AIC Notes TopIssue 2011-39            November 3, 2011 
In This Issue
The Seven Billion Need Canada's Crops
B.C. Food Dependence May Deepen, Says Report
Canadian Agricultural Sector Set to Expand
Harvest Science, the CGC's Online Newsletter for Grain Producers Launched
Bioproducts Offer New Frontiers
Mussel Power
Biotech Sector Wants to Coexist with Conventional, Organic Growers
Growing Population Will Tap Water Resources
Crop Sensors Outdo Farmers at Choosing Nitrogen Rates
Cargill, BASF to Develop High Omega-3 Canola Oil
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
Coming Events

The Seven Billion Need Canada's Crops

 

World population has reached seven billion people and will grow to nine billion or more within 30 years. The incomes enjoyed by these new populations are growing more rapidly than ever. More food will be consumed in the next 50 years than in the rest of the history of humanity. Demand for food climbs with population and income, creating a huge opportunity. Canada should be poised to capitalize on this opportunity to feed the world. We are uniquely positioned due to our vast tracts of arable land, abundant water, infrastructure and long experience in the sector. And yet Canadian agriculture and agri-food business are not only failing to maintain their share of world markets, but are falling behind.

 

We could do so much better.

 

Canada has the third-largest and most accessible endowment of arable land per capita in the world, behind Australia and Kazakhstan. Most of Canada's competitors have less than half the arable land per capita that we do.

 

Many of the world's soils have been badly degraded, including much of Asia and Africa where growth in food demand is occurring. Canada has some of the most stable soils in the world, which constitutes another significant advantage for our country.

 

Much of the world faces some degree of fresh water scarcity. Not Canada. Our nation contains about nine per cent of the world's renewable freshwater supply and our use of renewable water resources is very low compared to our competitors'.

 

In addition to these magnificent natural advantages, Canada possesses three advantages created by the energy and intelligence of our people.

 

The first is infrastructure. In a comparative sense, it is much easier for Canadians to deliver their products to markets than many of our potential competitors.

 

Second, Canada maintains a world beating scientific and research-based capacity to support the industry.

 

Finally, Canadians enjoy a long history and experience with agriculture and food processing. We know what we're doing.

 

Yet our share of world markets is falling, our agricultural productivity is rising more slowly than our competitors', and our influence in world trade talks about agriculture is falling. As a result, our rural communities are forgoing greater prosperity, our food processors are losing out on export opportunities, and our economy is missing out on potential growth. That is a missed opportunity for Canada. But it is also far more: At a moment when it is not clear that the world can meet the growing demand for food, it is a potential humanitarian tragedy for the globe. Canada faces both an economic and a moral imperative to do better.

 

The solution is largely in the hands of Canadians and our governments. Canadian policies were developed in a world of surplus, but we've been increasingly in scarcity for over five years; it's time for our food policy to catch up with reality. Here are just three areas where old policies hold us back:

 

First, Canada's regulatory system is an oppressive weight on innovation in the food sector that not only discourages investment, but drives it out of the country while destroying opportunities for Canada to be an early adopter of game-changing new technologies.

 

Second, our preoccupation with subsidizing small farming operations distorts farmers' decisions, reduces our competitive advantage and reduces the amount of capital available for investment. In total, according to the OECD, Canadian government financial support for agriculture remains between 20 and 25 per cent of gross farm income on average. These policies do the farm and food sector no favour. Our big competitors, countries such as Australia and New Zealand, have reduced their market support to below 10 per cent, or have begun to replace market support with policies aimed at improving productivity and the environment. They are the countries now winning markets that used to be Canada's. They are the countries now at the cutting edge of agricultural and food processing technology where Canada used to be.

