AIC Notes TopIssue 2011-37            October 20, 2011 
In This Issue
Canadian Journal of Plant Science
University of Guelph Gets $4 Million for 'Green Ag' Technology
Ag College Starts Organic Milk Program
Maple Leaf Plans Expansions, Closures Across Prepared Meats Business
National Bee Diganostic Centre Backed for Peace Region
Native Prairie Thrives Under Climate Change: Study
A Next-Generation Biofuel Strategy
Researchers to Develop Swine Production Sustainability Model
New Study Finds 400,000 Farmers in Southern Africa using 'Fertilizer Trees' to Improve Food Security
Federal R&D Panel Reports with Six Major Recommendations
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
Coming Events

Canadian Journal of Plant Science


The Canadian Journal of Plant Science, Volume 91, Number 6, November 2011, is now available online.


Sample Abstract


Interactive effect of N fertilization and tillage management on Zn biofortification in durum wheat (Triticum durum)

Xiaopeng Gao, Cynthia A. Grant

A 3-yr field study was conducted at two locations in southwestern Manitoba, Canada, to determine the interactive effect of application of four sources of N fertilizer and two tillage management systems on grain Zn concentration of durum wheat. There was a significant year-to-year variation in grain yield and grain Zn concentration, indicating a strong environmental influence. Soil type also had a dominating effect, with grain Zn concentration generally being higher at the clay loam location than the fine sandy loam location, reflecting the native soil Zn status. Tillage management showed little influence on grain Zn, suggesting that reduced tillage practices can be adopted by local farmers without decreasing mineral concentrations in grain. Compared with the control treatment, which did not receive extra N fertilizer, N fertilization at 60 kg ha−1 decreased grain Zn concentration in 4 of 6 site-years. Grain Zn accumulation was, however, generally not affected by extra N fertilization, in spite of a positive fertilization effect on grain yield. The four N sources did not differ in their effect on grain yield and grain Zn, indicating that at the rate of N applied there were no differential fertilizer source effects on Zn availability. The results of the present study suggest that for wheat production on Canadian prairies, a regular N fertilization rate using the currently registered cultivars is not likely to produce wheat grain that meets the recommended dietary allowance for Zn. Application of Zn fertilizer, in combination with optimum N fertilization or other agronomic practices that can increase grain Zn, is required to produce improved grain quality for human health.


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University of Guelph Gets $4 Million for 'Green Ag' Technology


Canadian farmers and University of Guelph researchers will benefit from a cross-Canada partnership of government, industry and universities in green agriculture technologies announced on campus Thursday.


U of G scientists will receive nearly $4 million to study and develop tools to help farmers mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, said parliamentary secretary Pierre Lemieux. He made the announcement for federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute.


"Canada's agriculture industry plays a vital role in keeping our economy strong," Lemieux said. "This research will lead to new tools and practices to help farmers protect the environment and grow their business."


The funding will support two projects based in the Ontario Agricultural College's School of Environmental Sciences.


Prof. Claudia Wagner-Riddle studies dairy livestock and crop production systems. By examining new and refined management practices and improved feeding strategies, she hopes to help farmers increase profits and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Those are also the goals of research by agroforestry professors Andy Gordon and Naresh Thevathasan, who study tree-based intercropping, or the use of trees on farms.


"These two projects will go a long way towards helping Canada develop important greenhouse gas mitigation strategies, benefiting farmers and reducing impacts on the environment," said Kevin Hall, vice-president (research).

"Partnerships such as the two we are celebrating today are central to our mission of creating new knowledge and value for society. The University of Guelph has a long history of working with government and industry to translate research knowledge into new technologies, products and services."


Funding will come through the Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program, a five-year, $27-million initiative to develop on-farm greenhouse gas mitigation technologies.


University of Guelph Press Release, October 14, 2011 


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Ag College Starts Organic Milk Program 


Organic milk is a niche market for Quebec dairy producers, but a new organic milk production program at a leading provincial agricultural college may help make it a more popular and profitable field, Quebec dairy experts say.


"It's very good news for a growing industry," says François Dumontier, a spokesperson with the federation that represents Quebec's 6,300 dairy producers.


The new $4.4-million program is located at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire campus in La Pocatière, an hour's drive east of Quebec City.


The program is housed in a $3.2 million barn that was inaugurated last week in the presence of Quebec Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister Pierre Corbeil.


