Articles by author: Brock University

  • A complicated relationship with Ladybugs

    The Multi-Coloured Asian Lady Beetle is considered an invasive species in Ontario, and they can outcompete some of our native species of lady beetles. (Photo: Kasia Zgurzynski)


    Submitted by the OSCIII team

    In an agricultural setting, insects can sometimes help farmers, while at other times be a nuisance. At first glance, many insects seem to fall into one of two categories: pests that damage crops or beneficials that help support crop production. Ladybugs, on the other hand, have a more nuanced role to play, particularly in vineyards.

    Ladybugs, more accurately known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles, can be voracious predators of pest species, eating as many as 5,000 aphids in their lifetime. With insatiable appetites, they can be beneficial to farmers as they act as a natural control for certain insect pest problems. They can even help to reduce the use of pesticides. The adults lay eggs near colonies of soft bodied insects, such as scale, mealybugs, and aphids, which are common vineyard pests. Once the larvae emerge, they immediately feast on the insect prey before searching for even more in the general vicinity. After they pupate and become adults, they travel even further to find food and continue their life cycle. In the right conditions, the adults can live for two to three years.

    In vineyards, lady beetles are most beneficial early in the season, when the grapes have not yet developed. Once the grapes develop, though, that changes and this is when they can become a nuisance. The lady beetles begin looking for overwintering areas, and can be found among grape clusters, particularly if those clusters are close to their insect prey. They can feed on fruits that have already been damaged, but they don’t damage the fruit or the vines themselves. The problem, however, is that lady beetles release a yellow fluid with a foul odour, known as methoxypyrazines, when they are disturbed. When grapes are harvested with lady beetles among them, this fluid then has the potential to taint the grapes and create an unpleasant taste in the wine.

    They are most likely to release this fluid if they are alive or have only been dead for a single day; they do not have the potential to taint the wine if they have been dead for more than three days. Lady beetles can appear quite suddenly, and some species can be plentiful, so careful monitoring of their populations is increasingly important as harvest approaches.

    It is true that some insects can be friend and foe, depending on the time of the growing season. Lady beetles are one of nature’s greatest assistants in the battle against agricultural pests, with some species actually being introduced purposely to offset the use of pesticides. There are vineyards around the world that do this, sometimes placing the lady beetles on the vines by hand. It can be labour intensive, but their appetites can make them a valued addition to vineyards. That is, if it is at the right time.


    This blog section will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!

    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog

  • MEOPAR Shoreline Options Value Survey Results

    In this blog post, we present an update on the results of our recent virtual focus group and online survey that explored shoreline options for the Town of Lincoln.

    What options did community participants feel were important for resilient shoreline protection? How could we effectively reduce the impacts of highly variable lake water levels, increased storm events and erosion? These were the questions we asked participants back in April 2021. The results were then clustered in three groupings, which represent the overall preferences that participants chose ranked from highest to lowest (1 to 9).  We named the clusters “green”, “silver”, and “grey”.

    Download the Survey Results Infographic

    In the survey, we asked participants to reflect on the values that each shoreline option represented. Are government control and existing land use planning tools able to address shoreline impacts? Is individual autonomy and enjoyment of private landowners more preferred to reduce risk? What about increasing biodiversity and the role of green space in lessening negative impacts? Does environmental protection help to reduce social risk?

    The results might surprise you. While the “green” options favoured urban parkland and green infrastructure, the results in this cluster also included the need for collaboration between landowners as being an important consideration for finding long-lasting solutions. “Silver” options included tax relief, subsidies, and managed retreat, which were viewed as necessary to respond to changing risk. “Grey” options included maintaining existing shoreline land use, insurance coverage for replacing weather-related losses, and the use of traditional grey infrastructure methods.

    From a values perspective, “green” options reflected the broadest range of considerations: development, biodiversity, control, reducing social risk, fairness, and aesthetics. In the case of “silver”, those options reflected flooding and erosion protection, development, fairness, and biodiversity. “Grey” options included aesthetics, enjoyment, biodiversity, and security.

