AIC Notes TopIssue 2011-43            December 1, 2011 
In This Issue
DNA Barcoding Catches Food Fraudsters, IDs Animals
Seven Billion and Growing
Canada Should Lead Post-Kyoto
How Canada Can Be An Innovation Leader
Canadian Poultry Farmers Told to Stop Use of Bovine Antibiotic
State of the Art Lab in Morden
Ideology Muddies Water in Agriculture Reporting
Fifth of Global Energy Could Come from Biomass Without Damaging Food Production, Report Suggests
Industry Reels from Canola Production Chief's Death
National Workshop - Biochar in Canada: Agriculturral and Environmental Perspectives
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
Coming Events

DNA Barcoding Catches Food Fraudsters, IDs Animals

Scientists have discovered a range of new uses for a Canadian technology that can be used to peer into 30,000-year-old permafrost, detect phoney herbal medicines and catch invasive species before they sneak across borders.


Researchers from around the world are fingerprinting most of the planet's species by taking samples of their DNA and cataloguing them in a comprehensive reference library.


The DNA creates a so-called barcode that can identify real ingredients in food, quickly analyze water quality and reveal how the environment has changed over millenia.


Bob Hanner, a professor at the University of Guelph where the technique was developed, said barcoding gives governments, businesses and people a reliable way of knowing what they're eating, importing and buying.


We have a very powerful tool to identify species in processed products that you wouldn't normally be able to identify using traditional morphological techniques, Hanner said from Guelph, Ont., before heading to an international conference on barcoding in Australia starting Monday.


It's a very exciting time.


Researchers from dozens of institutions are steadily building the library of barcodes by taking short gene sequences from samples of birds, fish, mammals, insects and other life forms at herbaria, museums and other facilities.


They hope it will one day give them a master list of the world's species that can be used by corporate interests and government agencies for a growing number of applications.


Since being developed at Guelph in 2003, the technique has been adopted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a regulatory tool and was used to identify mislabelled cheap fish being sold at American restaurants as more expensive species.


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is using barcodes to collaborate with its U.S. counterparts to identify seafood, pest insects and pathogenic fungi. Environment Canada is also using it to measure species diversity in watersheds and identify materials they've confiscated, Hanner said.


But Hanner says that as the library grows, so do the ways they can use barcoding.


Scientists in Malaysia who are contributing to the plant barcode library used it to reveal that a herbal medicine didn't contain the ingredient it promised would treat malaria and diabetes. Others found weeds in herbal teas.


A team also discovered the presence of a rare woolly rhino, bison and moose from a sediment sample taken from Siberian permafrost dating back 15,000 to 30,000 years.


David Schindel of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life at the Smithsonian Institute said such permafrost samples let them look at how the environment and species have changed over centuries.


We'd be taking time slices up through the stratographic column to progressively younger times until we get to the present, he said from Washington, D.C.


So we'll ask, 'What happened to those species we saw at the bottom of the sequence Where are they now How have they shifted' And all those are indicators of climatic change.


Schindel said border agencies will be able to use a special quarantine barcode library to quickly detect agricultural pests, disease-carrying insects, fungi and invasive species before entering a country.


Researchers also hope that it might also answer one of science's most elusive questions.


I see this as addressing one of the grand challenges of biological science, which is to answer the question, 'How many species are on the planet' Hanner said.


That's a fundamental big science question that no one's been able to answer.


In 2005, there were 33,000 records covering 12,700 species in the Barcode of Life Data Systems at the University of Guelph. Now there are almost 1.4 million records banked, representing roughly 167,000 known and provisional species.


The scientists believe barcoding could become a standard way of doing business as discerning consumers and governments demand their goods are deemed to be genuine.


It's going to become increasingly important to keep international markets open, to have countries being able to authenticate their products, Schindel said.


Otherwise, they're simply not going to be able to get them in.


Alison Auld, The Canadian Press, November 27, 2011


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Seven Billion and Growing

To me this is the major problem facing the world," said Michael Trevan, dean of the faculty of agricultural and food sciences at the University of Manitoba. "Climate change may come and go... but we've got a bigger problem on our hands."


He noted world population is expected to reach 9.5 billion in the next 40 years, the equivalent of adding a country the size of Canada every six months, or 120 people every minute.


Manitoba's minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, agrees this issue will change the way food production is approached.


"The Earth's resources are finite and we have to recommit ourselves to the smart usage of the world's resources, or seven billion people can chew their way through those resources pretty quick," said Stan Struthers.


