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Manitoba organic research hits major milestone

September 16, 2016 — 

As Canada gets set to celebrate national Organic Week September 17 to 25, researchers and producers in Manitoba are planning their own celebration.

2016 marks the 25th anniversary of organic crop research at the University of Manitoba’s Glenlea Research Station. Lead researcher Dr. Martin Entz, professor in the department of plant science, has seen a lot of changes in both mainstream and organic farming over the past quarter century.

“In conventional agriculture, we’ve seen rapid and widespread adoption of a number of new management practices including low-till agriculture and the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant to dry down grains. Organic agriculture is also changing,” said Entz.

“Some organic producers are adapting low-till agriculture to fit organic cropping systems, while others are actually cultivating more using new technologies for row-cropping, including camera-guided navigation systems. It’s exciting to watch the development of this new industry. Organic farmers are creative and interested in adapting their methods to fit the emerging science.”

The science of organic is also rapidly evolving. In 1991, when the first organic grain crops were seeded at the Glenlea site, Dr. Entz didn’t expect to come up with solutions to some of the thornier management challenges that intimidate new growers.

“At the beginning, I thought that the weeds and weather would be our downfall, but over 25 years, a period in which we experienced our fair share of extreme weather events, the organic plots did not have more crop failures than our conventional plots. We’ve also figured out new ways to manage weeds. Productivity of course is lower in the organic system, but when you look at the bottom line, our organic grain crops have almost always been more profitable than our conventional crops.”

Agronomist Marvin Dyck from PGF Organics, a subsidiary of Kroeker Farms, believes that the evolving science is critical to the success of organic agriculture. According to Marvin, a little bit of knowledge about organic production goes a long way.

“We learn what we can from scientists like Dr. Entz and apply that knowledge in our own on-farm research trials. As a result, our yields and profitability are going up in our organic production system as we learn how to manage weeds and improve the fertility of our soils. We’re even learning a few things from our organic operation that affect our conventional farm management practices,” said Dyck. “For example we’re using fewer pesticides in our conventional onions because of what we have learned from growing organic onions.”

The public is invited to a special celebration of 25 years of organic research in Manitoba. The event on September 23 starts with a tour of the University of Manitoba organic research plots at 4 pm followed by a social evening at the Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre. The menu of organic food catered by Tall Grass Prairie Bread Co. will include flat bread made from a special organic wheat variety developed by Dr. Entz’s team. Visitors can also sample brews developed by new Winnipeg craft brewery Torque Brewing Co. There will be educational activities for the kids, speakers from Torque Brewing Co. and Tall Grass Prairie, and Dr. Entz will talk about his journey of discovery over 25 years at the Glenlea organic research plots. Participants will also be able to preview a new video profiling a quarter century of organic research at Glenlea Research Station. Tickets for the event cost $20 and can be purchased in advance at the Farm and Food Discovery Centre in person or by phone at 204-883-2524.

Manitobans are also invited to experience organic farming and the science of organic for themselves during Open Farm Day on September 18 with tours of Howpark Farms (Brandon), Blue Lagoon Organics (St. Francois Xavier) and the Glenlea Research Station. Visit the Open Farm Day website for times and directions.

 

Background

  • Globally, annual sales of organic products are worth $72 billion US.
  • The Canadian organic market has quadrupled in less than 10 years, pushing annual sales to $4 billion making Canada the 5th largest market for organic foods in the world.
  • There are approximately 5,000 certified organic farms, processors and handlers nationwide, and close to one million hectares of organic farmland.
  • Saskatchewan and Quebec have the largest concentrations of organic producers.
  • There are 155 organic producers in Manitoba, with most growing grains.
  • Close to 100,000 acres are under organic management in Manitoba. 44% of these acres are in forage and pasture, 27% are in cereal production, 3% in pulse production, 3% in oilseed production and 22% in other crops.
  • Oats are the leading organic field crop grown in Manitoba, followed by spring wheat.
  • Manitoba leads the prairie region in organic vegetable production.
  • There is a global shortage of organic grains. Currently, projects in the U.S. and Canadian grain belts are addressing the shortfall by attracting new grain producers to organic while scaling up production on existing organic grain farms.
  • Individual companies are addressing the shortfall by offering transitional prices.
  • Manitoba is one of only three Canadian jurisdictions to have a mandatory provincial regulatory framework which covers intraprovincial trade of organic food products.

Organic Week (September 17 to 25)

  • Canada’s national Organic Week, held annually since 2010, is Canada’s largest celebration of organic food and farming.
  • Organic Week showcases the multiple benefits of organic agriculture and its positive impacts on the environment through dozens of events across the country. Events include festivals, workshops, recipe contests, farm tours and organic food and drink tastings.

(sources – The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Emerging Trends 2015; Organic Value Chain Roundtable; Growing Organic in the Prairies, Canadian Organic Trade Association, May 2016; Government of Manitoba organic statistics, August 2016)

 

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