 

Third, Canada suffers from serious tariff and non-tariff barriers in accessing markets that are big consumers of products that Canada can supply. In other words, there are markets where consumers want products made in Canada but which are partly or wholly closed to Canadian firms because of trade barriers. Yet Canada's ability to influence global trade talks in favour of more open markets for food and other agricultural products has declined because of our obdurate insistence on our own protectionism in sectors like dairy and eggs.

 

These wounds are largely self inflicted. Policy-makers in particular must face up to the fact that this country's laws and regulations are sadly out of date, reflecting a mistaken belief that agriculture and food processing are industries of the past, not the future. Canada's potential as a world leader in farming, food and food processing can yet be unleashed. An increasingly hungry world deserves no less.

 

By Larry Martin, the lead author of Hungry for Change, recently released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, www.macdonaldlaurier.ca. He is a senior research fellow at the George Morris Centre in Guelph, Ont., and a research advisory board member for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

 

Vancouver Sun November 3, 2011 

 

Back to top  

 

 

 

B.C. Food Dependence May Deepen, Says Report

 

British Columbia's near total dependence on imported fruits and vegetables leaves B.C. residents vulnerable to food-supply interruptions and price shocks, according to a newly released white paper by a consortium of the province's research universities.

 

Climate change events, such as the fires that have devastated Russia's wheat crops, frost-killed tomato crops in the United States and Mexico and recent flooding in Thailand, the world's leading exporter of rice, underscore the inherent risks of depending on global trade for food, said Aleck Ostry, lead writer of the report Climate Change and Food Security in British Columbia released, Wednesday by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

 

"There needs to be more balance in a world where you have climatic disasters," said Ostry, a community health researcher based at the University of Victoria. Supply interruptions of wheat in 2010 and rice in 2008 and again this year, spurred many nations to close their borders to exports.

 

The onus is on governments to step in and ensure that baseline levels of food are being produced locally, he said.

 

About three quarters of the fruits and vegetables eaten in B.C. are imported - mainly from California - and the province's capacity to grow field crops has fallen "precipitously" in the last 25 years, Ostry said.

 

"Crops like carrots and onions and field crops like that have really declined quite a lot," he said. Among field crops, only potato production has remained stable.

 

Production of greenhouse crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers has increased in B.C., but they are expensive products grown mainly for export.

 

The news isn't all bad. B.C. is at or near self-sufficiency in eggs, dairy and meat.

 

B.C.'s strong beef and dairy industries come with a significant environmental cost, though, the report notes. Cattle and manure are prodigious producers of carbon dioxide and potent greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide.

 

Long-term drought in California has depleted groundwater and put increasing pressure on the Colorado River, which supplies water for much of the state's agricultural output, the report notes.

 

"Given that (California) is B.C.'s main source for fruit and vegetables, diversification away from this region should be a priority for B.C. food security policy," the report says.

 

B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae said the government is actively trying to grow local demand and international demand for B.C. produce, noting that by 2020, Canada will be one of just a handful of food-exporting nations in the world.

 

B.C. and the federal government are in the middle of a five-year AgriFlexibility program of investment in agricultural infrastructure and innovation totalling $500 million, said McRae.

 

"The more food we grow in British Columbia, no matter where it goes, the better for the economy," he said.

 

The growth in farmers' markets - 175 across B.C. and growing - signals that people are actively seeking out local produce, he said.

 

The chairman of the BC Agriculture Council was skeptical, saying the province's approach to food security and competitiveness is short-sighted.

 

"I think looking at the industry long-term, if we continue to ignore the infrastructure that is necessary, if we continue to create an uncompetitive environment for agriculture then (food security) is going to be a concern for us," said Garnet Etsell, who spent Wednesday at meetings with the minister and other officials at the legislature.

 

The return of the provincial sales tax and the provincial carbon tax are going to suck $20 million and $65 million respectively from farmers' pockets each year, he said.

 

"The industry had a cumulative net loss last year of $85 million and you could argue that's because of poor government policy," said Etsell.