The province promotes locally produced food with a number of programs, but has also made investments aimed at increasing food production, remaining mindful of the province's export industry.


The minister said research and development have a role in supporting increased production, but need to be done under the right circumstances.


"We have to be careful when we talk about new strains and new technologies. The first question for me is, who benefits? If it's some big multinational corporation that is going to benefit I don't get as excited... if it's the Manitoba farmer who benefits, then I think we should be right there investigating these new possibilities," said Struthers.


New technologies, such as more effective pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, in addition to new breeds of high-yielding crops, helped increase crop production between the 1940s and 1970s - a period often dubbed the Green Revolution.


But Trevan doesn't think another Green Revolution is the solution.


"What we need is not another revolution, but a new paradigm," he said. "How we deal with this is going to be a challenge, because we're very good at thinking in individual silos, but this will require a holistic approach."


Part of that thinking must include reducing the amount of food wasted at home and in the fields, he said. Fifty per cent of Indian grain is destroyed one way or another during storage; enough to feed the entire subcontinent.


The long-term effects of developing new plant varieties and inputs must also be balanced with short-term gains, he added.


"You can't just take it from the point of view of the plant breeder who says, OK, I can make that twice as productive, because that will lead you into other problems. The more productive you make a plant, the more water and inputs it requires," he said.


But even when enough food is produced, it doesn't mean everyone is fed.


"At the present time, it's not an issue of food security, it's a problem of acquisition and pricing," said John Longhurst, director of resources and public engagement at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. "It's about access."




He noted many of the world's poor are farmers, but things don't improve when they leave the land and head for the city. "The goal of Canadian Foodgrains Bank is to keep small farmers on the land, using sustainable farming practices... doing what they are passionate about doing."


Kreesta Doucette of Food Matters Manitoba agrees farmer can use some support.


"Farmers these days are often not making a sustainable living, then we ask them to be sustainable, be the answer to health and tell them you also need to feed the world," she said. "That's a lot to throw on the backs of farmers."


The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization recently published, The State of Food Insecurity in the World. It points to solutions that would see farmers move away from monoculture and focus on knowledge-based production methods suited to local climates and production methods.


"I was really surprised and interested to hear they were calling for small-scale production as the solution to feeding the world," said Doucette.


According to the UN organization, maintaining current farming methods would result in 24 per cent less arable land by 2050, eight per cent less productivity and 160 per cent more greenhouse gases.


But arguably the most significant trend affecting food production in modern agriculture is the loss of biodiversity.


"In the last 80 years we've gone from 307 varieties of corn to 12, in terms of squash we've gone from 341 to 40 varieties and with tomatoes, from 408 varieties to 79. That's something to really think about," said Doucette. "Diversity does have some cost in terms of production, but it has huge benefits in terms of sustainability."




Some of those benefits include resistance to disease and drought, ensuring the security of food crops during periods environmental upheaval.


But Longhurst said there are also positive developments. He noted the last 20 years passed famine free, a stretch now broken by conditions in East Africa, but a positive indicator despite increasing pressure on the global food system.


In addition to population growth, those increasing pressures include the growing demand for meat as the middle class burgeons across the globe and greater demand for biofuels.


But greater access to food also has the ability to slow population growth, one of the most notable pressures affecting world food production.


"When news of the seven-billionth child arrived, I'm sure some of the people who heard it might have thought, why don't people just have smaller families?" said Longhurst. "But what we have discovered - what all NGOs have discovered - is people have more children when they are worried about their economic future. If they have confidence in the future and financial security, they have fewer children."


However, it's not just people in the developing world who have trouble affording and accessing food.

Although Manitoba is a food exporter with the ability to produce enough food for its population, Doucette said many Manitobans still don't have access to healthy food.


This is often the result of poverty or location, she said, pointing to northern communities as example.

Trevan agrees more can be done to increase what he calls "nutritional security" in Manitoba.


"Often people get the calories they need, but not the vitamins and minerals, or it comes at a very great cost," he explained.


But despite hurdles ahead, he remains optimistic for the future, with one caveat.


"I don't think it is going to be easy," he said.


Shannon VanRaes, Manitoba Co-operator, November 17, 2011


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Canada Should Lead Post-Kyoto

As Canada's environment minister travels to Durban, South Africa, to help deliver the coup de grace to the Kyoto protocol, he should read a copy of the latest United Nations report on agriculture.