The building, which notably features abundant natural lighting and ventilation, lodges some 30 cows from two dairy breeds - Jersey and the rare Canadienne.


The animals are fed only antibiotic-free feed that's grown without herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. They're also isolated from the school's existing herd of about 40 conventional dairy cows.


"Everything has been designed and thought out with the animals' well-being in mind," says ITA's director Rosaire Ouellet. "The atmosphere in this new building is one of total relaxation."


According to Dumontier, the approximately 100 organic dairy producers in Quebec produce a total volume of roughly 32 million litres a year.


That is a drop in the bucket compared to the provincial dairy industry total annual output of 2.85 billion litres, generating $2.16 billion in farm-gate revenues.


However, it is almost double the production of only five years ago, and ten times the amount produced in 2000.


Dumontier credits that rise on the steady increase in retail sales of organic milk products over the past decade. He says his federation's support of the organic milk industry has also contributed to growth.


Notably, the federation has organized the transportation of organic milk from producers to processors since the late 1990s.


It has also negotiated production bonuses or premiums for organic producers from processors since 2000. Organic milk producers currently receive 25 cents per litre more than conventional producers.


"That helps to cover their production costs," Dumontier says. "It's only fair, since retail prices of organic milk, which are unregulated, are $1 to $2 higher than regular milk."


Mark Cardwell, FCC Express, October 14, 2011


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Maple Leaf Plans Expansions, Closures Across Prepared Meats Business


In what it calls the final phase of its "value creation plan," one of Canada's most iconic food firms plans sweeping consolidations and staff reductions in its processed meats operations across the country.

Maple Leaf Foods' latest plan, announced Wednesday, calls for construction of a new $395 million prepared meats facility at Hamilton, Ont., and major expansions of its meat further-processing plants at Brampton, Ont., Saskatoon and Winnipeg.


The Toronto company aims to consolidate its meat further-processing into those four plants, expecting the new and upgraded facilities to serve as "highly efficient, category-focused 'centres of excellence.'"


The consolidations, however, spell closure for six Maple Leaf further-processing plants, including:

- the company's Brockley Drive wiener plant in Hamilton, whose lease expires in 2014;

- its Courtland Avenue deli and luncheon meat and wiener plant in Kitchener, in later 2014;

- the Hub/Larsen sliced meats plant on Edinburgh Drive in Moncton, to be closed in later 2014;

- Maple Leaf's dedicated bacon plant at North Battleford, Sask. in the first half of 2013;

- the former Shopsy's sliced meats plant on Bartor Road in Toronto, by the end of 2014; and

- the former Schneiders plant making Hot Rods meat sticks on Panet Road in Winnipeg, by the end of 2014.


The company's distribution of processed meats, also, will be redirected to just two centres, a new "purpose-built" facility to be built somewhere in Ontario by early 2013 and an existing distribution centre at Saskatoon.


Other distribution plants, however, are now scheduled for closure at Coquitlam, B.C. in early 2012, Kitchener and Burlington, Ont. in early 2013 and Moncton in late 2014.




The total infrastructure and equipment investments over the next three years will total $560 million and are expected to create about 1,150 new jobs. On the other hand are 2,700 jobs to be eliminated, mostly during 2014, from the processing and warehousing closures, for a net reduction of 1,550 from Maple Leaf's workforce.


"While this initiative is fundamentally about growth, the closure of facilities will result in the loss of jobs," company CEO Michael McCain said in a release.


However, he pledged Maple Leaf "will seek alternative uses of these facilities to create job opportunities in the affected communities."


The new jobs created at the new and expanded sites, meanwhile, "will be sustainable and allow our people to develop new skills and experience working with world-class technologies," he added.


The proposed new Hamilton meats operation, for example, will be a 402,000-square foot plant "which will be competitive with best-in-class facilities in North America" when completed in 2014, employing 670 people making Maple Leaf and Schneiders deli meats and wieners, the company said.


Winnipeg's Lagimodiere Boulevard plant, starting this fall, will undergo an $85 million expansion to 340,000 square feet from 270,000, adding 345 new jobs.


By mid-2013, the plant is to be a "centre of excellence" for ham and will also be the largest bacon processing plant in Canada, taking capacity from Moncton and North Battleford. New ham and bacon smokehouses, coolers, packaging lines and other equipment will be added.


The company's Walker Drive plant at Brampton, Ont. will get $25 million in new equipment and plant upgrades by early 2013, to consolidate production of sausages, boxed red meats and chicken strips, expanding to 240 employees.


