|Science Cluster||About Us||Top 10||Français|
Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada
The usual way farmers are advised to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is through a list of best management practices.
One of the problems, however, is that this is often a piecemeal approach and doesn’t always encourage integrated organic farming.
In “Improving Energy Efficiency and GHG Mitigation Potentials in Canadian Organic Farming Systems,” published in Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, the authors provide an alternative: a table of farm-level strategies.
The strategies are organized in an efficiency-substitution-redesign framework. Improved efficiency is usually the simplest, substitution more complicated and redesign the most complex. Four key categories – agronomic operations, crop system design, manure management and animal management – are included.
The value of the table is that it provides an overview of options and allows the farmer to integrate a number of strategies in practical ways (see revised Table 2 below).
Two of the study’s co-authors, Derek Lynch and Ralph Martin, were interviewed and provided examples of how strategies have been applied, or could be. Numbers are sometimes used as shorthand to identify strategies.
“Many organic farmers are thinking in a very integrated way so they might start with redesign,” said Lynch. “It’s not uncommon for transitional farmers moving into organic to start with the simpler substitution strategies.”
Martin used a farm in Quebec run by three brothers to show how strategies are used. “It’s fairly large and they have corn, wheat, soy and they’re trying ways to reduce tillage and they’re pretty much down to one operation,” he said. “They’ve also tried the no-till technique.”
Martin said there is concern among some organic farmers about long-term access to plant varieties well adapted to their farms and systems. “This same farm with the three brothers in Quebec and some other farmers are starting to collect their own corn seed,” said Martin. “They’re looking to professional corn breeders to help them. They want to select seeds adapted to their cropping systems (5).”
“You have to be in 4, but you could say few organic farms are in 5 or 6,” said Lynch. “That’s the cutting edge really to be thinking in terms of efficient use of the land base.”
“Number 3 is like a description of organic fertility management,” said Lynch. “That’s the cornerstone of your nitrogen management,” he said. “Once you bring in legumes for nitrogen, that plays a huge part in reducing the farm energy footprint, compared to the use of synthetic nitrogen (N) fertilizer.”
Referring to 9, Martin said both conventional and organic farmers are extending the time their animals are outdoors. “On the Prairies there are some farmers that do swath grazing. They don’t even bother baling it. It’s fairly dry in the Prairies. As long as you don’t get more than 18 inches of snow over the swath, the cattle can break through it. They recognize the lump for what it is. So they’ll go to the lump and break through the snow to get to the swath to eat it.”
Martin said some farmers are looking at heritage breeds of chickens because they are more adapted to living outside. “You’re definitely talking redesign with 12,” added Lynch.
“A dairy farm near Montreal is doing good work in pasturing and crop management,” said Martin. “They’re using 1, 3, 4 … and looking at 12.”
Now that’s integrated farming.
© 2012, Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC)