Researchers receive $3.76M in federal funding for greener agriculture

    Scientists will look at ways to make grazing, crop selection and soil more sustainable.

    By Cait Wills and Katie Willis on April 21, 2017

    Three University of Alberta scientists will take their greenhouse gas reduction research to the next level, thanks to an infusion of funding announced today by the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, federal minister of agriculture and agri-food.

    The funding will exceed $3.76 million and supports the Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP), which will create technologies, practices and processes that can be adopted by farmers to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, agriculture is the fourth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

    The three funded projects, in the faculties of science and agricultural, life and environmental sciences, will help farmers decrease greenhouse gas emissions from their operations, simultaneously helping the environment and the land on which they live and work.

    “Canadian farmers are great stewards of the land and the environment,” said MacAulay. “These new investments are part of the government’s commitment to address climate change and ensuring our farming sector are world leaders in the use and development of clean and sustainable technology and processes.”

    Testing carbon storage in the grassland lab

    Mark Boyce, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is studying improved grazing practices to enhance grassland biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “We’re developing a protocol that will reduce GHG emissions while restoring grassland soil carbon levels, improving rancher well-being by improving the quality of the soil,” he said.

    Alternative grazing practices can provide important climate mitigation offsets, but no offset protocols have been developed for Canada. Grassland soils store vast quantities of carbon, so by measuring 10-year minimum changes on soil carbon, GHG emissions, and biodiversity by using alternative grazing methods, Boyce will provide evidence for implementing best practices, as well as documenting biodiversity and economic benefits for ranchers.

    “Improved livestock grazing has the potential to put more carbon back into the soil than traditional grazing methods, making it better for the environment and for ranchers,” said Boyce. “This funding makes it possible for us to understand the conservation and economic impact of moving to non-traditional grazing methods.” Boyce will receive $2 million from the federal government in funding over the next five years.

    Putting perennial crops to work for the environment

    Guillermo Hernandez Ramirez, assistant professor in the Department of Renewable Resources, is using his $1.07 million in funding and collaboration with a formidable team of researchers to focus on how perennial cereal crops will be the next technology innovation in sustainable agriculture, through analysis of the greenhouse-gas intensity footprint of perennial versus annual cropping systems.

    “The overarching theme of this project is to evaluate contrasting cropping system types as a whole,” said Hernandez Ramirez. “We think this research could show clear differences between plant growth habits, which in turn will help industry develop protocols for carbon offset systems.” The information developed in this project will help to improve the National Greenhouse Inventory and the implementation of C Offset Protocols.

    Increasing the carbon-capturing capacity of soil

    Scott Chang, professor in the Department of Renewable Resources, will receive $690,000 to develop and verify best management practices in agroforestry systems to increase the soil’s ability to store carbon and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    “We will evaluate the impact of enrichment planting in windbreak—shelterbelts and hedgerows—to improve the integrity of agroforestry systems,” said Chang. “Our project will also look at the effect of organic amendments on carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in farming areas within agroforestry systems. This research will be conducted across 12 sites on private lands in central Alberta.”

    "Farmers feel the impacts of climate change every day, but they are also key implementers of agricultural climate change solutions,” said Lorne Babiuk, U of A vice-president (research). “By investing in research examining land, livestock, and crop management, AGGP is helping ensure farmers have access to world-leading knowledge that will improve efficiency, help Canada meet its GHG emissions targets, and also enhance the productivity of the agricultural and agri-food sectors. I thank the Government of Canada for this generous investment in research that supports a job-creating sector of our economy, and I congratulate our researchers on receiving these awards.”