dr. Mehdi Sharifi, Trent University.
August 16, 2016 - Although Canada is home to internationally award-winning wines, the cold winters and short growing season are a constant challenge. The solution is one that has never been tried with wine grapes before until now: moving production indoors.
That’s what Dr. Mehdi Sharifi, a Canada Research Chair in sustainable agriculture and professor at Trent University’s School of the Environment, has been working on.
And it could change the entire future of Canada’s wine industry, including dramatically expanding organic wine production.
“Winter injury and low yields are the two main challenges for the wine industry in central and eastern Canada,” he explains.
Winter injury is freezing damage to the wood and bud tissues of the grape vine caused by cold temperatures or erratic temperature swings. It results in significant direct losses in grape production and even greater losses in wine production, and prevents some grape varieties, like the popular Shiraz, from being grown in Canada.
In the case of severe winter injury, vines need to be replaced but it takes newly planted vines three to five years to become productive. That’s an expensive wait without income for grape growers, who face annual costs of $10,000 – 15,000 an acre to maintain grape vines.
Sharifi’s indoor grape growing work began when he was approached by Canadian Distribution Channel Inc., a company interested in building an agritourism venture by growing popular Australian, South American and European grape varieties inside.
He began by developing a specially formulated growing media that would allow the grapes to grow quickly indoors.
“You can’t use field or potting soil indoors for growing grapes. Growing media for perennial plants such as grapes need a balance of chemical, physical and biological conditions and nutrients for best growth,” says Sharifi.
“We’ve created and tested a formula that works great and supplies nutrients to the grapes for a long period of time,” he added.
The formula’s natural ingredients could open new possibilities for organic grape production too, with the protected indoor conditions making organic growing easier.
As Sharifi’s work progressed, he also discovered that the stable temperatures and environment of indoor production can simulate a natural growing season year round and shorten the amount of time new vines need to come into production.
“We found that vines can grow two to three times as fast as they can grow outdoors. We can also simulate the equivalent of two to three growing seasons per year, so we can bring new vines into production in only one to two years,” he explains. “This doubles or even triples yearly yields, which will compensate for the extra cost of the greenhouse needed for indoor production.”
Sharifi is optimistic about his results to date. The grapes he has grown indoors have a higher than required sugar standard and their pH and acidity levels are suitable for wine production, but he cautions that more work remains to be done before his discovery can be implemented commercially.
Down the road he sees potential for producing wines with higher antioxidants or health-boosting phenolic compounds, but it’s the widespread application of his innovation that bears the most promise for Canada’s wine producers.
“This can work for any grape variety, and the interest of the industry lies with being able to grow varieties that we currently can’t in Canada because of our climate,” he says.
Sharifi’s work has received support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
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Ontario Bean Growers Annual Research DayWed Aug 21, 2019
Potato Research Day Wed Aug 21, 2019
Student Organic Seed Symposium (SOSS)Thu Aug 22, 2019
Orchard Workshop Series - #2 GraftingSat Aug 24, 2019