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International research collaboration in agro-ecosystem resilience

Climate change, soil and water conservation and environmental resiliency are issues of common interest to a wide variety of stakeholders in Canada and internationally. In March 2018, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada approved over 30 research projects in these areas. Below is more information on these projects. This information is provided in particular for potential international partners seeking to make linkages with research led by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada projects in agro-ecosystem resilience
Project Lead Contact Information Project Title Summary of project
Carisse, Odile Influence of cultural practices and climate change on sustainability of grape production under northern conditions. This project will develop several sustainability assessment tools (indicators) for soil health, soil pollution, biodiversity, best practices for winter protection, weed and disease management for northern grape vineyards. Additionally, it seeks to develop new tools and models for invasive pests (for example, Phytoplasma or virus) in relation to northern grape production.
Chantigny, Martin Resilient Crop-Livestock Systems - Unravelling C and N stabilization and restitution mechanisms in manured soils. More field-based evidence is required to determine whether and how livestock manure can sustain C storage and N supply soil functions at the same time, and clarify the influence of manure type, soil types and climate conditions. The proposed research will make use of organic matter physical fractionation techniques to provide much needed scientific information to clarify the potential of manured soils to sequester C and mechanisms underlying the accumulation and restitution of legacy N. This knowledge will improve our ability to efficiently manage manure nutrients and better understand how legacy N contributes to both crop nutrition and environmental N losses such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Comeau, Louis-Pierre Use of legume crops to enhance N use efficiency, carbon sequestration, soil health and soil biodiversity in three ecoregions chosen to represent the different climatic conditions of Canada. This project will analyze the effect of different legume species on agricultural resource use efficiency (that is, SOM, N and nutrients) in crop rotations and forage mixtures in three eco-regions with contrasting climatic conditions affected by soil degradation:
  1. the Prairies (Lethbridge and Swift Current), with a cold semi-arid climate where wheat and canola are the dominant crops;
  2. the Boreal pasture lands (Normandin), with a cool and humid climate under forage production; and
  3. the Maritimes (Fredericton and Charlottetown), with a humid climate where the main agricultural system is intensive potato production.
Cui, Yuhai
Szczyglowski, Krzysztof
The best of both worlds: integrating mineral and microbial-based nutrition for improved nitrogen use efficiency in crop plants. By screening for a better complementarity between synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and root microbiome functions, this project aims to identify plant attributes for enhanced productivity under decreased anthropogenic inputs. We propose to unravel this hidden potential by taking a two-pronged approach involving:
  1. a forward genetic screen of induced plant variants and
  2. a targeted approach to test the impact of a singular transgenic modification associated with in planta overexpression of a NIN-like protein on rates of N2 fixation.
Drury, Craig Impacts of crop rotation and cover crops on agro-ecosystem resilience. The soils team at Harrow and in South Dakota have not intensively examined the impacts of crop rotation or cover crops on soil health parameters and yield variability. This proposal will help address this knowledge gap and provide critical information to farmers, soil and crop advisors, researchers and policy makers by analyzing soils and crops from long-term field sites in southwestern Ontario and South Dakota to identify which combination of rotation and cover crop is the most resilient and has the greatest soil health benefits (that is, enhanced C sequestration, microbial biodiversity/function, and soil transmission and water storage properties).
Dubois, Melanie Pollination Services: Assessing and Addressing Current and Future Landscape Scale Deficits in Agro-Ecosystems. Targeting program and policy responses to pollination services deficits is critical to maintaining resiliency in crop production systems. The improvement of maps and recommendations for current and future pollination service in response to climate change will give producers and policy/program makers the information they need to adapt and target management actions within the field and on field margins. The pollination potential maps produced by EPIC will be used in conjunction with annual crop inventory to map predictions of pollination demand and to identify areas of mismatch between low pollinator service potential and crops with high pollination service needs.
Ellert, Benjamin Inferring the influence of agricultural management and other human activities on soil constituents relevant to soil health and function. The proposed research has six objectives: determine temporal changed in CNP stocks in relation to agricultural management, assess how land use and other human activities have altered the exchange of carbon and nitrogen between soil, crops, fertilizers and organic amendments, improve understanding of chandes in the structural organic chemistry of soils, evaluate the influence of agricultural management on the presence and persistence of organic and inorganic constituents attributable to intentional and inadvertand depositionof minerals, investigate whether agricultural land use has culminated in changes to the soil microbiome and the implications, and determine the amount and fate of fallou radioactivity in soils.
