When you think of organic agriculture, you may not immediately think of science, however, they really go hand-in-hand! In fact, many organic farmers conduct experiments on their own farms regularly to determine what works best in their specific growing regions, while others may be actively involved in organized research projects for the betterment of their operations. Farming organically has its fair share of challenges. Organic farmers must be innovative and work differently because they rely on ecological processes like nutrient cycling, rather than the synthetic inputs used by conventional farmers.
The Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC) is a national organization that facilitates and leads research and education supporting organic producers, consumers, and other organic stakeholders to foster sustainable communities. The OACC is based out of Dalhousie University, Faculty of Agriculture, in Truro Nova Scotia. In collaboration with the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC), the OACC is home to the Organic Science Cluster program. This is an industry led and supported program which works directly with farmers and industry to identify their needs. Through science, we can then foster continuous improvement, sustainability, and increased productivity on organic farms.
The Organic Science Cluster has research projects taking place across Canada. Organic farms differ from province to province, however, in many cases the results can be beneficial to many. For example, a study done in a particular dry region of the prairies, may result in findings that are helpful to other farmers struggling with drought in the future, as climate change continues to impact growing conditions.
In Nova Scotia, many organic farmers specialize in growing fruits and vegetables. The Organic Science Cluster program has had many projects devoted to horticulture specifically. Nova Scotia farmers have worked closely alongside our researchers on some of these activities. Local farmer Brian Boates, an organic apple grower and the owner of Boates Farm in the Annapolis valley was able to improve his organic orchard nutrient management through the uptake of new practices tested on his farm.
Science and innovation are essential in a time where we must feed a growing population and do so sustainably. The Canadian Organic Standards are rigid and prioritize the health of both the people and the planet. Therefore, much of the scientific focus in organic agriculture is on ecological innovation. This is about understanding the agro-ecosystem and improving ecological services on farm. A few examples of organic practices researchers continue to study and improve upon include:
- designing strong crop rotations,
- green manures,
- organic amendments to boost soil fertility,
- biological control,
- crops adapted to conditions with fewer inputs, and
- plants that are more resistant to disease and pests.
Between strong shared values, collaboration, and increased emphasis on science and innovation, we believe the future of organic is very bright!
Interested in learning more? Visit our website.
By Macy Penney Cameron, Communications Officer, OACC