The Agricultural Climate Solutions – Living Lab is a new program designed to bring positive change to agriculture in Nova Scotia! A Living lab tests best management practices (BMPs) in real time, on working farms. The focus of this Living Lab is to explore practices that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon from the atmosphere in agricultural soils.
The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture (NSFA) is delivering the Living Lab project in Nova Scotia. Farmers are involved in every stage of the project. They will be involved in the testing of the new technology and practices. Farmers can constantly provide feedback and give their input on the BMPs allowing the activities to be adjusted as the project moves forward. This will ensure the solutions being tested meet the needs of the farmers. Having farmer involvement means that it is more likely the BMPs will be adopted by other farmers in the future.
What are the Best Management Practices for Living Lab – Nova Scotia?
There are four BMPs that farms will carry out as part of the living lab project, with the NSFA and its partners overseeing the activities. They are: Cover crops in annual systems, perennial systems floor management, riparian zone and shelterbelt establishment, and land swap.
Cover crops in annual systems
Annual crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, and some fruits and vegetables use tillage. That means the soil is disturbed and bare and less organic matter from plants is returning to the soil. This causes a loss in soil carbon, reducing soil health and the soils’ ability to recover over time. Cover crops are plants that are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. Cover crops are a good way to reduce erosion. They also build soil organic carbon, improve nutrient cycling and water holding capacity, and reduce loss of plant nutrients from the soil. Knowing how to include cover crops in their farming system can be a huge barrier to adoption for many farmers.
Perennial systems floor management
Vineyards and orchard rows (or laneways) are usually grass that is mowed and maintained. Using specific plant species primarily made of grass mixes will be planted in vineyards and orchard laneways. This BMP will evaluate the potential that cover crops have for storing atmospheric carbon in the soil and the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Riparian zone and shelterbelt establishment
Farmland next to waterways can potentially cause harm to the aquatic ecosystems located nearby. A Riparian zone is lands that occur along the edges of rivers, streams, lakes, and other water bodies. Creating a managed riparian zone will act as a natural filter. It will reduce runoff from fertilizer and pesticides from entering waterways while increasing soil carbon stores. This BMP involves planting trees and shrubs to create shelterbelts in wild blueberry fields and riparian buffer zones where none currently exist. Wild blueberry bushes can easily be damaged by high winds and winter storms. Shelterbelts will form a natural barrier to protect crops from wind damage, while building soil carbon stores and providing habitat for beneficial insects and other pollinators.
The land swap activity will pair farmers who have annual cropping systems with farmers who have livestock to incorporate grazing on to their farms. This activity will have livestock graze fields that are usually managed as horticultural land for three years to help build soil carbon and improve soil health.
Living Lab – Nova Scotia has rolled out across the province and projects are underway. Here is a look at what the NSFA and the Living Lab Partners have on the go this summer:
- Greenhouse gas sampling occuring every two weeks to monitor how each activity affects greenhouse gas emissions.
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is monitoring growth of grass and legume mixes in orchard and vineyard laneways. They are also monitoring beneficial and pest insects in orchards, tree and vine health, and assess changes in soil microbiology.
- Perennia Food and Agriculture is monitoring growth of cover crops at each site over the summer. In the fall, half of each cover crop species will be terminated to test how this impacts soil carbon.
- Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) is monitoring growth of trees and shrubs planted at riparian buffer zones and shelterbelts. Insects and water samples will be collected at riparian buffer zones to observe biodiversity and water quality. In the wild blueberry shelterbelt sites, pollinators will be collected due to their importance in the success of blueberry crops.
- NSFA will monitor rotational grazing livestock at the pasture sites over the summer, collect earthworms and dung beetles to monitor soil health and biodiversity. Wireworms and click beetle populations will be monitored as they are a pest that could impact future vegetable crops.
The Agricultural Climate Solutions – Living Lab program will support farmers in adopting these BMP’s. Living Lab – Nova Scotia will help farmers across the province to make their practices more sustainable to improve soil health and tackle climate change. Visit: https://nsfa-fane.ca/livinglabs/ for more information.
By Jessica Gilice, Knowledge & Technology Transfer Coordinator, NSFA