Articles by author: sackles

  • Grape Rootstock in a Changing Environment

    A diagram representing the rootstock (the root portion of a single, healthy plant), scion (the young shoot of a different plant) and the junction where they are artificially united (graft union; diagram created by Heather VanVolkenburg).


    Managing vineyards can be challenging to say the least, especially with the added complexity of extreme environmental changes, both between and within growing seasons. In order maintain a productive vineyard, growers have several key components that they must consider when planning for vine establishment and maintenance. The selection of rootstock is one such component. The types of rootstock may determine how the vines respond to the abiotic and biotic stressors that present-day vineyards face, especially those related to climate change.

    Rootstock are an essential element in most vineyards, including vineyards here in Canada. To obtain a new vine, growers use the root system of one vine (i.e. rootstock) and combine it with a shoot from another one (i.e. scion). Each component can be from a different species of grapevine or even several species combined. Rootstock choices enable growers to select for grapevines that are more resistant to environmental adversities such as drought or disease, thus allowing for maintained or increased vine productivity Moreover, rootstock selection helps to overcome problems with soil such as texture, pH and density. While rootstock is normally selected for below-ground performance and resistance to challenges such as drought and disease (both of which occur more frequently due to effects of climate change), scions are usually chosen according to control above-ground aspects such as vine vigour, how quickly grapes ripen, fruit size, quality, and overall yield. In a simple way, the new plant has the best parts of two different plants!

    The selection of a rootstock can be quite complex. For example, if the vineyard is located in an area prone to flooding, consideration should be given to a rootstock’s ability to survive in this condition. The type of soil will also influence this selection. Other considerations may be related to resistance to certain pests or viruses. Selection considerations must constantly evolve as agroecosystems are constantly changing according the environment in which they exist. With the changing climate, especially extreme weather events, selection becomes even more challenging.

    Considering how closely existing rootstock choices interact with other management strategies (e.g. irrigation and cover cropping), defining good practices for local vineyards remains important. Here at Brock, we embrace the opportunity to work alongside vineyard growers to examine how integrated management techniques can help strengthen the sustainability of the industry. In our project, using organic vineyards as study locations, we are testing different combinations of three components of vineyard management, including irrigation, cover cropping and rootstock or their combined viability as local management techniques. By monitoring grapevine yields and growth, as well as disease and pest occurrence over consecutive seasons, we hope to evaluate how climate change may be affecting the different rootstocks and vine varieties present locally. Ultimately, we hope that results will contribute to maintain production of local grape growers in a sustainable way despite the challenges presented by climate change.

    This blog will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with monthly 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

  • Climate data and trends in the Greater Niagara Region

    A graph from climatedata.ca that illustrates the rising mean temperature from the years 1950-2100 under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). This increase in mean temperature can lead to negative impacts for agriculture, coastal communities and the overall health of individuals in the Niagara Region.


     In a previous blog post, we discussed how to take initiative towards adapting to and mitigating (reducing) the effects of climate change. However, before we can discuss specific methods of actually doing so, it is important to first understand the historical and predicted future climate trends in the Greater Niagara Region.

    A great tool for understanding climate trends across Canada is the publicly accessible website climatedata.ca. It provides climate data that helps individuals, communities and governments better understand historical climate data and make informed decisions for a more resilient Canada in the future. The website provides past, present and current climate trends for multiple locations in Canada. The data can be analysed on a broader provincial level or drilled down to look at specific municipalities or townships. Specific climate variables, such as temperature, precipitation, frost days and growing days, are also available. This information can be extremely valuable when trying to plan adaptation and mitigation measures in your community, for infrastructure, on farmland and even at your own personal residence. For example, frost days (number of days where the temperature drops below 0˚C) are particularly important in the Greater Niagara Region as the agricultural sector is a main economic driver for the area.

    The website generates graphs of climatic trends under three future greenhouse gas emission scenarios, also known as representative concentration pathways (RCPs). These RCPs were generated by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). RCPs represent the degree of warming of an area or location (translated in watts per square meter) under different scenarios. Those scenarios range from acting rapidly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to not acting at all and keeping a business-as-usual way of life. They include a low emission scenario (RCP2.6), moderate emissions scenario (RCP4.5) and high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). The RCP2.6 scenario leads to the least warming and reflects a future that uses immediate efforts to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RCP4.5 models a future in which some mitigation of emissions prevents the extreme warming of the high emissions scenario of RCP8.5. Analysing the high emissions scenario (RCP8.5) on the website allows you to understand and prepare for the worst-case scenario when dealing with climatic trends. Unfortunately, due to trends and behaviours we are currently seeing in Canada, such as increases in population, pollution, and deforestation (among others), the RCP8.5 scenario may become the most probable one.

