Soil health and producer adoption

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North Peace Applied Research Association (NPARA) is now in the third and final year of trials for its two research projects – Annual Cover Crop Mixes and Intercropping.

“The goal for both of these projects is to improve soil quality and to determine the forage value of such annual cropping systems,” explains María Angélica Ouellette, research coordinator with NPARA.

She adds that the reason NPARA wanted to conduct these projects is because of the issues that can affect monocrops.

“There’s potential for disease, there’s potential for loss of soil quality, and there is also potential to reduce the fertility of the soil. We wanted to see if these projects would work to show growers how they could improve their own fields. For example with intercropping, every grower could see the possibilities of growing two crops, and profit from them both, while increasing the quality of the soil and lowering inputs.”

Ouellette says that cover cropping is also important because some of these growers have livestock, so it would help them to have a little bit of that diversity.

“Cover crops increase the ability of the soil to regenerate in natural ways by increasing the soil organic carbon pool.”

Preliminary trials took place in 2018. The weather in 2019 did have an effect on some of the findings.

“It was pretty wet, so the data in both the intercropping and the cover crop mix trials were good data, but it could have been better,” she notes. “This year, we changed the cover crop blends at each treatment and duplicated the trial to get more data. With intercrop, we kept it the same to see if we could compare against last year’s data.”

This year, she says that the both trials are coming up and are looking pretty much as expected.

Eight cover crop mix trial treatments have been grown and so far, Ouellette has noticed that the mixes with brassicas are increasing the total biomass which is contributing to soil organic carbon.

As well, 8 intercrop trial treatments are being grown with the yield of both crops at each trial to be assessed.

“We found that those intercrops that were seeded with oat and barley were the ones that had the greatest yield, but it’s interesting because the greatest yield was found in the cereals,” she explains. “When oats were accompanied by peas, and barley was accompanied by peas or lentils, the peas and the lentils didn’t do well.”

She adds that during previous NPARA research tours, there has been a lot of interest especially in the intercrop trials, and there is some interest with the cover crop mixes from those who have livestock in the area.

“We are very excited about the intercrop trials because there is still a lot of monocrop in the area,” she says. “If we can keep on pursuing more projects on intercropping, we can actually promote the word that the adoption of intercropping could be a better idea than just monocropping.”

Ouellette says that the research team will start working on the final reports this fall, and they expect to share the results with growers and stakeholders in February or March 2021.

Funding for this project was provided by the governments of Canada and Alberta through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership under the Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change -Group program. In Alberta, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership represents a federal-provincial investment of $406 million in strategic programs and initiatives for the agricultural sector.

Contact

For more information about this research, connect with NPARA:
Phone: 780-836-3354
Email: nora@npara.ca

For more information about the Canadian Agricultural Partnership:
Phone: 310-FARM (3276)

For media inquiries about this article, call Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s media line:
Phone: 780-422-1005

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