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OSC Activity B.6

Integrated grain-based cropping systems for biological and economic sustainability

Activity Researchers

Name Affiliation
Martin Entz, Lead Researcher
M_Entz@umanitoba.ca

Professor
Department of Plant Science
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Canada
R3T 2N2

Robert Gulden, Co-applicant
gulden@cc.umanitoba.ca

Professor
Department of Plant Science
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Canada
R3T 2N2
Mario Tenuta, Co-applicant
mario_tenuta@umanitoba.ca
Canada Research Chair, Applied Soil Ecology
Department of Soil Science
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Canada
R3T 2N2
Jared Carlberg, Collaborator
jared_carlberg@umanitoba.ca
Department of Agribusiness and Agricultural Economics
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Canada
R3T 2N2

Objectives

  1. Continue to measure biological, economic and ecological sustainability parameters for all organic systems at Glenlea. At the end of the proposed work, 20 years of data will be available for analysis.
  2. Determine yield and economic stability and assess whether economic stability and yield productivity are linked for different organic price premium scenarios.
  3. Increase the scope of indicators of ecological sustainability at Glenlea by measuring a) efficiency of energy flow in soil and microorganisms, b) nitrous oxide emissions from soil, and c) soil microbial diversity in organic and conventional management systems.
  4. Determine the relationship between diversity (weeds, soil biota, etc) and food production and economic performance.  Does increased diversity in organic systems provide tangible stability benefits to the organic systems?

Activity Summary

The long-term sustainability of an agricultural system depends on the three interconnected factors of production, ecological sustainability and economics. As the oldest organic crop rotation study in Canada, the Glenlea Long-Term Rotation study at the University of Manitoba provides an ideal framework for evaluating the roles these three factors play in organic cropping systems in the Canadian prairies. The proposed research will be conducted by a team of 4 scientists from different disciplines – agronomy, soil ecology, weed science and economics. The work will also involve graduate students and undergraduate research assistants.

The Glenlea long-term study was started in 1992 and compares two crop rotations under conventional and organic management.  Rotation one is a grain-only system that includes the following crop sequence: pulse crop-wheat-flax-oats.  Rotation two is an integrated forage-grain system and includes: alfalfa-alfalfa-wheat-flax.  Some of the forage-grain system plots receive composted manure.

The first objective will be to analyze crop yield performance. By the end of this research, a full 20 years of grain and forage yield data will be available for analysis. Crop quality in the different systems will also be assessed.   Since organic farmers have identified weeds as one of the main factors limiting organic crop production in Canada, a detailed investigation of weeds will be conducted.  We will determine how the different systems affect weed growth, weed plant community composition and the soil weed seed bank.

Yield comparisons by themselves are insufficient for proper decision making regarding alternative cropping systems. The economic implications of organic cropping are vitally important. Hence, an important objective in the work will be to better understand how organic and conventional crop production differs in terms of cost of production, net returns to the farmers, and risk. 

The third objective focuses on sustainability.  A number of important environmental sustainability measures have been previously determined for the Glenlea study (energy, soil C).  In the present work, we will focus on soil biological diversity – an important measure of system resilience to stress and ability to produce high yields.  We will also assess the efficiency with which soil in the different cropping systems sequesters carbon.

By conducting research on the 3 main pillars of sustainability (production, economics, environmental), this study will provide vital information about the long-term consequences of different organic production systems.  Further, by linking the knowledge gained in these 3 areas, we will gain new insights into the fundamental function of organic cropping systems in Canada.
 
During the study period, farmers, extension workers, policy makers and the general public will be invited to visit the Glenlea site at field days and informal field walks.  Results from the study will be presented at farm meetings, conferences and eventually published in peer-reviewed journals.