    We used the website to find data about the Niagara Region under a high emission scenario (RCP8.5). Using the website, the climatic trends reported for this area show that the annual average temperature in the region was between 8.4 ºC and 9 ºC between 1951 and 2020. Under a high emissions scenario, annual average temperatures are projected to be 10.9 ºC by 2050, 12.9 ºC by 2080, and will continue to rise above 14.3 ºC by 2100. Average annual precipitation in the region was historically 866 mm. Under a high emissions scenario, this is projected to be 7% higher by 2050, 10% higher by 2080 and by 2100.

    Rising temperatures and precipitation rates can have a significant impact on agriculture, coastal communities and the overall health of individuals in the Niagara Region. Over time, climate change has become more severe and in order to take initiative and make change, we must adapt and mitigate so we can slow or stop these trends from climbing.

    It is important to note that these climatic trends are projections, meaning they are just a model and may not be 100% accurate. However, they do provide guidance as to what the future may hold for our region. With a proper understanding of the potential climatic changes Niagara could be facing, it allows us to be more prepared and create more efficient adaptation and mitigation plans. In upcoming blogs, we will discuss strategies that can be used to manage these projected climatic changes and how we can initiate change.

    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

  • 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

  • Vasseur chairs session at York University’s Global Sustainable and Inclusive Internationalization Virtual Conference

    Liette Vasseur, UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: From Local to Global and President, Canadian Commission for UNESCO, has been chosen as the Chair for a session at the Global Sustainable and Inclusive Internationalization Virtual Conference: Reimagining Approaches in Higher Education in an era of Global Uncertainties. Hosted by York University, the conference will bring together scholars, policymakers, sustainability experts and other key stakeholders.

    Vasseur will chair Plenary Session 2: Student & professional mobility 2030 and beyond: transferability of degrees, credit transfer, refugees and immigrants
    on Thursday, January 21 at 9:30 a.m.

    Plenary Topic:
    What are the grand challenges for higher education having a mobile student community and workforce today and in the future? How can universities/colleges help create welcoming structures in receiving societies? Who is winning and who is losing through this global mobility?

    Speakers:
    Dr. Ethel Valenzuela,
     Director, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Secretariat, Thailand
    Fabio Nascimbeni, Senior Expert, UNIMED – Mediterranean Universities Union, Italy
    Sjur Bergan, Head of Education Department, Council of Europe, Belgium

    Read more about the conference

    Categories: Updates of the Chair

  • Let’s Adapt to Climate Change — Adaptation Series Post 2: Technology-based Adaptation (TbA)

    Examples of TbA application – Artificial Intelligence


    Technology has the potential to help us adapt to climate change and Technology-based adaptation (TbA) strategies can support the Niagara’s agricultural sector. But what is TbA? TbA aims to maintain the resilience of various crop systems by using both traditionally available and innovative technologies. The following TbA strategies have been found most relevant to Niagara’s agricultural sector.

    Community-based weather monitoring systems provide local farmers with early forecasts and warnings of changing weather conditions so they can be better prepared to cope with weather uncertainties (e.g. in Niagara, Vine Alert is used to alert grape growers of impending frost or extreme low winter temperatures so they can turn on their wind machines and protect their crop). These systems have become popular because of their affordability and low capital and operational costs. Weather monitoring systems can be the first point of reference for farmers to accordingly shift their sowing and harvesting periods following changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. Considering Niagara’s geography and topography, decentralized community-based weather monitoring systems can be effective for improving adaptive responses.

    Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) is another very promising TbA that involves the balanced application of both natural amendments (manure, compostable wastes) and man-made fertilizers (mineral/synthetic fertilizers) to maintain healthy soils. INM can be successfully applied at both large and small-scale farms and leads to higher yields, better resistance against plant diseases, pests and droughts, especially if organic matter is added.