With some justification, Environment Minister Peter Kent likes to refer to the Kyoto deal as the worst mistake of the former Liberal government. There can be little question that the 1990s attempt to tackle global climate change was badly flawed.


It left out even the largest of developing countries, it was focused on targets rather than solutions and its central design was to transfer industrial development from rich nations to poorer ones.


The Conservative government's solution, however, is even worse. Rather than lay out solid plans to curtail fossil fuel use, countries such as Canada, Japan, the United States and Russia are determined to delay any enforceable solution in favour of voluntary deadlines.


Still not on the table are any plans to rationally incorporate technologies proven to reduce emissions or proposals to put a universal price on the environmental impact of using fossil fuels.


To their credit, the developed nations agreed in prior gabfests to set aside some funds to help poorer countries adjust to the problems coming their way. Canada's contribution is said to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.


But if Mr. Kent has a chance to read the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's latest report, titled the State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture, he might be less inclined to take such a cavalier attitude to both the climate and to Canada's responsibility on this file.


According to the UN report, the world is facing an unprecedented challenge to continue feeding its growing human population and climate change is among the top culprits making this challenge so difficult to meet.


Vast agricultural areas are being rapidly degraded due to flooding, drought, severe weather and the depletion of underground water sources.


The green revolution of the last century that saw the world's cropland grow by 12 per cent and agricultural production expand by 150 per cent, pushing production in many areas beyond its sustainable capacity. The report notes a quarter of the world's prime agricultural land is "highly degraded," eight per cent is moderately so and 36 per cent is either stable or on the point of degradation.


As the second-largest land mass on the planet and a major supplier of quality food and clean energy, Canada has a significant responsibility to take a leadership role in finding solutions to the challenges spelled out in the UN report. Canada has already been targeted for its poor record in addressing greenhouse emissions, but its record on water conservation and efficient use of irrigation and its delinquency in cleaning up its energy-intensive agricultural and transportation industries are about to hit the fan.


Canada should be in Durban with real plans to deal with imminent problems rather than appearing to slip out of its prior unmet promises.


The editorials that appear in this space represent the opinion of The StarPhoenix. They are unsigned because they do not necessarily represent the personal views of the writers. The positions taken in the editorials are arrived at through discussion among the members of the newspaper's editorial board, which operates independently from the news departments of the paper.


Editorial, The StarPhoenix, November 29, 2011


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How Canada Can Be An Innovation Leader

It's not good enough to have an intellectual property policy based on the desire to assuage the demands of our trading partners. Canadians must think innovation policies through as a nation. Naturally, Canada must take account of global rules and the need for appropriate harmonization, but those rules provide a significant leeway.


Balancing innovation with efficiency


Are Canadians simply less creative and innovative than other countries? Should we see ourselves as consumers and users of the creativity of others? Exactly the opposite is true. Canada has a vibrant community of writers, songwriters, filmmakers, to name just a few. Canada ranks among the very top countries in published scientific articles per capita. Yet Canada also ranks much lower on the global innovation scale. Why? In short because Canadians have ideas, but many of them do not know how to exploit them and the policy environment is not well structured to support them.


What Canada needs at this critical juncture is a conversation about how to generate more economic impacts from innovation and creativity. As we look at our patent, copyright and other intellectual property rules, for example, how much protection do we actually need? How much is enough to create the right incentives, and how much is too much? Is our venture capital market good enough? Are our courts well equipped to deal with intellectual property matters?


The aim is clear and simple: Canada needs a policy machinery that is dynamic and responsive and generates more, not less, homegrown creativity and innovation. Canada's future economic growth depends on developing natural resources and agriculture but also - and perhaps more than anything else - on launching new ideas and new business models to implement them (think online games, high technology, and green technology). Even in agriculture, forestry and the exploitation of Canada's vast natural resources, the real value added that will grow the economy will come not primarily from the land but from the way Canadians exploit it and use new technologies to produce, extract and transform the resource sustainably. That is what a good, well-calibrated intellectual property policy would do.


How do we get there? That question is harder because developing innovation and creativity depends on more than copyright or patent laws. In his recent book That Used To be Us, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman suggests that there are five pillars to support innovation-based growth. I think he got it mostly right.


Education. Innovation and individual creativity must be integrated in every part of the curriculum in Canadian schools, from kindergarten to university. China is nowhere near that point and the United States keeps falling lower in world rankings. But Canada can do better.


