OSCII 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

Activity summary

Organic crop production systems of the Prairies do not normally include the addition of a phosphorus (P) source to compensate for the P exported in grain to far away markets. Our research activity in the first Science Cluster revealed that very low soil P availability limits the productivity of crops on most organic farms of the Canadian Prairies.  We also observed impoverished arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal communities in crop fields as compared to soil under perennial cover, suggesting that the negative impact of reduced soil available P is compounded by impaired AM symbiotic functioning in organic cropping systems of the Prairies.

In Organic Science Cluster II, we propose to close the P cycle by providing options to organic growers.  We propose to increase the efficiency of nutrient cycling in organically managed fields through the development of agronomic practices improving soil biology and fertility. We also propose to develop recommendations for the use of AM fungal inoculants in combination with two sources of P allowed by organic certification, i.e. rock phosphate and dehydrated manure from the Manitoba Livestock Manure Management Initiative. We also propose to validate the use of mixtures of cultivars as a way to stabilize productivity through years and reduce the incidence of root rot through increased soil biodiversity, which will also improve the capacity of crops to extract soil nutrients. Specifically, we propose to:

  1. Develop recommendations for the use of alternative P sources for organic crop production;
  2. Develop agronomic recommendations to increase the efficiency of these P sources through AM fungal inoculation of crops;
  3. Further improve soil biology by increasing soil biodiversity and repressing root rot organisms through the use of genetically diverse crops (cultivar mixes);
  4. Apply a Research-Development-Transfer (RDT) continuum strategy to better develop and promote the practices of P fertilization of organic crops and of AM fungal inoculation (in compliance with Canadian regulations) through participatory on-farm research;
  5. Apply an RDT continuum strategy to develop and promote the practice of using mixtures of cultivars through participatory on-farm research; 
  6. Apply an RDT continuum strategy to validate and improve Western Ag Innovations’ new prescriptive tools for crop nutrition management that consider the AM fungi living in cultivated fields, throughout these field tests; and
  7. Apply an RDT continuum strategy to create a field guide for best practices to enhance the nutrition of organic crops.

The RDT approach selected to reach our main objectives builds on the relationship created with organic farmers of Saskatchewan in the last round of the Organic Science Cluster. This relationship allows us to take a two-way approach for the development of agronomic practices. We will use both field experimentation conducted on research farms and on-farm experimental sites with reduced sets of experimental treatments that will be applied by farmers on different farms. The participation of farmers of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate in the research will result in the development of new agronomic practices adapted to real farm conditions, with positive impacts on the adoption of these practices by the farming community.

This research also builds on state-of-the-art research infrastructure, such as the Biodiversity Centre of Université de Montréal, and on the latest cutting-edge technologies in environmental microbiology, such as digital droplet PCR to monitor the fate of the AM fungal isolate introduced in the agroecosystem through inoculation, and Next Generation Sequencing to describe impacts on native AM fungal communities.

Materials and Results to Date

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation
Chantal Hamel, Activity Leader Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre
Yantai Gan Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre
Miranda Hart University of British Columbia Okanagan
Newton Lupwayi Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Lethbridge Research Centre
Ramon Rivera Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Agricolas, Cuba
Marc St-Arnaud Université de Montréal