Organic research at the University of Manitoba is getting a boost from the provincial and federal governments.
They capped off National Organic Week by announcing a $366,000 research investment Sept. 23.
“This strategic investment in equipment and infrastructure will ensure the university continues to produce research that is relevant to producers who are interested in pursuing organic cereals, oilseeds and pulse crops,” Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said as he made the announcement. “Definitely it’s about keeping our options open,” he said in a later interview.
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Eichler said the organic trials are part of a rapidly evolving picture in agriculture in which natural systems approaches, such as growing pulse crops and legumes to produce nitrogen, will play a key role.
“Who would have thought we’d be at 1.6 million acres of pulses this year, up from 1.3 million acres last year?” he said. “Everything is changing so fast.
“I think it is the way of the future. Whenever you can use science-based technology to get the natural products in, that’s great. What scale and how fast it grows is up to the farming community,” he said.
Eichler said he is still reviewing and consulting with the farming community about reports prepared under the previous NDP government that concluded natural systems approaches have a role in mitigating the province’s greenhouse gas emissions as well as helping farmers manage risk.
“I’m very big on consultation, I’m very big on science, I’m very big on making sure we get it right,” he said.
The new funds will be used to buy field equipment, including new implement technology such as a CombCut and the Robocrop in-row cultivator, both of which offer organic farmers improved in-crop weed control.
The announcement came as the university’s long-term organic field trials at its Glenlea site celebrate 25 years and the Glenlea research station celebrates 50 years of operation.
Lead researcher Martin Entz said the long-term trials are demonstrating the benefits of diversity in a cropping system for improving soil health, reducing energy consumption in agriculture, and reducing losses due to disease and insects.
“When I started Glenlea I wasn’t sure where it was going to go or even whether it would yield useful results — some people questioned the wisdom. Long-term studies of complex agricultural systems are rare and they are risky, especially when the focus is on natural systems agriculture. Back in the early 1990s, that was considered very much ‘out there,’” he said.
But he said through collaborations with fellow researchers such as soil scientist Mario Tenuta and graduate students, the trials have produced useful research and new crop varieties for Manitoba farmers.
A new video (visit YouTube) highlighting the achievements of the past quarter-century of organic research at the university was also launched last week.
This article first appeared on OrganicBiz.