 

B.C. needs to increase food production by 30 per cent between 2001 and 2025 just to maintain the current level of self-sufficiency, according to a 2006 report on the province's food security produced by the ministry of agriculture.

 

"Fifty years ago, we probably had 10,000 more farms and 20,000 more farmers producing food . . . we were probably fairly self-sufficient at that time," Ostry said.

 

Today, about half the food we consume in B.C. is imported, he said.

 

"Where we are least self-sufficient - fruits and vegetables - is a concern because those are the foods that our nutritionists are telling us we are missing from our diets and that by eating more of them we would reduce some of the diet-related illness that are endemic in our population," Ostry said.

 

Provincial NDP leader Adrian Dix has called for the province to reinvest in the popular but largely defunct Buy BC program that promoted local products at the retail level and for a provincial institutional buying program that would encourage schools and hospitals to buy locally grown food for the meals they serve.

 

Earlier this year, the province launched a school-based program that delivers two servings of B.C.-grown fruits and vegetables every other week to children in more than 1,000 schools at intervals through the school year.

 

The food security report warns that British Columbians will have to achieve greater self-sufficiency while managing the effects of climate change on our own agricultural sector, from heavier rainfall near the coast to drought and declining access to water in the Interior and to the North.

 

While rising temperatures could increase grain yields in some parts of the province, extreme precipitation events may damage soil and crops, the report says.

 

Severe weather events triggered payouts to farmers who suffered crop losses of about $80 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to ministry documents.

 

The report urges further work be done to assess the carbon footprint of the food industry's entire value chain from farm production, processing, transport and retail, rather than just focusing on "food miles," the distance foods travel to market.

 

A solid environmental evidence base will help guide the way forward for food policy-makers who will have to tackle the complexities of expanding and regulating local food production in a sustainable way, Ostry said.

 

Randy Shore, Postmedia News, November 2, 2011

 

Back to top    

 

 

Canadian Agricultural Sector Set to Expand

 

Canada's agricultural sector is projected to expand at a rate near 2 per cent in 2012, and between 2 and 3 per cent in subsequent years, according to the new Canadian Agricultural Prospects report released by BMO Capital Markets Economics.

"The livestock segment should grow at a comparatively fast pace in the area of 3 per cent next year, as producers respond to still-favourable prices," said Kenrick Jordan, Senior Economist, BMO Capital Markets. "In particular, livestock production should get a lift from the expected re-opening of the South Korean market to Canadian beef. Moreover, pork exports to Asia should continue at a brisk clip."

Mr. Jordan also noted that crop production is slated to grow by about 1.5 per cent in 2012 as planted acreage and yields move back to more normal levels and prices remain elevated.

"The sector has shown remarkable adaptability, evident in superior productivity growth, rising export orientation, a shift in output mix toward value-added products, and the launch of new enterprises like greenhouse vegetable production and specialty crops," said Mr. Jordan. "These trends must hold for the sector to enhance its competitiveness."

"Canadian agricultural producers faced some challenges this year as many prairie grain growers had to deal with epic moisture levels and livestock farmers contended with rising input costs," said David Rinneard, National Manager, Agriculture, BMO Bank of Montreal. "However, Canada's farmers have a wonderful track record of perseverance and success. With a return to better growing conditions, favourable prices, and continued demand, the 2012 table appears set for the industry to expand in the coming year."

Mr. Jordan noted that it is specifically critical for farmers to boost productivity. "Competition is intensifying, as 'non-traditional' producers like Brazil, Argentina and Russia make inroads into global markets. In addition, sophisticated risk management strategies will be needed to address volatility in input and output prices, production and profits. Given the need for ongoing cost reduction, innovation, market diversification and risk management capacity, consolidation is likely to continue based on larger, more capital-intensive and more complex operations."

The report also included the following:

- Agricultural production is forecast to grow above the longer-term trend beyond 2012, at annual rates between 2 and 3 per cent

- Continued price strength should support further increases in crop production.