Infrastructure. Canada can build and develop a significant comparative advantage by preventing the decay of its infrastructure and by avoiding the mistake of postponing the maintenance and enhancements necessary for economic growth.


Immigration policies. Canadians can probably be satisfied that the immigration rules work better here than in most other countries.


The right mix of regulation. That is where the intellectual property debate is so crucial. But innovation is also part of a broader ecosystem of rules.


Government-sponsored research and development. The link between publicly-funded research and universities and the commercialization of research outcomes needs fundamental rethinking. Is the approach of privatizing public research outcomes and patenting science (such as genes) even before it becomes a useful technology the best way forward? Probably not. Canada urgently needs a national discussion to devise better policies.


Brazil, China, India and many others want to engage, and win, the global innovation game. Now is the time to put Canada's innovation engine in higher gear.


Daniel Gervais is co-director of the intellectual property program at Vanderbilt Law School. Previously, Prof. Gervais was acting dean of the common law section at the University of Ottawa.


Daniel Gervais, Globe and Mail, November 30, 2011


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Canadian Poultry Farmers Told to Stop Use of Bovine Antibiotic

The Public Health Agency of Canada (CIPARS) is warning British Columbia poultry farmers and veterinarians to stop using a bovine antibiotic on chickens.


The agency believes the practice is behind a significant spike in a strain of Campylobacter in chicken that is resistant to an antibiotic commonly used to treat respiratory infections in human beings and cattle.


Routine testing of chicken from grocery stores detected a dramatic spike in drug-resistant Campylobacter bacteria in retail samples of B.C. chicken in 2009 and levels have remained stubbornly above normal in the province ever since.


Positive tests for the resistant strain of Campylobacter in retail chicken have ranged as high as 40% in B.C. and 28% in Saskatchewan compared with an average of less than 4% in the other provinces monitored by the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance.


Campylobacter is the most common food-borne pathogen in Canada. It is usually associated with substandard food handling and consumption of undercooked chicken.


The rate of human Campylobacter poisoning in B.C. has been about 30% above the national average during the past 10 years, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control.


CIPARS is comparing Campylobacter from human cases in B.C. and Saskatchewan to the bacteria from retail poultry to determine whether the same pathogen is infecting people who eat poultry.


'Off-label' fluoroquinolone


A bulletin to be released this week by CIPARS attributes the increase in drug-resistant Campylobacter in B.C. chicken to use of the antimicrobial drug fluoroquinolone.


The agency says veterinary fluoroquinolones labelled for cattle are being used "off-label" to prevent salmonella in chicken in breeder flocks.


Health Canada requires fluoroquinolone-based veterinary drugs for cattle to carry a warning not to use them in any other species.


Public health authorities want to curb the use of fluoroquinolone in chickens because the risk of spreading drug resistance could render those medications ineffective.


It is not unusual for veterinarians to use antibiotics labelled for one species on another species, but steps are being taken within the poultry industry to stamp out the practice.


Association warning


B.C.'s poultry farming association has issued a warning written by Ministry of Agriculture veterinarian Bill Cox in a July bulletin instructing producers not to use prescription drugs on their flocks except under veterinary supervision and not to use any drug without a veterinary diagnosis.


Chicken Farmers of Canada executive director Mike Dungate said antimicrobial resistance is one of the industry's "critical" concerns.


Chicken producers are required to report all medications given to their flocks to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency before they are sent for processing. That information is verified by government veterinarians, according to CFC safety program manager Steve Leech.


The CFC and CIPARS are developing a national on-farm surveillance program designed to record antimicrobial use and pinpoint the sources of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens.


"The CFC hopes the program will explain B.C.'s persistently higher incidence of antimicrobial-resistant Campylobacter and correlate that with on-farm practices," Leech said.


The CFC maintains there is no conclusive use of veterinary drugs on farms with the drug-resistant bacteria detected in samples taken from chicken in B.C. grocery stores., November 28, 2011


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State of the Art Lab in Morden

A half million dollar upgrade to the Morden research station means it is now at the forefront of Candian research to protect our crops against plant diseases.


The station underwent a major upgrade to its laboratory facilities that makes the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Station here certified as a Plant Pest Containment Level 3 (PPC3) facility.


"This is state of the art right now ... and it is the only one of its kind in Canada," suggested Dr. Khalid Rashid, a research scientist in cereal crop diseases and oilseed pathology.