    It is important to note that these survey results reflect the opinions of the participants and do not represent official positions of either the municipality nor any other government agency. They are intended to promote further discussion.

    You can read more about our MEOPAR study here.  The survey was also highlighted in the recent Newsletter of the Coastal Zone Association of Canada, which can be found here.

    Watch for upcoming sessions where we will invite you to explore these ideas further and how this process may have changed the views of people regarding climate change adaptation. Dates and times will be posted on the Beyond Sustainability events page.

    For more information or to provide comments, e-mail us at: meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca.

    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair

  • What is sustainability?

    Sustainability is a well-known and frequently used 21st century term.  With how often you likely see or hear the word, have you ever stopped to think about what sustainability really means?

    Sustainability is widely defined as “the ability to have something or an activity maintained at a certain stable rate or level”. This term has been used in various contexts. Corporations, such as the  oil industry for example, are using it to show that they will be profitable and operational for a long period of time.

    Sustainability comes from the practice of “nachhaltigkeit”, a term coined in 1713 by German foresters that is translated to mean “sustained yield” in English1.  Sustained yield refers to the practice of taking only enough trees as will allow forests to naturally regenerate well into the future. The concept of sustained yield eventually moved beyond the forestry discourse to include the conservation of plants, animals, and other food necessities now also. It is still mainly confined to research and science, however.

    Most definitions of sustainability today also include concerns for the environment, social equity, and economic prosperity2. For instance, environmental sustainability aims at reducing the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance. Sustainability, in the context of the environment, looks at the activities required to protect the environment while balancing social, cultural, and economic needs. It is generally accepted that the goals of environmental sustainability are related to the need to conserve our natural world, with a shift away from the current resource-intensive way of living2.

    Sustainability in the business world, however, does not always relate to the protection of nature or social justice. It is often associated with efficiency, profitability and even growth. But things are changing. Recent research shows that businesses which embrace environmental and social governance approaches tend to not only reduce their environmental impact and increase diversity, but also reduce costs, as well.

    When we think about sustainability, it is important to remember that the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas on Turtle Island have been practicing this concept from time immemorial. Indigenous Peoples have been long-time practitioners of sustainability, as for them, it relates to being stewards of the land — you only take what you really need and can use. Sustainability for the Indigenous underlines the importance of looking at the past 7 generations to make informed, respectful, and balanced decisions for the next 7 generations to come. Sustainability is a long-term vision and process of continual environmental commitment to improvement.


    References

    1. Grober, U. (2007). Deep roots-a conceptual history of sustainable development (Nachhaltigkeit). Retrieved from: https://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/bitstream/handle/document/11077/ssoar-2007-grober-deep_roots_-_a_conceptual.pdf?sequence=
    2. Baker, J., Dupont, D., & Vasseur, L. (2021). Exploring Canadian Ramsar Sites Ecosystem Governance and Sustainability. Wetlands, 41(1), 1-11.
    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • Is it time to move beyond sustainability and begin thinking about radical transformation?

    Contributors: Liette Vasseur and Jocelyn Baker

    Access to clean, healthy water is essential for all life on Earth. As the world population continues to rise, natural ecosystems are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the threats of land conversion, invasive species, and the consequences of accelerated climate change. This has resulted in the loss of biological diversity. When an ecosystem functions correctly, it can provide enough food, shelter, water, and other goods and services required for all of the species within it. As soon as an ecosystem is degraded, however, it can lose its integrity, reducing or stopping the provision of services — including clean water.

    The major and enduring impacts of ecosystem destruction can be seen most prominently in the planet’s wetland systems. The livelihoods and overall survival of most cultures on Earth depend on the functions and benefits of wetlands for the purposes of food provision. Rice, for example, is grown in wetland complexes and is the staple diet of nearly half of the people on Earth. Most commercial fish and invertebrates, including crabs, lobster, and shrimp, also depend on wetlands for all or part of their lifecycle. The long-term global loss of all wetland types is estimated to be between 54 to 57 per cent, with the rate of losses four times higher in the last century than in previous centuries 1,2.  Inland wetlands have seen a 35 per cent decline since 1970, with 87 per cent total loss since 1700 3. Despite comprising only 3 per cent of the Earth’s total surface area, wetlands are estimated to contribute more than 40 per cent of all global ecosystem services, providing an estimated US $55 trillion (in 2020) annually to global economies 1,2.