- The prices of major grains and oilseeds are expected to remain above historical norms and to trend higher amid robust demand from developing countries, continuing expansion of biofuel production globally, and increasingly scarce resources such as arable land and water.

- Meat demand is projected to grow briskly, as expanding populations in fast-growth developing countries broaden their diets, which would be positive for both livestock and crop producers.


"Agricultural production should also be promoted by the growing demand by advanced-country consumers for products embodying a range of attributes - related, for instance, to health, environmental sustainability and food safety - that offer scope for increased value-added as well as by the development of niche markets like greenhouse vegetables, organics, and specialty crops," suggested Mr. Jordan.

The complete report can be downloaded at www.bmocm.com/economics.

Source: BMO Financial Group, in Farms.com, October 31, 2011

 

Back to top

 

 

Harvest Science, the CGC's Online Newsletter for Grain Producers Launched

 

The Canadian Grain Commission's Grain Research Laboratory has launched an online grain science and technology newsletter for producers called Harvest Science.

 

"Harvest Science is a way to communicate with producers and show them how our research and scientific work contributes to the quality and marketability of their grain," said Peter Burnett, Director of the Grain Research Laboratory.

 

The theme for the first issue of Harvest Science is: Quality grain means safe grain. The issue explores the Grain Research Laboratory's grain safety work in areas such as Fusarium head blight and shows how its research influenced last year's changes in grading tolerances for fusarium-damaged kernels.

 

Producers will also find information on grain safety topics including Ochratoxin A and safe storage as well as a photo essay showing how they can contribute to grain safety by sending in grain samples to the Canadian Grain Commission's Harvest Sample Program.

 

While primarily focused on communicating with Canadian grain producers, Harvest Science also provides updates to the scientific community on the programs of the Grain Research Laboratory.

 

To read the first issue of Harvest Science visit www.grainscanada.gc.ca and sign up to receive notification of future issues through the Canadian Grain Commission's RSS feeds.

 

The Canadian Grain Commission is the federal agency responsible for establishing and maintaining Canada's grain quality standards. Its programs result in shipments of grain that consistently meet contract specifications for quality, safety and quantity. The Canadian Grain Commission regulates the grain industry to protect producers' rights and ensure the integrity of grain transactions.

 

Canadian Grain Commission Press Release, November 1, 2011

     



  
Bioproducts Offer New Frontiers 

 

Automobile panels from wheat straw. Cigarette paper from flax. Flower pots from potato starch. Textiles from hemp.

 

All are bioproducts -- industrial goods made from crop fibre.

 

Throughout the world, companies are beginning to use biomaterials, including agricultural fibre, to produce everyday items.

 

It's part of a small but growing movement by manufacturers to replace petroleum-based composites, such as plastics and fibreglass, with renewable biofibres in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint.

 

And Manitoba farmers are well positioned to provide them with the fibre they need, says Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, the province's general farm organization.

 

Manitoba's crops generate 4.7 million tonnes of straw every year, less than half of which is actually required for livestock and soil improvement, Chorney told a recent international biofibre conference in Winnipeg.

 

Burning crop residue is strictly regulated in Manitoba. This potentially leaves large volumes of straw available for secondary uses, such as supplying the growing biofibre market, says Chorney, a grain and oilseed producer.

 

Exports are critical for Manitoba's agricultural and agri-food industry, which generates 9.5 per cent of the province's gross domestic product. He says biofibre could become a valuable contributor.

 

"Clearly we are not going to eat our way to new markets, so we need to do more with what we currently have."

 

Manitoba is in a good position to produce agricultural biofibre, especially from flax and hemp, because its climate and soils are well suited to growing those crops, says Jeff Kraynyk, agri-energy manager for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

 

"The future is very promising," Kraynyk says.

 

The Manitoba government actively promotes the bioproducts industry. Its goal is for the sector to generate annual revenues of $2 billion by 2020, with 80 per cent of that coming from rural and northern communities.

