Lab Canada

$10.7M supports national research cluster in organic agriculture

Halifax, NS – A new cluster devoted to scientific research and education about organic agriculture, the Organic Science Cluster II, has been launched at Dalhousie University. A sequel to an earlier, five-year-old cluster – the new cluster supports research and development in collaboration with the Organic Federation of Canada. Funding includes $8 million from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and $2.7 million from industry partners.

Like its predecessor, the research cluster will be managed by the OACC at Dalhousie on behalf of the Organic Federation of Canada. It will involve more than 200 scientists and graduate students across the country, looking at ways to improve crop breeding, enhance soil to improve plant health, and develop new approaches to managing crop pests and diseases as well as livestock parasites.

“We will have researchers from across Canada helping us improve the yield of our crops, recycle our resources, have better control of our weeds, take better care of our farm animals, in order to offer quality food to Canadian consumers and consumers in countries where our organic products are exported,” said Tim Livingstone, speaking on behalf of the Organic Federation of Canada.

The OACC will administer the cluster’s funding across 37 projects at 36 research institutions across Canada: universities, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research stations, and others.

Two of the projects will be led by researchers at the Faculty of Agriculture. Chris Cutler of the Department of Environmental Sciences will explore the potential for plant oils to be used as biologically friendly pesticides for blueberry crops.

“I’m an entomologist, and I do a lot of work in crop protection and sustainable, ecological methods of controlling pests without harming the environment,” said Dr. Cutler. “We’ll be testing several of these bio-pesticides against insect pests in blueberries, and look for combinations of these pesticides to see if we can get extra efficacy.”

A second Dalhousie project will be led by Derek Lynch, Canada Research Chair in Organic Agriculture. It will bring together researchers from four provinces, as well as industry partners, to look at ways to optimize green manure and fertility management for organic cereal production. The project will also allow for testing new reduced tillage techniques across differing agroecosystems in Canada.

Andrew Hammermeister, director of the OACC, explained that the cluster’s research projects are spread across five themes: field crops, horticultural crops, pest management, livestock and value-adding.

“From the beginning of this cluster, our goal was to facilitate excellence in industry-led science that will enhance the sustainability and competitiveness of our sector,” he said. “This announcement is the culmination of over two years of work, identifying research priorities, screening applications for industry relevance and reviewing the proposals in a scientific peer-review process. We also wanted to make sure this research was impactful for industry, and we had industry participation throughout the process.”

Along those lines, the cluster is supported by over 65 contributing partners from industry who have committed over $2.7 million in cash and in-kind funding toward OSCII. Much of the research will be carried out with the collaboration of industry partners on farms, in greenhouses and at processing facilities.

Reported by Ryan McNutt, Dalhousie University