    Examples of TbA application – Drip Irrigation

    Drip irrigation allows for a controlled delivery of water to the root zone of plants through a system of pipes, valves, tubing and emitters. In the Niagara Region (especially in light of increasing droughts), this system has expanded, mainly in vineyards and in greenhouses.  It offers one of the most efficient water use mechanisms for agriculture with minimal waste. This may lead to increased yield and a reduction in plant diseases.  The best part is that drip irrigation can be used for the growth of both greenhouse and field crops — fruits and vegetables, in particular. Careful monitoring is required as it leads to algal growth and the build-up of sediments in pipes, which caused reduced efficiency and increases the chances of contamination. The capital cost of installation can also be prohibitive. But, with advances in research on the technology, its affordability is improving.

    Rainwater harvesting is also a very well-established TbA to reduce water shortage during droughts. Rainwater harvesting refers to the collection and transfer of rainwater from a roof to a storage tank (rain barrel or even a retention pond) for future utilization. In Ontario, retention ponds have been used for more than a century to reduce flooding and, around farmlands, to increase water availability for irrigation. One of the other positives about rainwater harvesting is that it is suitable for both greenhouse use and for field growers. On the other hand, rainwater harvesting systems have high initial capital costs and may also result in algal blooms if proper maintenance is not regularly undertaken.

    The newest TbA tactics involve the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tactics to automate irrigation systems and make them more efficient. The application of AI makes irrigation systems very precise as the sensors collect real-time data on various parameters, like soil moisture, climate and lux (light) conditions on the farm and then release the required amount of water to the crops. Drones can also be used to precisely map the areas where irrigation or nutrients are most needed (also referred to as precision agriculture). Drones can assist with monitoring for pest outbreaks or localized flooding in some parts of the fields. With advanced sensors and research in the domain of software integration, drones are becoming increasingly popular in agriculture. AI systems offer several advantages for both greenhouse and outside growers. On the other hand, AI systems acquisition and maintenance can be expensive, and those systems require the use of highly skilled labour to operate.

    Conservation tillage can also be considered a TbA. It comprises a variety of soil preparation practices where new crops are planted on previous crop residues that have been purposely left behind on the field (about 1/3 of crop residue). Conservation tillage practices are popular because they minimize the energy required in land preparation for agriculture while improving the retention of water and organic matter that further enhances productivity. Therefore, it has been extensively applied in the growing of fruits, vegetables and grain, as well as in vineyards. Conservation tillage measures also improve an agricultural system’s coping capacity to drought and uneven rainfall by minimizing soil erosion and fuel and labour requirements. The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) has suggested conservation tillage as one of the Best Management Practices to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality in the Niagara Region.

    To sum up, an integration of traditional and innovative technologies can be promosing for the Niagara region and, when combined with any other approaches, can help enhance the resilience of our agricultural sector.

    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 DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier and 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

  • Let’s Adapt to Climate Change — Adaptation Series Post 1: Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA)

    An example of EbA application at farms – Windbreaks


    Since it began, the MEOPAR project has focused on adaptation to climate change. In our next four blogs, we will examine different approaches to adaptation, which, as a reminder, refers to any adjustment or response to reduce the negative impacts of climate change.

    In this blog, we will introduce the concept of Ecosystem-based Adaptation, or EbA for short.

    EbA encompasses the various measures that can help both the natural and human components of our ecosystems adapt to climate change. This is achieved by promoting biodiversity conversation, ecological restoration and sustainable resources management. These actions reduce vulnerability and support the development of adaptive capacity and resilience.

    The following EbA strategies have been found most relevant to Niagara’s agricultural sector:

    An example of Windbreaks used in the agricultural sector.

    Windbreaks: Planting windbreaks, or shelterbelts, is a common EbA practice that has been used by the agricultural sector (especially in Europe) for a very long time. It involves planting shrubs and trees, which can be a mix of deciduous or evergreen (single row or multi-row) crops. Windbreaks are effective as an EbA strategy against strong winds, soil erosion and snow accumulation (through the use of a living snow fence) as they obstruct and alter wind flow patterns resulting in reduced wind speeds. For Niagara, windbreaks can be useful for protecting perennial fruit crops as well as annual crops. It is important to note that windbreaks may involve capital investment and increase maintenance costs, and that the placement of them must be selected carefully in order to avoid competition for nutrients with crops.