 

The Winnipeg-based Composites Innovation Centre, a government-industry corporation that develops composite materials for manufacturers, helps support the effort.

 

Manitoba currently has 43 firms involved in researching, developing or producing bioproducts.

 

The province has had mixed success with projects in the past. A large strawboard manufacturing plant west of Winnipeg went bankrupt 10 years ago. A similar project proposed for southwestern Manitoba never got off the ground.

 

But Chorney says biofibre projects can succeed if they use proven technology, are competitive and sell to established markets.

 

Ron Friesen, FCC Express, October 28, 2011

 



Mussel Power

 

It's a surf-and-turf research deal like no other.

 

A potential new natural fertilizer product, which has been branded as AquaGrow by Prince Edward Aqua Farms in New London, is being tested at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Harrington Research Farm to determine its usefulness for organic and conventional farming.

 

"AquaGrow is a byproduct (from) the wash from when they bring the mussels in at harvest time," says Basil Dickson, who is a research technician with high-value crops at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

 

"They're covered in a muddy material. In order to be presentable when they market them they need to wash this off. Traditionally it's gone back into the estuary but then that's caused tunicates to be released back in and a buildup of silt in the waterway."

 

PE Aqua Farms approached Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada a while back to test this possible new product for use as a soil amendment.

 

"They had a field (of rye grass) next to their mussel plant that they had spread it on to dispose of it and what they noticed was the rye grass was growing really well with few weeds," Dickson says.

 

This summer a variety of crops were tested at Harrington Research Farm: barley, rye grass, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and carrots.

 

"We've also researched grass on golf courses and pastureland. We've done hydro-seeding where we put seed in the AquaGrow liquid and then spread it on land to see how that grows," Dickson says.

 

The research project consisted of four treatments; firstly of a zero control test with no fertilizer, just plain old soil with no amendments. A second study plot focused on what typical commercial farming operation would do in terms of fertilizer. The third was a straight application of pure AquaGrow.  The final was a half-and-half application of AquaGrow and fertilizer.

 

"(AquaGrow) is about .2 per cent nitrogen. There are a lot of micronutrients in it. Iron is a big component. That's one thing we found with the turf (test) was there wasn't a lot of yield response but there was a lot of colour; we think the green came from the natural plant chlorophyll enhanced by the iron content but we're still looking at that. . . ," Dickson says.

 

AquaGrow's micronutrient profile might be of interest to different growers because of their specific requirements for their crops.

 

"Some crops might need zinc, for example, to prevent a disease condition and so that (micronutrient) profile might fit a cabbage crop better than a carrot crop so those are things that we're exploring right now," Dickson says.

 

The yield from each crop in this research project, which was funded by PE Aqua Farms, will determined after the harvested. Other factors such as disease and insect damage will also be evaluated.

 

The project is still in its infancy but the results from this stage should be determined early in the new year. The goal is to have AquaGrow available as a commercial product.

 

And because all mussel growers would be dealing with a similar byproduct of the mussel harvest there is the potential to access even more and thus reduce the amount being returned to Island waterways.

 

"(Disposal of it is) problematic from an environment and an economic standpoint. I think (PE Aqua Farms has) really taken a leadership role on this and it's going to be a benefit to not only their plant but to the (mussel) industry on the Island. . . ," Dickson says.

 

"(In addition), fertilizers are expensive so if we can find a way to replace even a portion of that production cost that╣s going to be a benefit to the farmer and to their bottom line."

 

Mary MacKay, The Guardian, October 31, 2011

 

Back to top 

 

 

Biotech Sector Wants to Coexist with Conventional, Organic Growers

 

Massive growth in the genetically modified food industry has given rise to a complex and messy global trade environment and created points of friction from the farmer's field to the highest courts.