    The sustainability of these ecosystems is therefore of great concern, but what is it that we are trying to sustain? Are we simply aiming to stop further wetland losses, being satisfied with the status quo? Or is it time to move beyond sustainability and begin thinking about radical transformation? The continuous growth of human populations and economies should not come at the expense of nature. At some point, nature will not be able to sustain people and maintain its contributions to all of us. It is critical that we rethink and transform our relationships with one another and the natural world. We need to change the current worldview because our current capitalist-neoliberal way of life is unsustainable. Pursuing infinite economic growth and resource exploitation — when we have a finite planet — is simply not working.

    Societies must also think differently about themselves and their relations with the natural world that supports them. As an example, the Western Humanist (or western human way of thinking) views humans as the most important species on the planet. With this worldview (a set of beliefs and values about one’s reality) comes the idea that humans have dominion over the natural world with the right to exploit all of its resources (including plants and animals) as they wish. Does this make sense? What does adherence to this worldview mean for the generations to come? Any decision we make leads to consequences, and the children of the future will pay for the degradation and overexploitation of today. What will happen when the water stops flowing and all the fish in the oceans are gone?

    Radical transformation is needed in order to rethink the way that humans live within the natural world; we are part of it, not superior to it. Maybe when we embrace this way of thinking, a more sustainable future will be waiting for us.


    References:

    1. Baker, J., Dupont, D., & Vasseur, L. (2021). Exploring Canadian Ramsar Sites Ecosystem Governance and
    Sustainability. Wetlands, 41(1), 1-11.
    2. Davidson, N. C., Van Dam, A. A., Finlayson, C. M., & McInnes, R. J. (2019). Worth of wetlands: Revised global monetary values of coastal and inland wetland ecosystem services. Marine and Freshwater Research, 70(8), 1189.
    3. United Nations Environment Programme (2021). Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem restoration for people, nature, and climate. Nairobi.

    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • Saving paper does not “save trees” — but it still helps the environment  

    A 92-acre plot of land on Lake Couchiching, in Orillia, Ontario, was recently cleared of trees to make way for the Lake Couchiching Residence project. The image above shows the same plot of land before and after the process began.


    If you are concerned about conservation, you have probably made a conscious effort to minimize the amount of paper you use in an effort to “save the trees.” Although using less paper is certainly a good thing for the environment overall, most Canadians would be surprised to learn that using less paper will not actually result in less tree harvesting.

    In Canada, the relationship between paper and forests is similar to the relationship between gravy and roast beef. Just as gravy is a by-product of cooking roast beef, paper is a by-product of producing lumber at a sawmill. Over 90 per cent of paper produced in Canada is made from the sawdust and woodchips left behind after the production of lumber, which is mainly used for building houses. Woodchip and sawdust residues are first used in the production of boxboard or paperboard (otherwise known as cardboard). Then, when that cardboard is recycled, the majority of it is made into paper products. In fact, most Canadians would be surprised to learn that almost all domestic paper comes from recycled cardboard, with the exception of remote communities with limited or no recycling capacity.

    In the Niagara Region, recycling processes are able to fully reuse and repurpose cardboard into other post-consumer paper products (including toilet paper). Even so, using less paper is still a worthwhile conservation goal for a number of reasons. Reducing your paper consumption will mitigate (reduce) the impacts of climate change by lowering the greenhouse gas emissions generated by processing pulp into paper. Paper is also a heavy and bulky product that uses considerable fossil fuel resources in the supply chain, from production through to shipping and receiving (transportation networks). Using less paper individually will reduce the amount of paper being transported overall, thereby reducing carbon emissions. An October 2019 waste management services report also found that most compost and recycle programs were being underutilized by Niagara residents, prompting a switch to a bi-weekly landfill collection cycle in order to encourage more recycling. Diverting that paper waste from landfills lessens the use of fossil fuels (by having fewer garbage trucks on the road for collection), reduces methane gas (a greenhouse gas produced by the decomposition of organic waste in landfills), and ensures a continuous cardboard supply for paper production.

