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Pulse Canada: One Intern’s Journey (PCN Winter 2013) JAN 1 2013 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Kristen Podolsky

My name is Kristen Podolsky. I’m a current graduate student at the University of Manitoba. My Master’s thesis work is with Dr. Martin Entz and a great group of young and ambitious students who are passionate about working on sustainable agriculture. Between field work, statistics, and coursework, I also had the opportunity to intern at Pulse Canada over the past year. I’d like to share my story on how I got there, what I learned, and why I feel industry collaboration can work for students, growers, and industry stakeholders.

Through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Industrial Post Graduate scholarship, I received matching industry support from the Manitoba Pulse Grower’s Association (MPGA) for my work. As part of this scholarship, students are given the opportunity to spend time at the industry partner’s organization working on issues related to their thesis. Through collaborative efforts between MPGA, Pulse Canada, and the University, we decided the best opportunity for me would be to work with the Sustainability team at Pulse Canada.

My passion for sustainable agriculture began early in my university career, so I knew learning from this team would be a great experience. The main project I started to work on involved carbon footprinting of major agricultural crops in Canada, including canola, wheat, and pulse crops. My job was to report results back to the farmers from Saskatchewan who submitted crop production information for the project.

Carbon footprinting, as part of a broad sustainable agriculture movement, has become a major priority to major industry stakeholders. The world’s largest food companies are addressing environmental responsibility and, in doing so, are interested in sourcing food products with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The second project I was involved with began as another collaboration between three industry stakeholders: a food company interested in measuring the carbon footprint of their product (H.J. Heinz); an industry consortium aimed at providing sustainable solutions along the supply chain (Sustainable Food Lab); and, of course, Pulse Canada. The goal of this project was to provide insight on the usability of carbon footprint calculators for measuring Canadian navy bean production’s carbon footprint.

Over 80 navy bean producers from Ontario and Manitoba were surveyed on their farm practices related to navy bean production. My role was to take this information and enter it into two separate carbon footprint calculators: the Cool Farm Tool and Holos®. I then summarized the data to better understand which farm practices were contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Both calculators showed that nitrogen fertilizer use was the largest contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions, which accurately reflects scientific research findings.

The carbon footprint of navy bean production at the farm gate ranged from 150-944 kg C02 equivalent per tonne of navy beans. To put these values into perspective, a 400 kg straw bale contains 180 kg of carbon, which if kept in the soil contributes to soil organic matter and overall soil quality. Farms with the lowest carbon footprints practiced reduced tillage, used optimum nitrogen fertilizer practices, and utilized red clover cover crops to reduce synthetic N inputs. Reduced pesticide use, shelterbelts, and alternative energy sources can also reduce a farm’s carbon footprint.

Results from the survey also highlighted differences in production practices between Ontario and Manitoba. For example, rotations with double seeded red clover cover crops were common in Ontario and reduced nitrogen fertilizer input compared to rotations without red clover. I know from my research that red clover seeded after winter wheat harvest the year before navy bean production can contribute 150 lbs of nitrogen in Southern Ontario growing conditions.

While the nitrogen contribution will be less in the Prairie Provinces due to the shorter growing season, this is still a valuable management practice. On the other hand, tillage and pesticide use were substantially less in Manitoba compared to Ontario. On average, a legume crop (soybeans or dry beans) was included once every three years in rotation.

My experience at Pulse Canada has re-enforced two major themes: first, sustainable agriculture is the new paradigm; and second, collaboration among growers, researchers, and industry is extremely important. As a result of this work, it’s interesting to think that one day, our food products could be labelled with carbon footprint indices.

Pulse Canada has shown me that the Canadian pulse crop industry has an exciting story to tell and is positioning itself well for the future. I look forward to being part of a sustainable Canadian agricultural industry.