Foster, Adam Impact of cover cropping on soil microbial biodiversity, disease and pathogen load. We propose to examine the effects of different cover cropping strategies on the soil microbial community within the growing season and the carry-over effects on soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr) and barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) planted in the next growing season. This project will focus on studying the soil microbial community with a focus on plant pathogenic organisms and beneficial microbes such as AM fungal species. In addition, we propose to study the effect of cover crops on the potential for disease development and pathogen load in future growing seasons by surveying the pathogens in cover crop residues left in fields after harvest, the severity and incidence of root and leaf disease in soybean and barley and the level of airborne fungal pathogenic spores. The primary goal of the project will be to determine the optimal cover cropping strategy to enhance soil microbial diversity and improve disease management.
Fraser, Tandra Assessing the effect of land use and agricultural management on the stability and resilience of soil food webs. The objective of this project is to understand the effects of management intensity on soil biodiversity and function, focusing on biological contributions to nutrient cycling, SOM stabilisation, disease suppression and crop yield. The overlying hypothesis is that more intensive management systems result in less complex food webs, thereby affecting critical soil functioning. All variables measured in this study will be related to crop yield and 20 years of soil chemical and crop rotation data from the Soil Quality Monitoring Project (Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture; 1998-present).
Geddes, Charles Weed seed-suppressive soils: managing herbicide-resistant weed populations at the source. This research aims to increase our understanding of how soils can influence the mortality of weed seeds in the soil seedbank and to fill current knowledge gaps to facilitate the discovery of new tools for management of HR weed populations. Managing weeds while they remain as seeds in the soil seedbank will help mitigate crop yield loss due to weed interference and also help preserve our current repertoire of effective herbicide modes of action, facilitating the sustainability of crop production in Canada. The scope and implications of the research program cover a wide range of research related to the fate of weed seeds in the soil seedbank, and how soils interact with seeds to govern their fate over time.
Geng, Xiaoyuan State of Soil and Land of Canada: cost-effective methods of soil and soil landscape data delivery. With increased maturity of digital soil mapping and raster data based modeling for agri-environment resiliency and competitive agriculture sectos, the short term objecttives of this RSA work are: to advance the current Canadian potion of the peer-reviewed global 250m digital soil data by using more Canadian-specific environment covariants and point soil data, develop a robotic computing framework for finer resolution soil and soil landscape production, customize soil and soil landscape data production and provision in priority regions, link to soil microbiome initiatives, and advance existing national soil database data structures.
Gregorich, Ed Understanding mechanisms in the biological stabilization of carbon in soil. The objective of this research is to gain insight into the role microorganisms play in C stabilization in soil. To do this we will investigate the physical, chemical, biological processes involved in the generation of stable C in soil. The emphasis will be on how microbes and microbial processes interact with the physical architecture and chemical components in the soil.
Hunt, Derek Strategies for sustainable cropping of annual crops in the LFV and other intensive agricultural regions. The target of this study is intensively managed leaky horticultural and field crops covering 60% of agricultural land in environmentally critical LFV under changing climate. Many of the fields have a history of manure applications. This project will develop and assess four innovative cropping strategies designed to mitigate the effects of intensive production methods on soil, water, and air quality in the LFV.
Janzen, Henry Elucidating and exploiting rhizosphere processes for improved soil health and productivity. Our objective is to elucidate biologically-mediated processes in the rhizosphere of prairie agricultural lands with the aim of identifying practices that enhance soil health, as defined earlier. We will focus especially on rhizosphere C and nitrogen (N) dynamics, because of their pivotal influence on critical land functions such as maximizing yield, enhancing biodiversity, regulating climate, and reducing nutrient pollution.Examples of processes to be studied include: efflux of carbon and nitrogen from roots; turnover of roots; nutrient flows through mycelial connections between roots and soils (and between plants); and decay of rhizospheric substrates, affecting turnover of indigenous soil organic matter ('priming').
Jiang, Yefang Improving crop production resiliency using innovative BMPs. We propose to optimize the conventional potato rotation system (grain-forages-potato) by (i) incorporating willow chips into soil after potato harvest (BMP1) and (ii) terminating the legume-based forages at mid-season and planting buckwheat (BMP2). We hypothesize that the incorporated willow chips will reduce nitrate leaching by immobilizing the post-potato-harvest soil nitrate that would otherwise be leached below the root zone during the sensitive leaching season, increase SOM, and promote soil microbial activities without suppressing N supplies for the following potato crops (in the third year). We also hypothesize that terminating the legume-based forages in the potato rotation at mid-season and planting a buckwheat crop will not only suppress wireworm populations, but also retain the nutrients released from the terminated forages during the sensitive leaching season and release them to the following season's potato crops.
