Scientists and farmers protect Lake Erie

Scientists and farmers protect Lake Erie
May 20, 2021

The Living Lab – Ontario program will focus on regenerative agriculture in the Lake Erie region to preserve soil and water health

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) will invest $4.2 million to launch the fourth national Living Lab in the Lake Erie region of Ontario, Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal ag minister, announced in a May 10 release.

The AAFC initiative delivery is being led by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).

“Lake Erie is an area that’s had both national and binational attention for water quality concerns,” Tracey Ryan, applied research coordinator for the OSCIA, told

AAFC consulted with agricultural and environmental groups across the province and determined that soil health and water quality in the Lake Erie area would be the priority for the Ontario Living Lab.  

“The Living Labs project is an initiative through AAFC to get the scientists out of the lab and onto the landscape,” Ryan explained. AAFC’s “researchers codevelop research with our farm innovators.”

Seven farm cooperators in the Lake Erie region are involved in the project.  

OSCIA is partnering with the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario, the Ontario Soil Network and three conservation authorities.

“Each one of the partners is bringing a great deal of expertise and networks to the table,” Ryan said. The “farmers are the ones who the researchers are taking their lead from.”

Overall, the program will investigate agronomic, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts of various regenerative agricultural techniques.

“We’ve got researchers who are looking at the economics both on a large, regional scale, farm scale, and field scale,” Ryan explained. Others are focusing on agronomy and soil health, environmental and climate change factors, public and private benefits of adoption of best management practices, and more.

The project, of course, involves “characterizing water quality and quantity on a watershed basis,” Ryan added. That characterization includes habitat analysis, nutrient cycling, aquatic micro-invertebrate biodiversity and other indicators of watershed health.

Farmer cooperator projects include testing methods to reduce tillage, increasing crop diversity, optimizing organic production, assessing quantity and quality of water leaving fields, investigating the potential of perennial cover crops, measuring carbon sequestration, improving soil coverage, and more.

Knowledge transfer, through demonstrations and sharing, is also part of the Living Labs program, Ryan said.

“A lot of farmers are innovators, so this is a really great way to recognize that innovation and being able to test and validate with all of this scientific horsepower being brought to the innovators,” she explained. Living Laboratories involve more than “just collecting yield data, there’s going to be a lot of other information captured.”

Communication between partners will be key throughout this program.

“Collaboratively we’re all very excited to learn from each other and gather new skills as well. Each group has a lot of expertise to bring and to share,” Ryan said.

SkyF\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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