    Aerial view of Lake Couchiching, where a 92-acre plot of land was recently cleared of trees to make way for a housing project.

    The paper industry in Canada has transformed considerably over the last 200 years, with a move away from environmentally unsustainable deforestation practices towards modern innovations, technologies, and the rise of sustainable forestry practices in the 1980’s. In fact, Canada was one of the first countries to support sustainable forestry management (SFM) at the United Nations Conference on the Environment in 1992. But what does all this really mean for Canadian forests?  Canada has 347 million hectares of forest that covers 38 per cent of its landscape and comprises 9 per cent of the world’s forest.  Canada is the world leader in sustainable forest management practices, as the majority of the country’s timber is certified as sustainably managed. Canada’s early adoption of SFM has also meant that Canadian forests have remained stable over the last two decades, with less than 0.5 per cent deforested since 1990.

    The United Nations defines deforestation as the permanent or long-term removal of forests from the landscape. It is the change of land-use from forest into something else, such as an urban area. Forest loss from forest fires, disease, and other natural disasters is temporary, with forests regenerating naturally as they always have. Logged forests are also not considered to be a permanent example of land-use change, as these forests are required to be replanted and regenerated under law. This is not to suggest that there are no issues in terms of loss of biodiversity or ecosystem function. The largest deforestation impacts to Canadian forests are from agriculture, urbanization, mining, oil and gas exploration, highways, hydro-electric infrastructure, and recreational uses such as ski hills and golf courses. These practices have resulted in the permanent loss of Canadian forests.

    So while conserving paper is still a great thing to do, remember that you are not technically saving trees by doing so. Rather, you are diverting waste from landfills, minimizing the use of chemicals used in the paper-making process, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions — all of which play an important part in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

     

     

    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog

  • Online panel seeks to ensure equitable future for all academic talent

    Brock University faculty, staff, students and members of the broader community are invited to attend an interactive online session to learn more about the barriers women face in academic prize and award processes.

    The session takes place Wednesday, June 23 at 3 p.m. and will feature Liette Vasseur, Professor in Biological Sciences and UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: From Local to Global, as well as a panel of experts from universities across Canada.

    The panel seeks to raise awareness of the major issues surrounding STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) prizes and awards, and to provide solutions for breaking down barriers in academic prize and award landscapes.

    The panel follows the publication of a report entitled “Prizes & Awards: closing the gender gap to ensure an equitable future for all academic talent,” authored by Vasseur and Jocelyn Baker, Research Assistant with Brock’s UNESCO Chair. The report, which is available in English and in French, highlights how women scholars statistically win fewer prizes than men, receive less financial compensation, and are denied the same access to the accolades and distinguishing benefits that awards bring.

    The paper reviewed 11 prestigious Canadian and global academic prizes and awards to highlight the barriers to awards that exist for women in STEM and then offer key considerations and good practices that can be implemented for calls for nominations and selection committees. The overarching goal is to ensure that future top prize winners are of the most deserving talent, regardless of gender.

    Deb Saucier, President and Vice-Chancellor of Vancouver Island University, will moderate the discussion, which will also feature Nicole Fenton, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue; Jeremy Kerr, University of Ottawa; Juliet Daniel, McMaster University; and Shohini Ghose, Wilfrid Laurier University.

    The panel will take place on Lifesize and is free and open to all members of the public. Pre-registration is not required and interested participants can join the discussion here.

    Categories: Activities & Events, Updates of the Chair

  • Vineyards and Heavy Rainfall

    Standing pools of water in a local Niagara vineyard, days after heavy rainfall in October of 2020 in a local vineyard (Photo taken by Len Van Hoffen).


    A flooded vineyard is not a strange view for Niagara region inhabitants, particularly after a heavy rainfall event. In recent years, this has been seen more frequently in late winter and spring. Heavy rainfalls are considered extreme weather events that are projected to occur more frequently because of climate change. With more frequent torrential downpours, vineyards are often subjected to periods of waterlogging. The meteorological service of Canada defines a heavy rainfall event as 50 mm of rain in less than a 12-hour period. Soil type, volume of precipitation and management practices can all be determinant factors for how long water will remain in the field, as well as how much it will affect the soil and vines. Flood conditions in vineyards can cause both short and long-term challenges for vineyard managers.

    A flooded vineyard usually leads to relatively soft, muddy soil, making management activities difficult. In fact, soggy conditions often prevent mechanical management from happening as the soft vineyard soil cannot support heavy equipment without causing soil compaction. Soil compaction is when the soil gets compressed to a point where normal processes such as water movement or plant root growth through the soil becomes limited. In the spring, it is not uncommon for between-row sowing of cover crops in the vineyard to be delayed or skipped entirely depending on how long the vineyard is under water. Sometimes, standing water can even mean that growers may have to delay their harvest; thus leaving the berries on the vine for a longer period of time and potentially affecting wine quality.

    Soil runoff is another management challenge in vineyards during periods of heavy rainfalls that cause soil degradation and nutrient loss. Vineyards located on steep slopes can be more prone to this phenomenon, with water running faster and bringing soil sediments, as well. Managers will often plant a cover crop in an attempt to mitigate this challenge.

    A waterlogged soil can become what is known as anaerobic, which means that there is less oxygen available in the soil for plants and other important organisms to thrive. Less oxygen can result in root damage and even plant mortality, ultimately resulting in reduced berry quality and yield.

    Some wine growers have found that yields following a flooded year are drastically lower than years with less heavy rainfall. In flood conditions, vine plants tend to devote energy to bud formation and canopy growth rather than forming fruits, hence less berries and smaller clusters. Furthermore, heavy rains close to harvest can injure ripened berries through the force of drops hitting the outer skin and exposing the swollen fruit contents. This causes them to become more susceptible to rot and disease and will not only decrease the yield, but potentially the wine quality, as well.

    Heavy rainfall can have other indirect effects for vineyard managers. Too much moisture has the tendency to increase disease pressure in seasons following floods. Too much rain, combined with warm temperatures, can produce the perfect condition for fungal diseases like mildew, botrytis, and other rots to develop. High precipitation can also speed up the spread of fungus that has overwintered within vineyard soils in the form of spores. Fungal spores can be lifted from the ground all the way to the canopy, essentially hitchhiking on the splash of raindrops, or carried to other parts of the vineyard through runoff.

    During times of drought, rain can be good news for any crop — and vines are no exception. But, as we have seen, heavy rains and extended flood conditions can have numerous negative effects on vineyard management, plants and ultimately, the whole agroecosystem. To minimize the impact of waterlogging within vineyards, some management practices can be applied. These may include the installation of efficient draining systems, mechanical pump removal of water or deep tilling of the soil every 4 to 5 years. However, working with mother nature by introducing between-row cover crop varieties that respond well to flood conditions may be a grower’s best bet in mitigating these extreme weather events. Thinking back to the most recent blog on the effects of drought in vineyards, it becomes apparent that water management can be a delicate balancing act for managers. Researching how vineyard systems respond to extreme weather events can help growers adapt and choose optimal management strategies thereby enhancing their vineyards resilience and sustainability.

    This blog will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (See Research Team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!

     

    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog

  • Calls for action for climate change and how to take initiative

    Using public transportation or riding your bike can help reduce the impacts of climate change. At the Google offices in San Fransisco, for example, bicycles are provided to employees to use as transportation. Photo: Sam Gauthier.


    As our world warms, extreme weather events are projected to increase in frequency and/or intensity, both here in Canada and around the world. At the same time, sea levels are rising, prolonged droughts are putting pressure on food crops, and many animal and plant species are being threatened with extinction.