Joosse, Pamela Generating, enhancing and transferring production system and field-scale BMP data in support of Canadian agriculture in the Lake Erie basin. All four components of this project are designed to leverage existing datasets and field sites to provide updated evidence and measures of BMP effectiveness and environmental performance that can be used as AAFC's contributions to the Lake Erie Action Plan implementation. The project will provide activities, outputs and data to report on seven Lake Erie Action Plan actions. The project will provide updated databases on the status of agricultural production in the Lake Erie basin and its associated nutrient and soil management practices and agri-environmental performance. The production system clustering will provide more accurate land and nutrient data that can be used to generate production system scenarios and gradients to test the impact of various BMPs on P losses.
Laforest, Martin Comparison of the effect of cover crops on microbiome, gene expression and resilience to bacterial diseases in field vegetable cropping systems. The aim of our project is to characterize the microbiome response to different cultural methods and the impact of the covers soils on disease development. We are testing cover-crops (rye, and rye with hairy vetch), plastic cover and bare soil. We will also look into the impact of covers on crop gene expression using NGS technologies (RNASeq). The main objective of this project is to fully characterize cover crops potential for field vegetables (squash, lettuce, broccoli and green bean) that will help in controlling diseases.
Larney, Francis Integrating multiple beneficial management practices (BMPs) in organic cropping systems: Soil health, weed and insect interactions. The proposed research targets:
  1. beneficial management practices (BMPs) for cropping systems management through the use of cover crops, and
  2. improving soil health through the use of soil amendments (compost) and
  3. rotational practices that reduce insect pest and weed pressures and improve soil health.
McKenzie-Gopsill, Andrew Surveying the extent of triazine resistant lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album) and development of an integrated weed management program for potato production systems. This project seeks to survey for triazine resistant lamb's quarters to determine its distribution. In addition, work will examine methodologies to increase the mortality and suppress germination of this weed. These methodologies will be part of a more ambitious program to establish a weed management system to address this pest.
Mimee, Benjamin Identification of reliable bio-indicators to measure crop resilience and to characterize the impact of management practices on soil biodiversity and eco-services. The objective of this project is to compare the effect of cultural and pest management practices on micro- and macro-biota and to propose a framework to study the networks of interactions among them. In-depth characterization of agricultural soil biota coupled with yield and plant health parameters will enable the identification of reliable bio-indicators for soil health, and evaluate the potential of biodiversity-based approaches to sustainably increase profitability by enhancing or restoring ecosystem services rather than utilizing reactive chemical control. This project will lay important groundwork for the understanding of mechanisms by which biodiversity stabilizes agroecosystem functions threatened by continuous changes.
Nurse, Robert The development of novel integrated pest management tools for management of herbicide resistant weeds in vegetable crops. While identifying new herbicides is important, strategies that involve non-chemical methods of control should be combined with herbicides to ensure a more sustainable method of management. Our proposed research will test several new management systems:
  1. a new crimper that was designed at AAFC Harrow to be used specifically in transplanted vegetable crops; and
  2. living mulch systems that generate up to a 75% reduction in herbicide use; and. Further to this we will screen for earlier maturing rye and/or triticale varieties.
Page, Eric Deciphering complex mechanisms and inheritance patterns of herbicide resistance cases in Canada. This research will be the first to explore how complex cases of herbicide resistance (that is, TSR or NTSR or both) are inherited and potentially spread in a highly outcrossing and highly selfing weed species. The new knowledge generated from this study will not only inform government policy and future risk assessments but it will lead to deeper understanding of how pests may evolve different, sometimes redundant mechanisms, to defeat chemical control measures. The results of this research will transform our understanding of the evolution, inheritance and spread of herbicide resistance traits in Canada.
Parent, Gaétan BMP for optimised N management sytems through late-N in-season timing, nitrification inhibitors and type of N applied for the use of crop-based assessment tools in corn production. Corn has difficulty recovering nitrogen within fertilizer. The project seeds to evaluate methods to fix this through testing different starter fertilizer rates in combination with various N forms and the use of inhibitors under different soil and climate conditions, developing and adapting BMP fertilization strategy for the mid-late in-season N application through the use of N inhibitors, and determining the latest corn growth stage at which conventional farm tractors can be used for late in-season N application without corn yield reduction.
