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Drs. George DiCenzo and Ivan Oresnik.

Microbes, not chemicals: Reducing GHGs through sustainable fertilizer alternatives

September 8, 2023 — 

UM’s Ivan Oresnik is co-leading a $6 million crop production research project focused on helping farmers reduce their reliance on chemical fertilizers.

Microbial inoculants could one day replace synthetic fertilizers, or at least decrease their use enough to significantly reduce agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada. A new $6 million research project, co-lead by Drs. Ivan Oresnik (University of Manitoba) and George DiCenzo (Queen’s University), aims to identify beneficial microbes and leverage their effects on crop health and production.

The project is funded through Genome Canada’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Food Systems initiative aimed at supporting innovative research to reduce GHGs in Canada’s food production system by focusing on crops including wheat, barley, canola and dry beans. This project will receive $3 million in funding through this initiative, with other $3 million already secured to advance their research in developing alternatives to chemical fertilizers.

Their project will use genomics to isolate microbes in Canadian soil, examine their effect on crop health and use this information to develop microbial strains that promote crop production. “We’ve become incredibly reliant on the nitrogen in synthetic fertilizers,” said Dr. Oresnik, “but we lose around 50 per cent of it to runoff or in the form of nitrous oxide. We’re trying to identify and sustainably grow bacteria that increase crop nutrient use efficiency and then apply our findings at the industrial level.”

“Thank you to Genome Canada and the Government of Canada for this investment to strengthen the future of sustainable agriculture and Canada’s food system. The University of Manitoba is proud to lead this innovative research using microbes on crops to minimize reliance on conventional fertilizers, which are environmentally unfriendly. The results of this research will help Canadian farmers adapt to climate change while protecting food security and the environment for generations to come,” said Dr. Mario Pinto, Vice President (Research and International) at the University of Manitoba.

To learn more about the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Food Systems initiative and other funding opportunities, visit: Genome Canada.

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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