Initiative looks to boost organic quality, yields

Researchers are looking at developing 
new crop varieties specific to organics

GUELPH, Ont. — Canada’s organic grain sector needs to ex-pand production but it’s not just about bringing new growers on board. There’s also a need to im-prove the skills of those who are already part of the industry.


Iris Vaisman with the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative and Katherine Stanley with the University of Manitoba made the point at the Guelph Organic Conference earlier this year.


“We’ve moving away from trying to pull conventional farmers to organic agriculture to better supporting those who are making the transition,” Vaisman said.


“There’s a huge demand for Canadian consumers looking for Canadian-grown organic grain. There’s a lot of potential for farmers to increase their yields.”


It’s hoped the effort will better connect organic farmers with the latest agronomic research to improve yield and quality. Improved communication all through the supply chain, from producers through to end users, is another goal.


In the area of production, a prairie-wide advisory team of researchers, extension specialists and producers has been organized. 


Knowledge related to soil fertility, weed management, crop rotations and grain quality is to be shared through workshops, field days, publications and web-based learning opportunities.


A website, www.pivotandgrow.com, has been developed as an online resource. It talks about the philosophy behind organics, production practices, marketing opportunities and includes a “starter kit” to help growers work through the certification process, understand the standards and connect to agronomists with an understanding of organic practices.


Stanley, who works with Martin Entz at the University of Manitoba, said research specific to organic systems is needed if the industry is to move forward. That includes developing new lines specific to organics rather than choosing varieties developed for the conventional agricultural sector.


“Varieties that are bred under organic conditions tend to do better under organic conditions.”


One finding relates to wheat but may apply to other grain types. By planting only larger-sized seed, yields under organic systems can be significantly improved, Stanley said.


Researchers are also looking at rotational strategies, green manure crops, higher seeding rates, optimal planting dates, seed placement and how these factors relate to weed and disease management. Organic zero-till systems are being investigated as well.


Vaisman said there are now close to 1,300 certified organic growers in the three prairie provinces and 128 livestock producers along with 225 handlers or processors and close to 1.4 million certified acres. There are about 475,000 acres of organic grain production and a similar amount pasture and forages.


The four-year project was conceived by the organic farm community and launched two years ago. There is $2.2 million in funding, including $1.2 million from the federal government’s Western Diversification Fund and support from industry including the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Food Security.


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