Maple Leaf's Saskatoon plant, meanwhile, is to see $45 million invested in a two-stage expansion, starting with a 27,000-square foot expansion to set up a "cooked-in-bag" smoked sausage line by the end of 2012, followed by upgrades to the plant's continuous wiener line in early 2013, with "neutral" impact on payroll.


Maple Leaf plans expansions, closures across prepared meats business


Country Guide, October 19, 2011


National Bee Diganostic Centre Backed for Peace Region


Almost $1.2 million in federal backing has been pledged for a national centre for diagnostic health tests on bees, to be set up in northwestern Alberta's Peace River region.


Grande Prairie Regional College will get $1,193,500 from Western Economic Diversification Canada to set up the National Bee Diagnostic Centre at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Beaverlodge Research Farm.


The centre is to be "the only one of its kind in Canada to offer a wide range of comprehensive services to beekeeping businesses all under one roof," the federal government said in a release Friday.


The centre will focus on detection and diagnostics relating to honey bee health, as well as scientific support to facilitate imports and exports of bees, and preventing or reducing winter losses, the government said.


Specifically, the centre is expected to perform about 1,500 diagnostic services each year for businesses and other clients.


The WED funds are to go toward capital expenses including a mobile trailer and related diagnostic equipment, the government said. Grande Prairie Regional College is to manage the centre, which is meant to complement the college's beekeeper technician program.


The project is "of great importance to food production industries throughout the country," college CEO Don Gnatiuk said in the government's release.


The federal support "will help ensure the continued health of this key sector while fostering the continued growth of beekeeping businesses," local MP Chris Warkentin said in the same release.


One of the specialties of the Beaverlodge farm, an arm of AAFC's Lacombe Research Centre, has been in the research and development of technology for "honey bees and other pollinating insects adapted to environmental conditions in northwestern Canada."


Country Guide, October 17, 2011


Native Prairie Thrives Under Climate Change:  Study


One might assume southern Saskatchewan's native grasslands to have suffered stress under climate pressures over the past 30 years -- and one might be wrong, a new study suggests.


The province's south has experienced "much drier weather and some very significant droughts overall" in the past three decades, according to University of Regina geography professor Joe Piwowar.

However, he said in a release Wednesday, his research shows native prairie in the region has in fact been getting greener.


"This is totally unexpected," said Piwowar, the university's Canada research chair in geomatics and sustainability.


"My assumption going into this research is that the prairie grasses are responding to changes in climate. Second only to the Arctic, the Canadian prairie is one of the most sensitive areas to climate change."

Given the dry climate conditions, he said, "I would have expected the prairie grasslands to be showing more signs of stress. Instead, there's been more biomass, more vegetation growth."


For his research, Piwowar has been studying Grasslands National Park, south of Swift Current on the province's border with Montana.


The park is considered an environment "largely undisturbed by human activities," which he said allows him to analyze the impacts of climate change, through field research and satellite imagery.


Piwowar's next step, he said, is to figure out why the vegetation has been increasing and how this change could impact human activity, such as agriculture in the surrounding region, as well as how it will impact the region's biodiversity in the future.


Country Guide, October 14, 2011


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A Next-Generation Biofuel Strategy 


Global energy prices are on the rise, as are food prices and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Advanced biofuels can address all of these problems, and Canada, with its large biomass reserves and small population is well-placed to become a world leader in producing the next-generation of biofuels based on biomass (that is biological material such as forest residue or various grasses which can be used to generate electricity as well as fluid fuels).


Traditional biofuels are currently under attack around the world. Since the beginning of June, a number of international agencies have called for an end to ethanol subsidies in the hope that this will take pressure off of global food stocks and reduce volatility in prices. The U.S. Senate, whose members have traditionally championed the biofuel industry in the States, has voted to cut subsidies. Prices for corn (and to a lesser extent other grains) - the primary feedstock for ethanol - continue to rise internationally, cutting into the profit margin for biofuel producers. A report in the journal Science indicates that global corn and wheat yields may have actually declined in the past decade due to changes in climate, which suggests the possibility of future shortages and calls into question the viability of an energy strategy predicated on these crops. At the same time, increasing energy costs are contributing to increasing food prices, so alternative energy sources must be developed.