    It’s hard to imagine what we, as individuals, can do to resolve a problem of this scale and severity. However, there are actually many ways that we can take initiative and help mitigate the impacts of climate change: by assessing and altering our behaviour and the way we react to certain situations; through adaptation and making adjustments, decision making and transformation related to climate change problems; and through mitigation, which reduces the severity of climate change impacts.

    A great place to start is by participating in conversations about climate. Solving climate change requires us to work together, and there are many schools, businesses, youth groups and other volunteer organizations that are already taking action and working towards change for the future.  By getting involved with some of these groups, you can engage in ongoing conversations about climate that will help broaden your knowledge on climate topics. This will then allow you to initiative and engage in future conversations about climate, sharing what you have learned with others.

    Another behavioural change is to focus on how you travel. Using public transportation or riding your bike can help reduce the impacts of climate change by reducing gasoline consumption and the emissions that gas-powered vehicles produce. Altering other activities, including around your home, can also help you adapt to climate change by using energy more wisely, which in turn helps to reduce the impacts of climate change. These strategies include mitigating the effects of climate change and greenhouse gases (GHG’s) by installing solar panels or “wrapping” windows to make them more energy efficient.

    Taking initiative and making changes is both good for the environment and helps to ensure a safe and cost-effective home. To adapt properly, it is important to do some research about how climate change is most directly impacting your region, such as how the temperature is changing and the specific precipitation and windstorm events. A great website to see projected changes in our climate is climatedata.ca. We will be talking about this website in next week’s blog post.

    Climate change presents challenges for everyone and in order to reduce these risks we must adapt. Change begins with us, and there are many opportunities for individuals to adapt to these risks right in our own homes. In our upcoming blogs posts, we will discuss specific adaptation such as naturalizing your yard so it absorbs more water, retrofitting your home to better handle floods and using stronger, hail-resistant building materials.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt and increase resilience to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith Caspell, Bradley May, Sam Gauthier & Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

     

    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog

  • Drought stress in vineyards

    Mid-summer drought conditions in a local Niagara vineyard can present problems not only with the vines, but also with cover crop establishment below the vines (photo: Heather VanVolkenburg).


    Nowadays, we have to face the reality of climate change. In the Niagara Region, heat waves and extended dry periods are projected to become more frequent during the growing season (July to August). Like almost all agricultural activities, viticulture (grape growing) is highly dependent on climatic conditions, meaning that such changes are increasingly making vineyard management more challenging. Drought conditions can ultimately lead to economic losses due to decreases in production and/or wine quality, for example, and understanding how vineyard managers have learned to adapt to extreme periods of drought will help to support a more sustainable system overall.

    Droughts are defined as a combination of both high temperatures and a lack of water. Extended periods of drought affect the vineyard in many ways. First, it can negatively affect the grapes’ yield by inhibiting the amount of plant photosynthesis, leading to reduced berry development if the decrease occurs early in the growing season. In addition, heat waves can drastically decrease the number of berries and clusters formed. Extended temperatures above 30°C may also result in pauses in the vine’s ability to acquire nutrients from the soil. If this happens, wine produced from those grapes may end up with high alcohol and pH levels that leave them unbalanced or “flabby.” This results in an increased risk of spoilage as well as wines with poor colour and aroma profiles. Extended dry periods may also result in changes to the soil structure — making the soil hard and clumpy, especially in clay soils ­— thus becoming more difficult to manage. Dry soil is also more prone to wind erosion due to its dusty texture.

    One of the less obvious challenges linked to drought stress is that stressed grapevines tend to attract more grape pest species. A stressed plant will have a weakened immune system, making it incapable of properly defending itself against pest attacks. Spider mites are one such species that may increase in abundance during dry periods, potentially inflicting further damage to the already stressed vines. How moisture, or lack thereof, in the vineyard is managed matters, and it is crucial for growers to understand the balance between not having enough and having too much.