 

The world's top agribusiness scientists, corporate executives and government regulators are gathered in Vancouver this week to chart a course to peaceful coexistence between genetically modified food crops, conventional crops and the organic food industry.

 

The fifth biannual conference - GMCC-11- tackles issues from unintentional genetic drift in the field to supply chain contamination, international trade barriers and a divided and sometimes hostile public.

 

Among the recurring themes of the conference is what agribusiness terms "low-level presence." Crops grown with different methods for specific markets that have to share the same transportation and processing facilities can become mixed in small amounts with one or the other. More ominously, genes from modified plants turn up in fields of conventional or organic plants, setting off legal disputes or the destruction of contaminated crops.

 

"Often you are going to have lowlevel presence, where a small amount of a product that is approved in the country of production is present that is not approved in the country that is buying," said conference co-chair Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, an economist from the University of Missouri.

 

Producers, processors and government regulators have wrestled with the degree of physical separation required between GM, conventional and organic crops from field to fork since the first GM crops entered the marketplace a decade ago.

 

Countries around the world are in different stages of acceptance of genetically modified organisms both in terms of trade regulation and public opinion, he said.

 

Europe remains a patchwork of regulations, he noted. GM corn is being grown in countries such as Portugal and Spain, while a handful of EU countries have strict bans on genetically modified organisms.

 

"European governments have been developing coexistence policies from some years, but in North America the process is more market-driven," Kalaitzandonakes said. "Buyers and sellers in the marketplace negotiate the use of space in agriculture and processing to give consumers what they want."

 

Managing trade between markets and nations with different approaches is fraught with peril.

 

Canadian grain trade was disrupted when an experimental transgenic flax called Triffid not even approved for sale in Canada turned up in small quantities in conventional flax destined for Europe. All stores of the seed were subsequently destroyed. Canada and the United States have completed safety assessments and approved a wider variety of genetically modified crops and products than any other jurisdictions in the world, and there are no labelling requirements for foods containing GM ingredients.

 

Nearly all of the soybean, corn, canola and cotton grown in North America is genetically modified, and all are widely used in food processing and as animal feed in the production of meat, eggs and dairy.

 

Although Europe is open to GM soy products, some countries have labelling requirements for GM foods or have not yet approved other biotech crops widely grown in North America, an "asynchronicity" that leads to trade problems and limits markets for farmers in the United States and Canada, Kalaitzandonakes said.

 

Maintaining separate supply chains for GM, conventional and organic is expensive, so commodities often share transport and processing facilities. People who buy organic foods are willing to pay a premium for products that are free of GMOs and for the expense of smaller scale production, Kalaitzandonakes said.

 

However, the vast majority of trade in commodity crops is price-driven, which is why commodity farmers - especially those in North and South America - have embraced genetically modified plants that increase yields and reduce loss, he said.

 

R. Shore, Vancouver Sun, October 28, 2011

 

Back to top 

  

 

Growing Population Will Tap Water Resources  

  

As the world's population hits seven billon this week, the United Nations is warning that the planet's water resources will come under intense pressure.

 

Most population growth is in the developing world and "dwindling water supplies is the environmental issue most often raised in developing countries," says the UN Population Fund's State of World Population 2011 report.

 

And so they should be, argues Lester Brown, an author and founder of the Earth Policy Institute.

 

Brown points out that agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of the water used every year on the planet. With more mouths to feed, the world's poorest countries will make increasing demands on the resource.

 

"The demand for drinking water goes up but that's trivial. The demand for water to produce food is the big one. It takes a thousand tons of water to produce one ton of food. So when we look at the water issue it's really a food issue," Brown says.

 

Countries like China and India are already buying vast tracts of agricultural land in Sudan and Ethiopia, writes Brown in his most recent book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. And the purchase of agricultural land means the purchase of the water to irrigate that land.

