So my second day with Martin’s team started at the the Glenlea trial site with Keith Banford. These rotational trials started in 1992 and are comparing a conventional rotation, an organic annual rotation and an organic perennial rotation.
The conventional rotation is wheat, flax, oats and soyabeans
The main weed here is wild oats and it has survived being sprayed in the flax
The above flax had lots of wild oats but below in the round up ready soyabeans it has been controlled.
Conventional wheat below
Then we looked at the Annual Organic Rotation with consists of oats, green manure (vetch), wheat and flax. Below is hairy vetch into one half of the plots which will be rolled into and drilled with wheat. This allows for two years with out tillage.
Below is the organic flax. Not easy to see on the photo but they have added manure to the other half of the plot. Only about 4-5 tonnes per hectare of composted manure once in the rotation but it has had a dramatic effect. The crop where it has had manure is stronger but also has more weeds.
The oats were running out of nitrogen.
They have found that the organic rotation is losing carbon at depth because the crops are poorer and so have poorer roots which are not replenishing the carbon.
The perennial rotation is alfalfa for two years, wheat and flax. The alfalfa is planted with Timothy and Red Clover when established. The alfalfa showed a marked response in yield to the manure but also weeds
This picture shows the difference clearly between manured and unmanured ( far end) in the flax
Below also shows the wheat development differences in the matured parts
The far end is coming out into ear.
After seeing these plots I was picked up by Christine Rawluk, she works in the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment. Firstly we went to the Trace gas site
Here they can measure out in the field emissions of CO2, NO2, NH4 all year round and compare four different treatments. They have in the past compared emissions from annual and perennial systems and also tillage effects. They have also tested the effects of different nitrogen fertilisers and inhibitors.
We then went to see the Byproduct processing plant. Manitoba has a problem with nutrient enrichment of their lakes due mainly to Phosphate run off. This has led to strict rules. No new hog barns are allowed to be built unless they have proven technology to deal with the waste. Also they are not allowed to spread waste if the soil test does not suggest a need. This means hog barns have a lot of waste they don’t know what to do with as most soils around barns are high in P. All waste is spread in the fall just before freeze up and then at spring thaw some of the waste is in soluble form and gets washed off into the water course. The University of Manitoba is trying to find ways of getting around this problem.
Inside this barn is a centrifuge which separates the soils from the liquid
This means they have less manure to deal with but not sure still what to do with the solid, pelletise maybe but expensive. Anaerobic digestion has been tried but it needs to be kept warm in the winter so is uneconomical. There does not seem to be a cheap answer to deal with the hog waste from these barns. I just kept thinking as we went round why don’t you just put the pigs outside in the field and they will poop where you want it and you won’t have to worry about the waste!
In the field they have also had a large trial looking at the effect of different manures on soils in an annual and perennial system. The trial has been going for 8 years and looks at solid dairy manure, solid pig manure, liquid manure and synthetic fertilisers.
They are looking at how phosphate acts in the soil under different conditions and looking at P build up. P in dairy manure acts differently to pig manure. They have found that the liquid pig manure gives same yield as synthetic fertilisers but the P is building up.
After lunch we had a look around the Universities Discovery Centre which is open to school children to look around and learn about farming.
They have viewing areas where they can look into a hog barn
After looking around the centre Christine took me to meet a couple of academics at the University
The first person I met was Dr. Rob Gulden. He is a weed scientist. We had an interesting discussion about herbicide tolerance and resistance. He thinks GMO canola has only managed to stay relatively free of weed resistance because there are different strains of herbicide tolerance and not reliance on just one. He worries about the increase of Round Up ready corn and soyabeans being grown in the area as they only rely on one mode of resistance and worries that Canada will soon catch up with the U.S. with the number of resistant weeds. He also is worried about the increase in row crops as the wide row spacing is terrible from a weed completion point of view as it gives space to weeds. He also mentioned that corn has become so highly domesticated that it can’t compete against weeds or compete in row against itself. He thinks we need to re think crop spatial arrangement. Even narrow row crops are not ideal. His predecessor had also done work on intercropping and found a 20% yield increase but the work is back on the shelf for now.
Next I went to see Dr Yvonne Lawley who is trying to get academics and farmers interested in Cover crops in Manitoba. A tough sell it seems. They have a very short growing season here in Manitoba and also low precipitation which makes it difficult to adopt them but as she says definitely not impossible.
Many thanks to Martin and his team for the couple of days in Winnipeg. I have seen a lot of interesting things.