    To continue the production of high-quality wines at economically accepted yields in a dryer and warmer climate, growers need to apply adaptive strategies. The choice of vine cultivars, rootstocks and adequate training systems are crucial for drought adaptation. In addition, combining other management techniques such as cover cropping and irrigation can help vineyards adapt to extreme drought conditions. Understanding how different drought management techniques work together is one of the key elements in our research and our work is to help farmers choose the best combination of management techniques that will optimize the sustainability of production at the local scale.

    This blog will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!

     

    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog

  • Understanding irrigation techniques in vineyards

    Drip-irrigation being applied to a Niagara vineyard in late summer (photo: Kasia Zgurzynski).


    Water is essential in viticulture. How much water is made available to the vines is extremely important as it directly affects both yield and fruit quality. While rainfall is the least labour intensive and costly method of obtaining water, changes in climatic patterns can make dependence on rainfall alone a challenge. In years of prolonged drought and heat waves, water is often at a deficit, meaning that vines may not get enough water to grow properly or even to survive, depending on when this happens during the growing season. Irrigation is a solution to mitigate water stress in the vineyard.

    Irrigation is a technique by which a controlled amount of water is applied to plants. The main goal of irrigation in grape production is to apply the required quantity of water throughout the vineyard, at the correct time, so that vines do not suffer from water stress. There are several methods that can be used in irrigation, and the method chosen depends on vineyard needs such as the size of the field, topography, type of vine, etc. The three main irrigation types used in vineyards are surface irrigation, sprinkler irrigation and micro-irrigation.

    Surface irrigation, also called flood irrigation, is the oldest irrigation method that was predominately used by farmers in the past. This technique includes flooding the field so that the water moves across the surface of the vineyard and infiltrates the soil. This method is less expensive than other irrigation systems as the equipment needed is minimal and it relies on gravity for water infiltration. However, it is difficult to control uniformity in the amount of water dispersed across the field using this method. This may potentially lead to over-watered vines as well as a high amount of water being wasted due to evaporation and runoff.

    In the sprinkler irrigation technique, water from pipes that are, usually, buried underground is distributed through high-pressure sprinklers attached to pipes in various sections of the vineyard. This method is often seen in our local surroundings in the Niagara region, since it is also used to irrigate places such as gardens, parks, and football fields. This technique is more expensive than surface irrigation, but it presents a dual benefit as the equipment can also be used to reduce vine damage from frost in spring and fall. However, it is still not the best method for delivering a precise amount of water to each vine. Furthermore, even though it is better than flood irrigation in controlling waste, there is still water lost due to evaporation using this method, since the water is sprayed upwards and through the air before reaching the soil.

    Micro-irrigation, also called drip irrigation, is a method where water is distributed through distribution lines in a small, pre-determined amount to each plant in a field. Because water is delivered in a small amount and directly to each vine, evaporation and runoff are minimized. This method is the most water efficient, but it is also the most expensive. It requires the installation of a distribution system composed of a network of pipes, distribution lines, and pressure regulators. A water filtration system is also needed to prevent debris from clogging the distribution lines.

    The key to successful implementation of vineyard irrigation is to provide just enough water for the vine. In regions with low rainfall, for example, irrigation is necessary during the summer, since the vines need water most during the early stages of the growing season and during the dry seasons. After fruiting starts, irrigation must be minimized as vines need to go through a period of water stress to develop smaller grapes (thus, increasing the skin to juice ratio). However, if the water stress period is too extreme, some irrigation may still be needed. The goal is to achieve an equilibrium: neither too much water nor severe and prolonged drought. Therefore, vineyard managers need to consider how irrigation affects, and is in turn affected, by other management components applied to the system.

    In the Organic Science Cluster 3 project here at Brock University, we aim to explore sustainable management approaches to help grape growers adapt to climate change. Using organic vineyards as study locations, we are testing different combinations of three important vineyard management components: T– irrigation, cover cropping, and rootstock performance. Ultimately, our results will help us to understand how different options may support production despite the challenges presented by climate change.

    This blog will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!

    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog