Cropping system comparisons earn award

A federal project to weigh the long-term sustainability of nine different crop production systems has picked up a government award for its contributions so far.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s 2008 Gold Harvest Award goes to the Alternative Cropping Systems (ACS) Team, which includes Alan Moulin of AAFC’s Brandon Research Cent re and researchers at Saskatchewan facilities including Melfort, Saskatoon, Scott and Swift Current.

Gold Harvest awards are presented each year for “exceptional and significant contributions” by AAFC staff through their work, positive results and “exemplary behaviour.” This year’s award recognized the ACS Team’s “excellence in partnership building and innovation,” AAFC said in a release.

The ACS project aims to address food safety and environmental concerns over chemical inputs used in farming, and to provide alternatives to reduce farmers’ reliance on such inputs.

The nine production systems combine three levels of farm inputs with three levels of cropping diversity. They include fallow-based cropping, diversified cropping using annual grains and perennial-based cropping using annuals grains and perennial forages with high (full recommended rates), reduced or organic-standard levels of fertilizers, pesticides and fuels.

The research project, launched at AAFC’s Scott Research Farm in 1994, was designed to allow the team to incorporate new farm technologies over the years, AAFC said, “so the results are relevant to producers in both the short and long term.”

Reference areas of native grassland, abandoned cropland and various ages of seeded grassland are meant to indicate changes in biodiversity and environmental sustainability.

The ACS Team last year completed the second six-year cycle of crop-input combinations and began the final six-year cycle, AAFC said.

The department said some of the team’s “interesting” findings to date are expected to be corroborated in this final cycle of research. Among those:

Current recommendations for input use are “very efficient,” leaving little room for cuts without affecting yield.

No-till systems proved “highly effective” against soil erosion during the drought years of 2001-03.

Organic systems are lower yielding, but price premiums for organic commodities effectively offset lower yields.

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