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Living Labs aim at farm resilience, climate change mitigation Ongoing Research | Move | Producers

Livestock and crop producers are joining forces to tap federal funding to develop and test Beneficial Management Practices under real-world Alberta conditions.

When you think about it, every farm is a kind of laboratory for new practices. You try a new crop, you approach seeding or harvest in a different way, you tweak the way you feed and handle livestock. If the experiment works, you might try it on a bigger scale. If it doesn’t, you look at something different to meet your operational goal.

When the issues are complex, the stakes are high and society is watching, the canvas for the experiment needs to be bigger. Enter the Living Laboratories Initiative.

Living Labs is a 10-year, $185 million program announced by the federal government, intended to establish a Canada-wide network that will develop and test Beneficial Management Practices to improve farm resilience in the face of climate change and help mitigate further change.

How will Alberta participate in Living Labs? A team quarterbacked by Karin Schmid and Dr. Sheri Strydhorst has submitted a funding proposal that’s supported by Alberta Pulse Growers.

“Canadian ag producers want to be recognized as good stewards and are looking to make their operations more resilient,” said Schmid, Lead of Beef Production and Extension with Alberta Beef Producers.

Strydhorst, Agronomy Research Specialist with Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission, added: “We’d like to be active province-wide with ‘spokes’ in the Peace region, west of Edmonton and Lethbridge.”

Collaboration and integration are key

As Strydhorst explained, the team has proposed to develop and test Beneficial Management Practices in areas such as crop rotation, cropping systems, livestock feed and nutrient management.

“We will focus on producer needs and test ideas under real-life conditions,” she said. “We want to explore best practices that work for the producer in their operation, and also achieve goals such as carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

To Schmid, it’s important that Alberta’s Living Labs recognizes that any change to management practices can have ripple-effects elsewhere in the farming operation. These need to be examined in an integrated fashion, considering the whole farm not just one area.

“There are possible synergies, for example, between beef production, forages and cropping systems,” she said. “One idea we have is to introduce forages into cropping systems. A second is about conversion of marginal lands into other uses. We also want look at the use of manure for fertilizer. We’re focused on what’s practical, but we’ll be working on some concepts that will be a bit different for growers.”

It’s easy enough for someone to recommend that producers change their production practices. For new ideas to be adopted, it’s important to understand how such decisions are made at the farm level. Living Labs includes a framework for taking these factors into account.

Strydhorst, who earned her PhD studying pulse crops, expects that pulse crops will be front and center as Living Labs gets rolling in Alberta.

“Pulse crops are set to expand, and they can contribute a lot environmentally,” she said. “For the producer who might be on the fence, we can measure the farm’s cost of adaptation to growing pulses versus the cost to not grow pulses. We can compare the opportunity to the risk and show data to help these growers arrive at a decision that’s right for their operation.”