But biofuels and healthy food supplies need not be mutually exclusive. We think there is a need for a next-generation Canadian biofuels strategy that uses biomass - not food - as the primary feedstock. Wood from forests, straw and stover from agricultural operations, specialty-grown crops like switchgrass or poplar trees (not produced on prime agricultural land), and new opportunities including algae are all options that can allow for the future expansion of biofuels across the country without a negative effect on agriculture.


Developing biofuels from biomass could mean significant new renewable fuel resources. Sourcing more of our transport fuel from local, renewable and sustainable sources will help insulate us from the global oil market - fluctuations in that market have driven gasoline prices up by almost 30 per cent in the last year. Increased demand from developing countries such as China and India, combined with declining global petroleum production following peak oil, will lead to further, perhaps dramatic, price increases. We can't afford not to invest in a local alternative.


A next-generation biofuel strategy would be good environmental policy. We don't claim that biofuels can return us to a pre-industrial atmosphere, but we recognize that increased use of biofuels and bioproducts can help hold the line on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, by reducing GHG loading associated with fossil fuel combustion due to substitution of biofuels for conventional transport fuels. Moreover, figures from the United States Environmental Protection Agency show that next-generation biofuels perform significantly better than corn- or soy-based alternatives.


A next-generation biofuel strategy will alleviate future pressure on food stocks, help us stabilize transport fuel prices, and be better for the environment than current alternatives - and has the potential to revitalize resource-based communities across the country.


Whether Canada will be at the forefront of these emerging technologies, and successfully capitalize on its vast forestry and agricultural biomass and innovative capacity in biotechnology, will depend on its research, training and technology deployment efforts, and on whether these efforts are integrated into a cohesive whole, focused on the market.


We need a next-generation biofuel strategy to get us there and we need it now.


Warren Mabee is an assistant professor in the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University and acting director of the Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy. Donald L. Smith is director of the Green Crop Strategic Research Network and director of the McGill Network for Innovation in Biofuels and Bioproducts in the plant science department at McGill University.


Warren Mabee and Donald L. Smith, Toronto Star, October 16, 2011


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Researchers to Develop Swine Production Sustainability Model 


With $5 million in funding from the USDA, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the University of Arkansas, Purdue University and Virginia Tech is developing an integrated management tool for swine production based on a comprehensive analysis of the swine production process - from crops used for feed to various methods of managing waste.


"A primary purpose of this work is to evaluate and mitigate the environmental footprint of swine-production facilities," said Greg Thoma, professor of chemical engineering, in a news release. "What action can we take to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from these facilities without making processes more expensive for the farmer? So we want to understand this impact and then come up with something that will enable farmers to make informed decisions about changes to production, such as breeding, feeding, waste-management and other practices. To do this, we must understand the entire system - or full life cycle - of swine production in this country."


The technologies will support the development of a life-cycle analysis that will serve as a model to demonstrate the environmental impact of various changes to production. For example, in a project spearheaded by Charles Maxwell, professor of animal science, the model will show how manipulating the diet of hogs will affect the amount and type of crops grown to feed the animals, as well as carbon emitted from the animals through burping and flatulence.


The model is flexible and allows for geographic customization. It will consider factors including weather patterns and annual rainfall, which affect decisions related to heating and cooling and the amount of manure that can be applied to land without affecting water quality.


Directed by Jennie Popp, professor of agricultural economics, the life-cycle cost analysis will measure the economic impact of process changes.


"The beauty of these models is that the algorithms behind them will show what will happen, both environmentally and economically, if a farmer decides to change the diet of his hogs - to substitute amino acids for vegetable proteins, for example," Thoma said. "What impact will this have on emissions? Will it increase production? The models will provide these answers."


The work includes an innovative project in which researchers remove nitrogen and phosphorus from pig manure and then use these nutrients to grow algae as feedstock that can be converted into biofuel.

Funded over five years from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the project includes researchers from the University of Arkansas, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Purdue University, Virginia Tech and the private sector.


Michael Fielding, October 17, 2011

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New Study Finds 400,000 Farmers in Southern Africa using 'Fertilizer Trees' to Improve Food Security  


On a continent battered by weather extremes, famine and record food prices, new research released October 14 from the World Agroforestry Centre documents an exciting new trend in which hundreds of thousands of poor farmers in Southern Africa are now significantly boosting yields and incomes simply by using fast growing trees and shrubs to naturally fertilize their fields.


The analysis of two decades of work to bring the soil-enriching benefits of so-called "fertilizer trees" to the nutrient-depleted farms of Africa was published in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.