It is the first PPC3 facility to be certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency under the new 'Containment Standards for Facilities Handling Plant Pests' in Canada.


The improvements keep the station at the forefront of the kind of research that started to become a priority for the facility about 22 years ago.


Originally established in 1989 as a containment lab primarily for research on flax rust, the work done here led to building up the genetic resistance in flax.


"It produced a new cultiver with a high level of immunity," said Dr. Rashid, who added that any flax crop he has examined since then "in the last almost 25 years has not shown signs of flax rust."


Since that time, regulations and standards have changed, so that meant the Morden facility had to be improved to keep up, and the Morden station became a priority given its proven track record.


"They basically raised the bar on us, and we had to renovate to meet the new standards."


He said the lab is now fullproof to keep rust spores contained. And it is a comprehensive effort that includes no air exchange with the outside environment, a high level filtration system and equipment for treating waste as well as treating staff to ensure spores do not get in or out of the lab.


The lab provides the highest level of safety available for both staff and the public, said Rashid, with containment through the use of specialized facilities, stringent operational procedures and state-of-the-art equipment.


An example of the kind of work scientists are performing in at the Morden Research Station is their investigation of Ug99 stem rust - a plant disease that has the potential to devastate wheat crops around the world.


Scientists are accelerating their efforts to learn more about it and develop new levels of rust-resistant varieties.


This research will give Canadian farmers the capacity to ward off a national disease outbreak and resulting drop in wheat production, and that in turn can have a significant impact on the national economy, added Rashid.


"The idea basically is to understand the new virulent strains of wheat rust and now to incorporate that into new cultivars," he said. "In case it does come into Canada, we have to be ready for it and we have to have resistance in our wheat cultivars."


The Morden research station received funding for the upgrade in the 2009 federal budget, which allocated $250,000 over two years to begin updating the laboratory. The funding went into modernizing the controlled environment facility that is used by scientists to conduct research on exotic plant pathogens.


The Morden research station is also closely linked with the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg as part of a network of 19 research centres and stations.


Lorne Stelmach, Morden Times, November 30, 2011


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Ideology Muddies Water in Agriculture Reporting 

One of the first things that gets drummed into any budding reporter's psyche is our obligation to "get it right."


But as time goes on, those of us who have read a lot of reports and listened in on a lot of policy discussions over the years increasingly find ourselves confronted with a dilemma.


Is it our duty to accurately report what people say -- or to report what is accurate?


When it comes to agriculture policy, there is a direct correlation between the growing interest in food issues and a rising number of "think-tanks" wading in with expert opinions.


Often those opinions are rooted in a certain ideology, which is fine. When the analysis supporting those opinions is fair and factual, those views can form the basis of a rousing -- and productive -- evolution in thinking toward sound policy.


But when it isn't, the likelihood of sound policy is torpedoed before the discussion even starts.


Such is the case with a recent report by economists Larry Martin and Kate Stiefelmeyer, released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Canadian Agriculture and Food: A Growing Hunger for Change is based on the premise Canada has an opportunity -- a moral obligation in fact -- to feed the world. It says due to excessive regulation and outdated policy, our agricultural industry is failing miserably.


"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 food superpower can yet be unleashed by removing the barriers erected by poor policy," the paper says.


It's a view that's popular in some circles. There's no denying Canada's agricultural fortunes depend on export trade or that ongoing policy reviews are important.


But what's striking about this report is it is peppered throughout by questionable analysis, misinterpretations of data and statements that are just plain wrong.


The authors rant about Canada's poor show of productivity in cereal production by comparing wheat and barley yields and yield increases against corn in Iowa. Aside from the fact Iowa has a significantly longer growing season and more heat units, corn can be hybridized. No one in the world has figured out how to do that with the more genetically complex wheat and barley crops just yet.


They refer to policies, such as "kernel visual distinction," as hampering the development of new, higher-yielding varieties. In fact, the policy of "kernel visual distinguishability" was nixed for barley about a decade ago and for wheat in 2008.


There are at least two instances where the report's commentary conflicts directly with the independent data provided to back it up.


For example, a 1997 map on world soil degradation provided by the United Nations' International Soil

Reference and Information Centre clearly shows most of Prairie Canada as having soils that are degraded or severely degraded. That map is consistent with other Canadian data.


But this report's commentary says the map "shows that Canada has suffered less from this than most other countries."


