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USask researchers track sustainability in ag

USask researchers track sustainability in ag

Scientists seek to connect with Prairie producers on how farming practices changed since the 1990s

Staff Writer

A team of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) seek to document the major changes the agricultural industry has made to help address climate change.

Dr. Stuart Smyth, an associate professor at the university and the Agri-Food Innovation and Sustainability Enhancement chair, leads this project.

Smyth and his team will focus on the changes between the 1990s and today.

A lot of baselines for climate change agreements start in the early 2000s. For example, the Paris Agreement uses 2005 as its starting point. As a result, farmers’ efforts before that period are lost, said Smyth.

“As an example, in Saskatchewan, in the mid ‘90s, we had 12 or 13 million acres of summer follow. By 2005, we had removed about 75 or 80 per cent of those summer follow acres. So, the majority of the benefits that could be quantified for agriculture's contribution to mitigating climate change are lost simply because of the baseline years used. As a result, farmers lose out on the ability to count all the sustainability advances they've made in the past 25 years,” Smyth told

Smyth and his team, which includes graduate students Chelsea Sutherland and Jordan Schiewe, organized workshops for November and December in 20 locations across Saskatchewan. At these workshops, the researchers will gather information from farmers.

“We will replicate the survey and workshops in Alberta and Manitoba next winter. That way, we'll gather data from across the three Prairie provinces,” said Smyth.

The team seeks four quadrants of information.

“The first quadrant tracks seed right from planting all the way through to harvest. The second looks at chemical use. So, which chemicals were used? What was the application rate? The third one looks at fertilizer use and then the fourth one looks at tillage. We're looking at basic input data. For example, if you were summer following, what tractor did you use? How much fuel did it burn per hour? How many hours did it take to make a pass across the field?” said Smyth.

The team will use statistical data from implement websites to confirm their findings.

Gathering this information helps better inform the public about farmers’ sustainability practices, said Smyth.

“The goal is to provide reliable, data-oriented information … to better inform policymakers and politicians about the contributions that agriculture has made, is making, and certainly will continue to make over the coming decades to ensure (the industry) is as sustainable as possible,” he said.

This information also helps raise awareness of how significant sustainability efforts are in modern agricultural practices.

In a survey the researchers conducted a couple of years ago, Smyth and his team found “Canadians generally think there's more erosion on fields today than there was 25 years ago. We know that's simply not the case. So, I think the ag industry can use this information to provide public awareness about modern farming practices.”

Retired farmers, new farmers and everyone in between are welcome to attend the workshops. Farmers interested in participating in a session can register online and participants will receive $200 as well as coffee and lunch.

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