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Research to go to a good home

‘Adopt a Plot’ campaign turns to crowdfunding to test novel intercrop combinations

Lana Shaw has a long list of crop combinations she would like to test in the intercrop trial plots, and she hopes farmers themselves will give her the funds to get that research off the ground.

The researcher from the South East Research Farm is back again with another crowdfunding research campaign. Shaw is asking for producers to give $200 to “adopt” one of 48 plots in Shaw’s flax-fababean intercrop trials in Redvers, Sask., this year.

“As I’ve been going around doing talks, I’m up in areas where our chickpea-flax is really a non-starter because it’s in the north; it’s in Edmonton or we’re in Grande Prairie or we’re in Prince Albert or things like that,” she said. “I wanted a good rotational intercrop that is probably two crops that people aren’t already growing that they can add into a rotation and that’s not going to cause difficulties in terms of pest and disease cycles.”

Why it matters: The “Adopt a Plot” campaign will provide baseline data for intercrop options that have, so far, been largely untested and therefore difficult to get funding for. It’s just one of several moves looking to give more direct research control to farmers.

Chickpea-flax has been among the research farm’s front-line intercrop combinations for the last few years. Initial research in 2014 found much lower chickpea aschocyta in intercropped plots — 17 per cent, compared to 51 per cent that year when chickpea was grown on its own.

This year, Shaw targeted flax and fababeans as flax is not a host for the root rot aphanomyces, unlike the peas and lentils that often appear in intercrop combinations and may build up spore loads. Likewise, both crops dodge the rotational problems that come with adding a brassica, such as mustard, into a rotation often already heavy on canola.

At the same time, she said, maturity should be complementary between the two crops and grain should be easy to sort, something that is always a concern when growing two crops on the same field.

“We’re at ground level in terms of whether this is really going to work,” she said. “I know of a few people who have tried it commercially that it did work and I have done fababeans with mustard before and it worked very well.”

The Saskatchewan trial plans to compare different seeding rates, treatments — including a possible product assessment on biostimulant treatments — on top of comparing monocropped and intercropped plots.

Shaw is also hoping that the public will help top off funding for her oat and pea trials this year. The study had already garnered support from General Mills and SaskOats when Shaw decided to add a sixth site at Prince Albert to expand the study’s geographical range.

A new way to fund research?

It is not the first time that Shaw has turned to the public to fill out funding. She made a similar plea last year to fund her chickpea-flax intercrop research.

Producers then received bimonthly emails updating them on the status of the project.

“It basically becomes a way of literally buying into the trial… it’s participatory research because they get an inside window on what’s happening in the trial,” she said.

Those farmers have since taken the role of a focus group on that chickpea-flax research, she said.

It’s a funding avenue that, so far, has come through for Shaw, and one that she says she expects to turn to more often for novel combinations that might otherwise be difficult to get funding for, but that she sees appetite for among farmers.

“Sometimes with these intercrops you have to be able to prove that it works before anybody will give you money to be able to prove that it works,” she said.

It is also not the first time in recent memory that farmers have been asked to take more ownership in research. Ag Days 2019 included a pitch for on-farm research by Greg Bartley of the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers. Such research would provide tailored research results to a specific farm and would help farmers wade through the wealth of ag products on the market, some of which have little third-party research to support how well they actually work, he argued.

It’s the same concept that underpins companies such as Agritruth Research near Brandon, an otherwise normal commercial farm that also provides field-scale research on different management practices and products.

The Alberta Federation of Agriculture is also looking at ways to keep farmers in control of variety development, a concept sparked by current discussions on seed royalties. Advocates have pitched a partnership between breeders and farmers as an alternative to a trailing royalty or end point royalty, the two options so far suggested by the seed industry.

As for Shaw, it’s unlikely that her crowdfunding efforts will ever displace more traditional funding avenues. More likely, she says, data from her “Adopt a Plot” trials will underpin future projects, providing the baseline data needed for future support.

Producers wanting to support the project can email Shaw at [email protected].

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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