We are also told that "Canada is one of the few countries that has no water shortage," noting this country has nine per cent of the world's fresh water.


"These facts set the context for the challenge of feeding a world whose population is increasingly able to buy food."


Canada might have the fresh water, as in Manitoba's claim to having 100,000 lakes, but that doesn't mean it's available for farming. The agricultural lands in Western Canada are considered semi-arid, receiving only about 53 centimetres of precipitation annually.


Interestingly, the last time there was a big push to pull out all the stops and get make Canada rich feeding the world was in the late 1990s when the Canadian Agri-Food Marketing Council set a goal of achieving four per cent of the global agri-food market share by 2005. At the time, some of the federal government's own soil experts questioned whether such a target could be achieved sustainably.


In this report, these authors accuse the sector of lagging productivity because Canada's share of the growing world food market is between five and six per cent.


A Macdonald-Laurier op-ed based on the report has been widely reprinted across Canada, and a Globe and Mail columnist gave it high praise, concluding that "government policy has turned Canadian agriculture into a 'backwater' enterprise that drags down the larger Canadian economy."


Perhaps it needs some fixing, but things aren't quite that bad. Reporters are often accused of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. The same could be said for ideological economics.


Laura Rance, Winnipeg Free Press, November 26, 2011


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Fifth of Global Energy Could Come from Biomass Without Damaging Food Production, Report Suggests 

A new report suggests that up to one fifth of global energy could be provided by biomass (plants) without damaging food production.


The report reviews more than 90 global studies. It has been produced by the Technology and Policy Assessment function of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), which addresses key controversies in the energy field, and aims to provide authoritative and accessible reports that set very high standards for rigour and transparency.


A debate has been raging about the role biomass could play in the future energy system: some say it could play a major role in fuelling the planet, others argue it risks an environmental disaster. To get to the heart of the controversy, UKERC scientists at Imperial College London have undertaken the first systematic review of the evidence base.


The report finds that the main reason scientists disagree is that they make different assumptions about population, diet, and land use. A particularly important bone of contention is the speed with which productivity improvements in food and energy crop production can be rolled out.


"If we make the best use of agricultural residues, energy crops and waste materials then getting one fifth of current global energy supply from biomass is a reasonable ambition," says Dr Raphael Slade, the report's lead author and a Research Fellow at Imperial College London. The report finds that getting more than this is technically possible but requires assumptions about food production and changes in diets that look increasingly challenging, especially as people in Asia and Latin America begin to adopt a high meat western diet as incomes rise.


"The more bio-energy you want the harder it becomes to reconcile demand for food, energy and environmental protection" says Slade. Replacing all fossil fuels with biomass would be equivalent to all of global agriculture and commercial forestry combined, and would only be possible if we can grow more food on less land.


Technical advances could be the least contentious route to increased bio-energy production, but policy will need to encourage innovation and investment. A renewed focus on increasing food and energy crop yields could deliver a win-win opportunity as long as it is done without damaging soil fertility or depleting water resources. The report highlights the potential for policy to promote learning by encouraging development of sustainable biomass now, rather than waiting for the definitive answer on the ultimate potential.


"The main mistake is to think of this as all or nothing. There's plenty of scope for experimentation to make sure we get it right," says Dr Slade.


Energy is an essential input into global agriculture, and the interactions between these two areas need to be better understood. The report stresses the need for scientists working on food and agriculture to work more closely with bio-energy specialists to address challenges such as water availability and environmental protection. If biomass is required to play a major role in the future energy system the linkages between bio-energy and food production will become too important for either to be considered in isolation.


"Bioenergy may need to play a part in a future low carbon energy mix," says Dr Ausilio Bauen, Head of Bioenergy at Imperial College's Centre for Energy Policy and Technology. "Ensuring bio-energy, food and forests don't compete for land won't be straightforward. But, if we use land more productively, and make better use of available plant material, we should be perfectly capable of producing bio-energy, feeding a growing population, and conserving the environment all at the same time."


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by UK Energy Research Centre.

UK Energy Research Centre (2011, November 25). Fifth of global energy could come from biomass without damaging food production, report suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/11/111125161027.htm


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Industry Reels from Canola Production Chief's Death

Canada's canola industry is mourning the loss of an acclaimed Prairie weed researcher tasked with encouraging Canada's canola growers toward ambitious crop production targets.


