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Applied Research Report

Tracey Ryan

Provided by: Tracey Ryan, Applied Research Coordinator

Tracey joined OSCIA as the Applied Research Coordinator in 2020. With over 35 years of experience working with Conservation Authorities to engage rural and agricultural landowners in programs and events to increase the environmental health of agricultural and rural landscapes, Tracey is well situated to take on this role. She has extensive experience working with producers, community groups, organizations and different levels of government developing and delivering stewardship programs and outreach activities. Tracey has a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from UW and a graduate degree in Rural Extension Studies from U of Guelph.

APPLIED RESEARCH INITIATIVES

Through applied research projects, OSCIA continues to advance soil health and water quality research that directly benefits producers.

Living Lab-Ontario

The Living Lab – Ontario project was initiated in 2019 and was formally launched in May 2021.  Under the leadership of the OSCIA, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario, Ontario Soil NetworkEssex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA)Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) and Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) are working collaboratively with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) on the project. 

The objective of the project is to increase the adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs) that enhance soil health and protect water quality in the Canadian Lake Erie watershed. This is being accomplished through the following activities:

  • Innovative on-farm trials and demonstrations to evaluate the benefits of the BMPs
  • Socio-economic analysis of adopting BMPs on a farm and watershed scale
  • Assessing the ecological impacts of BMP adoption on a farm and watershed scale
  • Communicating the benefits of BMP adoption through social media, virtual events, demonstrations, workshops, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

The Living Lab – Ontario project focuses the work of numerous scientists from both AAFC and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) on six farms in the Lake Erie basin. The research conducted in Ontario focuses on reducing soil and nutrient runoff from agricultural land into Lake Erie, improving water quality, conserving soil health, and increasing biodiversity on agricultural lands in Ontario.

OSCIA brought Kingsville area farmer, Henry Denotter to the Living Lab – Ontario project. He is testing the impact of various cover crops and conservation tillage systems on water quality. Three edge of field monitoring sites have been established to capture surface and subsurface flow. This site will give researchers a clear picture of the partitioning of water flow from the fields between surface runoff and tile drains.  The data will help determine the pathway for nutrients leaving the field (surface versus subsurface) and the impact of management activities on these loss pathways. An improved understanding of these pathways will allow us to recommend better BMPs to mitigate nutrient losses on other farms.

The Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario are coordinating research projects on three farms. Laurent (Woody) Van Arkel farms just south of Dresden and is partnering with federal researchers to better understand the potential for perennial cover crops or planting green.  Greg Vermeersch runs VanMeer farms, near Tillsonburg.  He is looking at double-cropping and relay intercropping winter barley and soybeans. He is curious to know which is more practical and cost-effective and determine the agronomic effects of planting the two crops in one season. Michael Groot runs Wholesome Pastures with his wife Lindsay near Crediton. He established a replicated trial of 80-foot strips of corn, soybeans, wheat, and pasture that he rotationally grazes with cattle. He is comparing typical field crop systems in the area to his field crop rotation with grazed perennial, to better understand the economics, practicality, and soil health benefits of the two systems.

As a collaborator in the Living Lab – Ontario project, the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario has two farm sites focused on reduced tillage and continuous cover.  Ken Laing of Orchard Hill Farms is comparing different cover crops and mulching systems to reduce tillage and maintain continuous cover for transplanted and direct seeded organic vegetable crops.  Brett Israel of 3Gen Organics is trialing a double crop of winter barley and no-till soybeans compared to soybeans with traditional tillage and soybeans no-till planted into cereal rye. 

The Living Laboratories Initiative is a valuable opportunity for producers, agricultural organizations, and conservation authorities to work with federal government scientists to evaluate and communicate the socio-economic and ecological impacts of cover crops and minimum tillage.

Reducing Barriers to BMP Adoption

The Reducing Barriers to BMP Adoption – Soil Testing and Cover Crops is a three-year applied research initiative that began in 2019. The initiative supports improving soil health, productivity, and water quality on farms across Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs identified the need for the project and it is being delivered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. This project is funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

The first two years of the project involved extensive research into the reasons why soil testing and cover cropping are not being implemented on more farms in Ontario. The objective of this research was to inform the development of a pilot project to overcome the identified barriers. In early 2021 an Advisory Team provided input on program principles for a pilot project to overcome barriers.

The pilot project focused on supporting producers with access to local expertise and ways to streamline the application. The Accelerate your Soil Health Game Pilot Project launched in May 2021. Producers in Lambton County, Renfrew County and Simcoe County were invited to apply for cost-share funding to implement cover cropping and soil testing on their farms.

Fourteen Certified Crop Advisors participated in the pilot project as Expert Coaches. Applicants who participated received one on one assistance with the Expert Coach to provide expertise and assistance with their project design. Applicants also had access to cost share funding to support their project during the 2021 growing season.

The final phase of this project is evaluation of the design and the experience of the producers involved. Preliminary results indicate that the project engaged many producers who have not participated in cost share programs. Producers have also indicated that the project enabled them to expand their knowledge and experience with these practices. A final report will be completed March 2022.

Agroforesty Land Use for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Project

From 2017 to March 2021, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association collaborated with the University of Guelph and a variety of researchers and organizations in Ontario and Quebec on a project to advance research on the role of riparian buffers in relation to carbon sequestration and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

This project was funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP).

Through this project researchers investigated interactions above and below ground in riparian systems. Key to this work was measuring carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in riparian buffers. This included assessing the influence of tree species, soil type, age of buffers, vegetation communities and climate. Research also included investigations of microbial diversity and their influence on greenhouse gas reduction. Research also quantified ecosystem services such as biodiversity and water quality in mature riparian zones.

The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and Grand River Conservation Authority worked together to connect researchers to agricultural producers with mature riparian buffers on their farms.

OSCIA created five videos to highlight the benefits of riparian buffers as a best management practice and to show the range and impact of research undertaken on the role of riparian buffers in relation to carbon sequestration, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, and soil health. These videos are available on the OSCIA Applied Research website.