Phillips, Lori Understanding the role of the soil microbiome in promoting resilient and sustainable agroecosystems.

We propose to develop a framework for soil microbiome health that includes an essential set of molecular-based microbiome indicators relevant both within and across agricultural regions. We will:

  1. identify the keystone soil organisms, functions, and diversity indices that consistently associate with crop productivity and soil chemical and physical measures of soil health (for example, pH, soil pore size distribution, aeration, available water, organic carbon);
  2. quantify the normal operating ranges of these key soil microbiome indicators using a gradient of poor to optimal ag-systems for those regions (for example, from monoculture to multi-crop rotations; droughty to aeration-limited soils; disturbed to undisturbed); and
  3. determine how management impacts soil microbiome health in different agro-ecological regions of North America, using the developed molecular tools.

The new quantitative bio-indicators will be integrated with soil physical and chemical metrics to help predict how different BMPs impact ag-system resilience and sustainability across soil and climate gradients.

Reid, Keith Validation and delivery of P risk assessment tools at the field and national scale. Updates to the components of both PLATO and IROWC-P have been based on the best available science, but there are still some gaps in specific areas (transport through tile drains in different soil types; delivery ratios from edge of field to surface water; soil P desorption under low runoff conditions; etc.), and the model as a whole has not been validated to ensure that the weighting of the various components is correct. This project is designed to leverage the efforts in existing field sites, as much as possible, to allow the validation of the updated PLATO and IROWC-P models.
Sheedy, Claudia Science, adoption and adaptation of pesticide rinsate biobeds to support Canadian agro-ecosystems resilience and protect water resources. This project aims to expand our knowledge of pesticide rinsate biobeds, and promote their adoption and application for a wide range of Canadian agro-ecosystems. The project will consist of investigating biobeds performance in horticultural agro-ecosystems, performing a life-cycle analysis to determine their longevity and conducting metagenomics studies to identify microbial communities for field bio-augmentation applications to protect water resources from pesticide contamination.
Smith, Ward Integrated modelling approach for identifying efficient and resilient BMPs for diverse cropping systems across Canada. With the use of models, this research call offers an opportunity to aggregate long-term experimental research activities to help estimate the impacts of integrated management on environmental indicators under climate variability and climate change. Our long-term research initiative has targeted five major areas within the context of model development and application. These are
  1. Development and validation of model mechanisms,
  2. Investigation of management effects on productivity and environmental sustainability,
  3. Comparison of modeling frameworks to enhance understanding,
  4. Investigation of the impact of climate variability and climate change on agricultural systems, and
  5. International activities on the assessment the current state of agricultural models.
Tan, Chin
Zhang, Tiequan
Innovative management practices for efficient use of nutrients and water and for increase in crop resillience to climate change. The project consists of eight studies (Study 1 – Study 8). Study 1 assesses impacts on soil health and quality; Study 2 evaluates impacts on soil water dynamics, storage, and supply; Studies 3-4 determine impacts on the environment; Study 5 assesses impacts on crop growth (for example, yield and nutrient use); Studies 6-8 are designed to use all data from the studies 1-5 to determine resource use efficiency and impacts on crop resilience to climate change, and further to develop improved and integrated BMPs for improving resource use efficiency, crop resiliency to climate change, and environmental sustainability, while maximizing farming profitability.
VandenBygaart, Bert Application of Digital Soil Mapping Technologies to the Understanding of Soil and Landscape Processes That Lead to Erosion/Degradation and Legacy P Storage in the Lake Erie Watershed. Taking advantage of the advances in digital soil mapping technologies, this project seeks to reconstruct soil erosion and redistributiion theory within a quaternary watershed using a radionuclide trace, couple redistribution history with LiDAR high-resolution digital elevation models to identify key landscape attributes contributing to surface runoff, soil erosion and legacy P distribution using soil landscape analysis and other digital soil mapping methods, and derive statistical relationships between soil erosion, legacy P distribution and soil landscape attributs for incorporation into process models.
Waldick, Ruth Exploring the Future of Biomass: regional scenarios under climate change. This proposed project looks at how biomass crops can be successfully introduced within a region under the weather conditions of a future climate change scenario using agricultural crop models (at farm, landscape and regional scales) that use global climate model data. This work will be done through developing metrics and tools to evaluate the potential of a selection of important biomass crops under future climate scenarios and new emerging growing areas.
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