    Integrated Pest Management (IPM): IPM involves a series of steps that includes the preparation of soil and crop planting, trapping of pests, monitoring and inspection, designing of cultural, biological and chemical controls, and record-keeping that minimizes overall economic, health and environmental risks. IPM also includes the use of pesticides, but only when there is a pest outbreak. In Ontario, IPM has been used extensively for apples (to manage black rots, blister spots, scabs, borers, moth), raspberries (to manage spur blight, cane blight, orange rust), grapes (to control parasitic nematodes), as well as most greenhouse crops. The application of IPM can help maintain ecosystem health and decrease pesticide use as well as the probability of the development of pesticide-resistant insects. In the Niagara region, institutions like Brock University, Niagara College and Niagara Orchard and Vineyard Corporation are actively involved with farmers for IPM research.

    Miscellaneous measures: Various other EbA measures have also been identified for Niagara’s agricultural system. For example, intercropping (mixed, row, strip, relay), and crop diversification, with alternate rows or plots of different crops species or varieties, can reduce pre/post-harvest losses and improve resilience to the impacts of climate change (such as higher annual rainfall, average temperatures, and droughts). Other successful EbA techniques include tile drainage, cover cropping (e.g., legumes, white clover), and drought-resistant crops (pearl millets, sorghum) for improved drought resilience and profitability. These techniques are relevant to both field (e.g., soybean and corn) and greenhouse crops. Restoring a pasture into a tallgrass prairie (a natural system originally present in the Niagara) can also help provide fodder to animals during droughts.

    EbA is based on a participatory, integrated and inclusive approach to climate change adaptation. It has the potential to reduce the vulnerability of Niagara’s agricultural system to climate change, and to contribute to the development of a more resilient farming community.

    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, Pulkit Garg, 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

  • Shifting away from black bin use: Simple lifestyle changes to reduce your household waste

    Do you ever wonder what happens to your waste once it is picked up from your bins? Asking ourselves this on a regular basis is an important part of understanding how our actions are part of a complex problem that municipalities are working to resolve. Last week, we discussed the benefits of the new waste collection schedule for the Niagara Region. These benefits include the reduction of Green House Gases (GHG) as well as a decrease in both the amount of pollutants that leach into the environment and the amount of land required to bury our garbage. But how does this translate to action, and how can we make this shift to reduce our black bin (or garbage bin) use easier?

    As humans, we are social beings and are influenced by the actions of others. Our neighbours’ habits can impact our own, often without us even realizing it. If you see that your neighbours are shovelling their sidewalk when it snows, you are more likely to want to get out and shovel yours. The same goes for recycling and composting­ — if you believe your neighbours regularly recycle, you are more likely to do so yourself. Convenience and over-consumption are among of the biggest barriers to overcoming waste challenges. It is easy to not think about your waste because in a week or two, it will be off your property. The negative impacts of improper waste management extend beyond your curb, however. Although your waste might be out of sight and out of mind after collection day, the impacts of that waste extend beyond the local level, having global implications that continue long after it has been emptied from your bins.

    One way to begin changing your habits is to challenge yourself to use your recycling and compostable bins more frequently. The best way to do this is by tracking what you put in the garbage each day. After trying it out for a week, you may catch yourself putting waste in the wrong place!

    Here are some tips for helping reduce the waste in your black bin or bag:

    • Buy items in bulk (some stores may not allow you to bring your own containers during the pandemic, but typically, you can bring a reusable container)
    • Re-use your plastic bags, or better yet, use containers or re-usable beeswax wraps (see our creative kitchen blog post)
    • Remind yourself to choose the alternative with less packaging while shopping (buying fresh fruits and vegetables that don’t come in plastic wrap, for example)
    • Tape a reminder near your garbage can that will prompt you to think about whether your item truly belongs in the trash, or if it could be recycled or composted, instead
    • Educate yourself and your family members by using the ‘Where does it go?’ tool on the Niagara Region’s website. You simply type in any item that you you no longer want (from pizza boxes to empty laundry detergent jugs) and it will tell you which bin it goes in
    • Only buy what you truly need

    If you are a new homeowner or renter, the Region provides you with free containers for your waste, recycling, and compost! If you have been living in your dwelling for more than a year, you can still purchase containers or use other acceptable alternatives. Having a bin for each of the waste streams will set yourself up for success.

    Ontario’s zero waste goals will require collective efforts from everyone across the province. These goals include a 50 per cent waste diversion rate (that is, non-garbage material into green, blue or grey bins instead of black bins) by 2030 and a 80 per cent diversion rate by 2050. The Niagara Region can be a leader in this effort—starting with you and the actions you take in your home. When we take on more responsibility for our consumption and waste practices, we are doing our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while making our communities more sustainable for us all.

