Martin Entz looks to change the future of farming as inaugural Jarislowsky Chair
Martin Entz’s love of agriculture was first nurtured in his early years spending his summers at his grandparents’ farm.
“I remember cultivating fields when I was a teenager. I saw the cultivator turn over the soil and wondered about how it all worked. I thought how do soils interact with plants? During the same period, my mom and I watched a show called Here Come the Seventies. This was when the environmental movement really started, and it prompted me to buy the Environmental Handbook,” he says.
Entz [BSA/78, MSc/81] studied agriculture at the University of Manitoba. “Then when I was employed as a research agronomist after completing my Masters, I heard of Dr. Brian Fowler at the University of Saskatchewan working on cropping systems for both wildlife habitat and soil conservation. The PhD with Brian allowed me to marry my interests in farming and the environment.”
Entz joined the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences in the Department of Plant Science in 1990, and his research at UM focuses on ecologically integrated farming systems. He leads the Glenlea Long-Term Rotation Study, which, at 32 years old, is Canada’s longest-running organic-conventional farming systems comparison study. His natural systems agriculture research program explores cropping systems based on processes found in nature — on the Canadian prairies it is the natural grassland ecosystem. Entz also leads nature-based agricultural research aimed at food security and ecological restoration in East Africa in collaboration with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and has worked in Asia and Central America. For more than a decade, he has involved Canadian farmers directly in the development of crop varieties for organic production.
“Given the impact of Martin Entz’s research at the University of Manitoba’s Glenlea Research Station, it is clear he is well positioned for this new role,” says UM president and vice-chancellor Michael Benarroch. “The climate challenges the world is facing are significant and complex, and UM is thankful for the support from the Jarislowsky Foundation that will help Martin and his team meet these challenges head on.”
“The Jarislowsky Foundation has been a long-time supporter of initiatives related to climate change, and we are proud to support this new Chair in Natural Systems Agriculture for Climate Solutions,” says Stephen Jarislowsky, Founder and President of the Foundation. “We are confident that the research led by Martin Entz will have a positive impact in sustainable farming practices not only in Manitoba but also around the world.”
In his new role as the Jarislowsky Chair in Natural Systems Agriculture for Climate Solutions, Entz will consult with farmers and policy makers about new and current knowledge on climate-smart practices and research how to adapt current agri-food systems to meet those practices. As the Jarislowsky Chair, Entz will lead a research program that will blend modern agricultural technology and natural processes with special emphasis on biodiversity, integration/recycling and perenniality while also incorporating wisdom from Indigenous food systems.
“One of the things that drives the concept of natural systems agriculture is that it follows the philosophy that nature is the supreme farmer,” Entz says. “You always begin the work by looking at what nature does in the area and ask yourself, if there was no intervention by humans, what would the natural system look like? And then you ask how we can grow our food and create an economy with the smallest possible footprint while also embracing natural processes.”
Some outcomes expected from this research will be the collaborative generation of knowledge between researchers and farmers, which will lead to practical alternative models for agricultural production that adapts not only to using fewer fossil-fuel based inputs but also to the effects of climate change. Outreach will also play an important role in bringing more students into this sphere and giving them ideas on how this could be done as well as talking to and working with farmers in the field and other industry partners.
“There has been a group of us at UM that have been pushing to have the opportunity for more resources in this area, so to have natural systems agriculture be recognized as a flagship chair in our faculty is very much an honour,” says Entz. “I’m very excited about how this also blends into the sensibility of the province of Manitoba. We’ve got the sophistication of eastern Canada and the can-do attitude of the prairies kind of blended into one, so I think the progress we can make is going to be both innovative and sensible while at the same time allowing UM to claim a certain level of expertise and uniqueness in this area.”