 

But it isn't just developing countries that need to be worried. Canada is at risk, too. Canada is to fresh water what Saudi Arabia is to oil. Canada has a lot of it. The problem with that analogy is Saudi Arabia knows how much oil they have (but doesn't tell anyone). Canada, on the other hand, has never done a clear accounting of its ground water resource.

 

"I use the image of groundwater being like people with straws and blindfolds on in a big bathtub. Everybody's sucking the water out of the bathtub and it's fine until the very moment that the last drop of water is gone," explains Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

 

Canada, though, is in an enviable position. We may not know how much there is but at least there seems to be plenty. Developing countries with growing populations know they are running out.

 

That's where groups like One Drop come in. It is a non-governmental organization started by Guy LalibertÚ, the founder of Cirque du Soleil. The group uses theatre to educate people in developing countries - like Haiti - about water. It also partners with Oxfam on projects to bring water to those most in need.

 

"The issues of water today are issues of poverty and not issues of resources," says Marie-Anne Champoux-Guimond, One Drop's water and education adviser. "We have to change our behaviour and our relationship with water because we don't use it in a sustainable way."

 

Max Paris, CBC News, October 30, 2011

 

Back to top

 

Crop Sensors Outdo Farmers at Choosing Nitrogen Rates

  

Choosing how much nitrogen (N) to put on corn fields isn't something farmers take lightly. Many factors go into the decision, including past experiences, the timing of application, yield goals, and results from soil tests.

 

Nevertheless, crop sensors can select N rates for corn that outperform those chosen by farmers, according to more than 50 on-farm demonstration projects conducted in Missouri from 2004 to 2008. Compared to producers' N rates, sensor-selected rates increased yield by almost 2 bushels per acre, on average, while reducing by 25% the amount of excess N that was applied to fields but not removed in grain.

 

As concerns about N pollution continue to mount, the sensors offer a way to cut fertilizer inputs without hurting yield or profits. "The most important thing, I think, is that we were able to make progress on both fronts: The technology slightly improved production and slightly improved environmental outcome," says the study's leader, Peter Scharf, a University of Missouri extension agronomist. "There has been talk about win-win, but really there have not been a lot of approaches that have actually [achieved] that."

 

Funded by the USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants program, the Missouri DNR Nonpoint Source Pollution Control program, and the USEPA Special Grants program, the study appears in the November-December issue of Agronomy Journal.

 

Scharf explains that although optimal N rates can vary substantially within and between fields, most U.S. corn growers still apply the same rates to entire fields or even entire farms. Many farmers in Missouri and elsewhere also spread N fertilizer months before planting, often the November before.

 

As fertilizer and seed costs keep climbing, however, corn producers are feeling financial pressure to apply N more precisely-in amounts that satisfy crop requirements but don't exceed them. To help farmers with this, in 1997 Scharf began studying methods for predicting where to put more N in fields and where to put less before sowing crops, since that's the system most people use. But he and his colleagues eventually turned to crop sensors, employed after plants start growing, as a more accurate means to diagnose N deficiency and sufficiency.

 

The sensors take advantage of what farmers know already from experience and common sense, Scharf says: Crops with enough N are darker green and taller, while N-deficient crops are lighter and shorter.

After developing a technique for translating sensor output into a suitable N rate within a few seconds-work that was published in 2009-Scharf and his collaborators began taking the technology to farms.

 

Fifty five demonstrations were eventually conducted across a broad swath of Missouri's corn-growing region. In most cases, two or three sensors were attached to N applicators already owned by farmers or their service providers, and then used to side-dress N at variable rates to corn in growth stages ranging from V6 and V16. At the same time, fixed N rates chosen by farmers were applied in other areas, allowing comparison of the two techniques.

 

An average of 14 pounds/acre less N was applied when sensors chose the rates, the researchers found, without affecting yields. In fact, during the exceptionally wet spring of 2008, sensor use actually boosted grain yield by 8 bushels/acre, on average, over what producer rates achieved-a significant bump that brought the overall yield gain with the sensors to 2 bushels/acre over all 55 fields.