Denise Maurice, vice-president of crop production for the Canola Council of Canada, died suddenly on Wednesday (November 23) in Winnipeg, the council announced on its website. No other details, including any plans for memorial services, were available Thursday night.  [Editor's Note: the memorial service is taking place December 1 in Winnipeg.]


"Denise was a good friend to so many of us, and a very respected professional," the council said on a memorial web page it set up for remembrances Thursday.


"Her enthusiasm, energy and commitment to her life and work made her one-of-a-kind. Her presence and leadership will be sadly missed."


Maurice, a past president of the Canadian Weed Science Society (CWSS), had specialized in that field of plant science while earning her bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Manitoba, supervised there by the late Ian Morrison.


By 1982 she was in Edmonton as the weed research supervisor for Alberta's provincial agriculture and rural development department, where she's credited with helping establish the province's herbicide resistance action plan and the first Alberta Weed Resistance Survey.


Maurice joined fertilizer firm Westco in 1995, setting up that company's agronomy extension program and developing the Certified Crop Advisor training program for integrated pest management.


Her work on that program included the development of AgroManager on Weeds, Insects and Diseases, an informational software series advising growers and extension workers on economic thresholds and scouting techniques against crop pests in Western Canada.


"Passion for answers"


Maurice then joined Agricore United as the Winnipeg grain company's technical development manager for crop protection, serving also as its technical advisor to trade merchants on the implications of pesticide use on international grain markets.


Maurice worked at AU through its 2007 merger into Viterra, and was prominent at that time in the CWSS, serving as its president in 2005. She also received the Outstanding Industry Award from the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) at that organization's 2007 conference in Texas.


"The agriculture industry has definitely benefited from Denise's passion for answers and solutions," AU vice-president Harold Schmaltz said in a release at that time.


"In particular, our customers' bottom lines are benefiting from the work Denise has initiated throughout her career, and her dedication to keeping farmers informed about changes and breakthroughs in weed sciences."


Maurice joined the Winnipeg-based Canola Council in 2009 as its VP for crop production, in charge of the canola industry group's agronomy team and industry issues related to production.


Council president JoAnne Buth, announcing the new hire in 2009, also noted Maurice's stature in the industry due to "her agronomic expertise, her dynamic presentations, and her ability to create innovative production resources for growers."


Maurice said at the time she was "confident" in the industry reaching its target of 15 million tonnes of sustainable canola production by 2015.


Country Guide, November 25, 2011


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National Workshop - Biochar in Canada: Agriculturral and Environmental Perspectives

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is funding a Strategic National Workshop entitled "Biochar in Canada: Agricultural and environmental perspectives."  The one-day workshop will bring together key persons representing the relevant Canadian expertise in academia, industry and government personnel in order to identify the challenges that must be solved to allow full development of biochar as a soil amendment in Canada.


Location: Montreal, Quebec


Date: February 1, 2012 (with a reception the evening of January 31, 2012)



- To establish a national consensus regarding the way forward for the utilization, production and deployment of biochar in Canadian agricultural systems;

- To create a white paper concerning the way forward for biochar research and a biochar industry in Canada;

- To initiate the establishment of pan-Canadian biochar research coordination.


Target audience: Industry, academia, non-profit organizations and government personnel within the biochar field. Sectors include biochar manufacturing, biochar and crop production, as well as biochar and environmental and economic sustainability.


This workshop will not be held in the traditional scientific conference format. In the morning there will be several presentations, including a keynote address by Prof. Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University and the International Biochar Initiative, entitled "Biochar: From science to product". The afternoon will be devoted to group consultations focusing on several aspects of biochar, followed by a reporting session where the content of the white paper will be laid out.


If you are interested in attending please RSVP by Friday, December 9, 2011 to by emailing


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Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food


The Committee had two meetings this week on its study on the new agricultural policy framework Growing Forward 2 (Competitive Enterprises). On November 29, witnesses appeared representing the Canadian Vintners Association and the Organic Farming Institute of British Columbia.  Dr. David Sparling, Professor, Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, appeared as an individual.


On December 1, witnesses include representatives of the Canadian Bankers Association, Farm Credit Canada and National Steel Car Limited.


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Coming Events


Roundtable for Women Working in Agricultural Sciences, sponsored by AIC and the NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the Prairies, Winnipeg, December 6, 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


Irrigated Crop Production Update Conference, Lethbridge, January 31 -February 1, 2012 


Conference Board of Canada Canadian Food Summit, Toronto, February 7-8, 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 


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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