Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Josh Kraemer, CFFO Communications Intern
Last week, the CFFO hosted many of our members and partners on a stimulating day-long tour of several sites at the University of Guelph Research Stations in Elora. As one of the largest agricultural research farms in Canada, the Elora Research Station has over 2,300 acres dedicated to supporting intensive research in agriculture.
Much of the tour was spent at the newly constructed, state-of-the-art Dairy Research & Innovation Centre. In a partnership between the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario, OMAFRA, the University of Guelph and the Ontario dairy industry, the 175,000 square foot facility was designed for “discovery, learning and outreach” to support Ontario’s dairy industry and provide consumer benefits in the future.
During our time at the Dairy Research & Innovation Centre, guests were guided through the facility by a group of University of Guelph Master’s students, all of whom are conducting their own research as part of the approximately eight research projects that are occurring at the facility at any given time. These studies focus on animal health and welfare, genetics and genomics, animal and human nutrition, management and technology, and product development.
The 400-acre Plant Agriculture Centre is dedicated to not only crop research but also to other beneficial plants, such as floral species that can be used to attract pollinators to agricultural plots. During our time with Dr. Bill Deen, a researcher at the Plant Agriculture Centre, we learned about the agri-environmental implications of certain cover crops and crop rotations. Currently, research is being done to understand the long-term effects of popular crop rotations. For example, his research on corn-soy rotations implies long-term net-costs. As a solution, Dr. Deen explained the importance of rotation diversity, such as adding wheat into rotations. Research has shown over the 38-year research program at the site that adding wheat can increase long-term soil health benefits and reduce variability in crop production rates.
The Soil Health Interpretive Centre (SHIC) has been used as a venue to raise awareness regarding soil science, connecting interested stakeholders to one another. Earth and atmospheric sciences expert Dr. Claudia Wagner-Riddle offered a brief presentation on the work of the centre, and OMAFRA and University of Guelph researchers gave guests a crash course in soil erosion through simulations of rainfall and flooding on no-till, tilled, forest covered, and compacted soils.
Guests also toured the centre’s lysimeters, the first of their kind in North America. These devices allow researchers to precisely measure water gained by precipitation and water lost by evaporation and plant transpiration. The lysimeters also allow for data collection of soil water tension, CO2 concentration, temperature, and electroconductivity within the surrounding soil. By accounting for these variables, and others, scientists can accurately assess the determinants of soil health.
In addition, Dr. Wagner-Riddle uses lysimeter data to study greenhouse gas emissions that depend on a large number of variables that can be measured at the site. The capability exists for these devices to also measure other conditions including the effects of residual chemicals in the soil. The primary goal of the SHIC is to understand how to more accurately measure important variables, and thus improve, soil health.
Agriculture is one of the largest and most important industries around the world; it supports economies and provides the food that sustains us. In order to sustainably accommodate growing populations, we must continue to learn and innovate moving forward. This year’s Agri-Day gave us a day of shared fellowship and research advances in our own backyard.