 

Scharf believes yield increased significantly in 2008 because the sensors actually chose higher N rates than farmers did that year, better compensating for fertilizer lost through heavy rainfall. And this yield bump, coupled with an overall reduction in N fertilizer from 2004-2007, ended up increasing partial profit by an average of $17/acre across all farms.

 

Despite the sensors' benefits, however, "the adoption numbers are still quite small," Scharf says. Complete systems currently range in price from $10,500 to $16,500 and learning to use them involves time and expense, as well. Still, these aren't the main hurdles to wider adoption, he adds. The bigger one is getting farmers to side-dress N during the growing season, rather than fertilizing in spring before planting or even the fall before.

 

The unusually heavy rains of the past four years may change that. Because applying N months in advance gives it more time to leach and run off, many farmers have lost loads of it-and, therefore, money and yield-in recent rain-soaked years. That leaves one option: Applying the nutrient during the growing season.

 

"If this weather keeps up, I think we'll see more people going toward in-season N application," he says.

"And that will be a big obstacle out of the way to using the sensors."

 

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at https://www.agronomy.org/publications/aj/view/103-6/aj11-0164-pub.pdf.

 

American Society of Agronomy Press Release, November 1, 2011

 

Back to top

 

Cargill, BASF to Develop High Omega-3 Canola Oil 

  

Agrifood giant Cargill and seed biotech firm BASF Plant Science plan to work jointly toward a "next-generation" genetically modified canola oil with boosted levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

 

Minneapolis-based Cargill and Germany's BASF say their multi-year development and commercialization deal brings "complementary competencies" to the table to co-develop a new dietary source of EPA/DHA-rich polyunsaturated fatty acids.

 

Those competencies, the companies said Wednesday, include Cargill's "food applications capabilities and existing commercial relationships with major food manufacturers" and BASF's "expertise in genetically enhancing EPA/DHA levels in canola seed oil and deregulating it for use in food products."

 

The two companies expect the new canola oil to allow food, drug and supplement makers to "deliver the potential health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in a wide variety of new, cost-effective consumer products available by the end of the decade."

 

The products generated through the deal are expected to address "two key issues" for companies that aim to broadly deliver omega-3s to consumers: shelf stability and cost.

 

"By addressing stability and cost, we are confident that EPA/DHA canola oil will be embraced by food, pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement manufacturers globally," Cargill Specialty Canola Oils president Jenny Verner said in the two firms' joint release Wednesday.

 

BASF Plant Science said it foresees a total investment of more than US$208 million over the life of the agreement.

 

Cargill and BASF cited recent market research as showing the global market for foods, beverages and supplements incorporating omega-3s was worth almost US$7.5 billion in 2010 and is forecast to grow 15 to 20 per cent per year through 2015.

 

A "growing body of scientific evidence" links dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids with benefits for heart and brain health, the two companies said, citing the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey as showing EPA/DHA consumption in that country today is less than 185 milligrams per day on average.

 

Health experts in various countries recommend intake of 250 to 500 mg per day for positive health benefits from EPA/DHA, the companies said.

 

Country Guide, November 2, 2011

 

Back to top

 

Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food

  

The Committee meets again on November 3rd to continue hearing witnesses on its study on the new agricultural policy framework Growing Forward 2 (Science and Innovation). Witnesses representing the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Manitoba Forage Council and Canadian Poultry Research Council, are appearing.   

 

Back to top  
 

 

  
  
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 Forage and Grassland Association Conference and AGM, Saskatoon, December 13-14, 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

 

5th World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists, Quebec City, September 17-21, 2012 

 

Back to top 

AIC LogoAIC Notes is a weekly update provided as a service for AIC members.  Please do not circulate or post.  The content of AIC Notes does not represent official positions, opinions or support of AIC or its members. 

Frances Rodenburg, Editor