"In only five African countries, there are now some 400,000 smallholder farmers using fertilizer trees to provide critically needed soil nutrients -- and many report major increases in maize yields -- which shows that it is possible to rapidly introduce innovations in Africa that can have an immediate impact on food security," said Oluyede Ajayi, Senior Scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre and the paper's lead author.


The study focuses on the rapid adoption of fertilizer trees by farmers targeted in research, training and extension programs in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In eastern Zambia alone, the study reports the use of fertilizer trees grew from a pilot project in the early 1990s that involved only 12 farmers to adoption by 66,000 farmers as of 2006. In Malawi, there are now 145,000 farmers using fertilizer trees.


In addition, across the region, researchers have documented a doubling of maize yields on farms employing fertilizer trees compared to those that did not, which has dramatically increased both incomes and food security. In Zambia, for example, incomes for farmers using the fertilizer trees averaged from $233 to $327 per hectare, compared to only $130 for unfertilized fields. And the increased yields provided between 57 to 114 extra days of food.


"We also found that when farmers plant these trees, water efficiency improves," Ajayi said. "Farmers are getting higher yields from the same amount of rainwater. And the trees are helping reduce the run-off and soil erosion that is a key factor behind food production shortfalls in Africa."


Fertilizer trees enhance soil health by drawing nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil through their roots and leaf litter, replenishing exhausted soils with rich sources of organic nutrients. Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre have been working since the 1980s to identify indigenous tree species, such as a fast growing variety of acacia that can be planted alongside crops to improve soil fertility. Among the many burdens facing African farmers are soils that are among the most depleted in the world. Yet for two-thirds of farmers on the continent, mineral supplements are either too expensive or simply unavailable.


In recent years, the Centre's work has focused on partnerships, particularly with national agriculture extension programs, that can help more smallholder farmers integrate fertilizer trees into their crop production systems. Ajayi said the rapid adoption of the fertilizer tree approach is partly due to the fact that researchers have turned over much of the project design and testing to farmers.


"Initially, these fertilizer tree projects were controlled mostly by researchers," Ajayi said. "But in the final phases of development, all of the testing in the field was completely designed and fully managed by the farmers themselves."


Ajayi also credited initiatives that focused on integrating the fertilizer tree approach with national agriculture policies and priorities.


Researchers believe wider use of fertilizer trees in Africa will require a two-track strategy that involves simultaneously engaging policy makers and farmers.


Ajayi cautioned that, while they are a natural way of supplementing the soil, fertilizer trees should not become entangled in the divisive "organic versus inorganic" debate over how to boost to increase crop yields in Africa. It is important to increase the use of both types of nutrient sources in complementary ways. For example, research has shown that coupling fertilizer trees with small doses of mineral fertilizer often results in generating the highest productivity and financial returns.


"We need to provide farmers in Africa with a wide range of soil fertility options and not focus on one type or another as being somehow superior," he said.


Researchers also say future work should focus on the potential for fertilizer trees to improve yields of high value crops, such as coffee and cocoa.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Burness Communications, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Burness Communications (2011, October 14). New study finds 400,000 farmers in southern Africa using 'fertilizer trees' to improve food security. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 17, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/10/111014122317.htm


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Federal R&D Panel Reports with Six Major Recommendations 


The expert panel leading the Review of Federal Support to R&D submitted its final report today to the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology. It makes a series of recommendations that call for a simplified and more focused approach to the $5 billion worth of R&D funding provided by the federal government every year.  The report can be read here.


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Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food


The Committee is meeting twice this week to hear witnesses on its study on the new agricultural policy framework Growing Forward 2 (Science and Innovation). Witnesses representing the University of Saskatchewan, University of Manitoba, British Columbia Fruit Growers' Association, Pulse Canada, and Genome Prairie appeared.


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Coming Events



Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, National Hemp Convention, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 21-22, 2011 


Canadian Weed Science Society Conference, Niagara Falls, November 21-24, 2011 


15th Annual Fall Canadian Agriculture Outlook Conference, Calgary, December 1-2, 2011


Canadian Agricultural Economics Society, Growing Forward in a Volatile Environment, Second Annual Canadian Agriculture Policy Conference, Ottawa, January 12-13, 2012


Canadian Organic Science Conference, February 21-23, 2012, Winnipeg, Manitoba 


6th Annual Growing the Margins: Rural Green Energy Conference and Exhibition and 4th Annual Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference and Exhibition, London, Ontario, March 5-7, 2012


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Frances Rodenburg, Editor