OSCII Theme A: Field Crops

Optimizing productivity and competitiveness through adaptable systems for field crops

Organic production of cereals, oilseeds and pulses constitutes the largest acreage and number of organic farms in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2012). Organic grains and their derived processed products are likely the most valuable export commodity coming out of the Canadian organic sector, targeting existing markets in the US, Europe and Japan (AAFC, 2009), along with an increasing range of new market opportunities underpinned by bilateral recognition of national organic standards. In addition, continued shortages of supply and high prices of organic feed grains have slowed the expansion of the organic livestock and dairy sectors, and provide a further opportunity for the development of efficient organic field crop production. 

Targeted breeding efforts and cultivar selection, soil building, weed control and economically viable crop rotations are consistently identified as top research priorities in surveys of Canadian organic growers. The five top ranked research priorities of organic grain producers (OACC, 2009) were:

  • soil fertility and crop rotations
  • beneficial crop rotations for specific problems
  • ecological interactions in rotations
  • rotations for weed control
  • soil quality

As synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not permitted in the organic production system, farmers must focus their attention on optimizing the health of soils and crops through integrated soil management and agronomic approaches, combined with appropriately targeted and novel technologies for management of soils, plant-microbial symbionts, nutrients, green manures, tillage (specifically zero-tillage), and weeds and pests. In addition, all organic crops face challenges with respect to accessing appropriate seed adapted to these low input systems.

The innovative activities within this Theme comprise a strongly complimentary suite of activities that will target each aspect of such an integrated approach for promoting organic field crop sustainability and profitability. The cross cutting activities bring together industry partners from across the spectrum of organic field crop production, including producers and producers groups, organic commercial input suppliers, processors and organic grain end users.

The science activities within the Field Crop Theme will generate new knowledge and innovative practices for Canadian organic field crop production. To maximize research relevance and impact, along with linkages and engagement of industry, these multi-site activities span divergent agroecosystems and incorporate both station-based and farm-based, and medium and long-term research trials. Specifically they will examine how: 

  • New technologies, inputs and approaches improve nutrient management, and weed, pest, and pathogen control (Activities A.6, A.7, A.8 and A.9). Additional pest management research related to field crop production can also be found in the activities of Theme C.
  • More diversified short and long-term rotations interact in improving sustainability and profitability with respect to soil and weed management practices (Activities A.5 and A.8).
  • Zero-tillage in both Eastern and Western Canada can be combined with supplemental commercial biofertilizer, and options with respect to green manure termination strategy to enhance weed and nutrient management and subsequent grain crop productivity (Activities A.5 and A.8).
  • Seed production of grains and high value green manures such as vetch can be optimized (Activities A.1 and A.8)
  • New cultivars of oats, wheat, corn and potatoes specifically suited for organic and low input production can be bred to improve weed control, nutrient utilization, productivity and quality (Activities A.1. and A.2).


Activities in Theme A

  • Activity A.1: Participatory plant breeding and seed production approaches for Canadian organic crop production
  • Activity A.2: Organic oat breeding
  • Activity A.5: Impacts of reduced tillage and diversified cropping sequences under organic management in the semi-arid Brown Soil Zone
  • Activity A.6: Restoring yield productivity and C sequestration in organic farming systems on the Prairies: The role of composted manure in long-term studies
  • Activity A.7: Well-established commercial organic farming: Effect of rate of composted manure application on soil mineral nutrients, yield, and crop nutrient uptake
  • Activity A.8: Optimizing green manure and fertility management for organic cereal production
  • Activity A.9: Applying ecology for simple, nutrient use efficient pulse-based cropping systems: Phosphorus sources for organic growers of the Prairie, and agronomic strategies for effective soil microbiology to make better use of these P sources