    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 DeCock-Caspell, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier & Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog

  • The Role of Perimeter Plantings in Vineyards

     A perimeter planting (border vegetation at right of photo) at an organic vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Photo: Kasia Zgurzynski).


     Driving through Niagara’s wine country, you are likely to see many vineyards, often in close proximity to one another. What frequently separates these properties are fence-like rows of vegetation known as perimeter plantings (or hedgerows). The use of perimeter plantings in agricultural fields dates back to at least Medieval times in Ireland and England. Perimeter plantings can be remnants of previous forests, or, in many cases, farmers actively choose to plant and maintain vegetative borders with an understanding that these borders have the potential to be valuable elements of the agricultural landscape.

    There are many obvious services that perimeter plantings provide for vineyards. They can provide a protective barrier between properties, for example, filtering airborne weed seeds from neighbouring farms or reducing drifting snow during winter storms (especially if there are conifers). The above-ground density of perimeter plantings can also reduce the potential damage that winds can have on grapevines, as well as reducing the amount of wind-caused erosion of exposed soil. Wind is also a major driver of moisture loss, and perimeter plantings can reduce this impact, as well.

    Perimeter plantings offer other advantages as introduced species mingle with native and cultivated species to provide higher biodiversity than what would typically be found in a vineyard. Many species rely on these perimeters as a connection between habitats that would otherwise be isolated from each other, acting as a corridor for birds, insects, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Sometimes farmers will also plant specific plant species in order to attract natural enemies of pest insects or pollinators. Perimeter plantings can provide food and overwintering habitat for parasitic wasps and predatory beetles, for example, both of which act as pest control. However, some insect pests can also use the perimeters to overwinter or to find alternative hosts. Wild grapevines may inadvertently be found in perimeter plantings and they may need to be removed as they can attract the Grape Berry Moth, a common pest in vineyards. Managing perimeter plantings can help maintain a functional mix of plant species that can potentially attract beneficial insects while simultaneously minimizing the attraction of pest species.

    Although some potential drawbacks exist with having lush perimeter plantings, the services that they provide are valuable on many levels, to us as humans and the ecosystems we inhabit. As we continue to face increasing impacts from climate change, it is important to be equipped with the tools necessary to adjust and react accordingly. Grape growers are stewards of the land that they cultivate, and research on perimeter plantings can support them in their roles by providing practical solutions to complex challenges, including those caused by a changing climate.

    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

  • Cover Crops in the Vineyard

    Three examples of leguminous plant species being tested as cover crops here in local Niagara vineyards. From left: Trifolium incarnatum (crimson clover), Trifolium repens (white clover) and Melilotus officinalis (yellow sweet clover) (Photos: Kasia Zgurzynski)


    Grapevines are not the only plants at work in a typical vineyard. Growers often incorporate additional species of plants in between and (less often in Canada) under the rows of vines as a way to boost growing conditions and potentially improve berry yield. These additional cultivated plants are called cover crops. Cover crops are not typically harvested, but rather serve to enhance the growing environment. Since plants provide a multitude of functions in nature and form the foundation of healthy ecosystems, it should come as no surprise that cover crops can be a useful vineyard management tool. Some examples of environmental enhancement that can be achieved by cover cropping are improved water infiltration, decreased soil runoff and erosion, weed control or the promotion of beneficial insects.

    Cover crops can include various species of legumes (e.g., clover, vetch), forbs (e.g., chicory, oilseed radish) or grasses (e.g., fescue, timothy grass). Most legume species develop a reciprocal relationship with bacteria in the soil. These bacteria are beneficial and help capture the nitrogen and transform it to a form that can be absorbed by plants, making this key nutrient biologically available for the cash crop. Many grasses work as a kind of natural mulch, protecting the soil from drying out and suppressing the growth of weeds. Flowering plants with long and tough roots can break up the compaction in the soil, making it easier for water and oxygen to infiltrate deeply throughout the rooting zone, and drawing up water and nutrients from deep within the soil.

    Sometimes, the true benefits of cover crops occur when they are turned back into the soil, providing the organic matter and nutrients necessary to maintain soil health. Cover crops can also be an important nectar and food source for beneficial insects, such as parasitic wasps that can control leafhoppers. That being said, depending on the species and where or when they are planted, cover crops may actually compete with the cash crop, introduce disease or  impede wind flow between rows, so careful selection is important for the system to perform optimally. With climate change and the possibility of more climate variability, such as droughts and heavy rainfall, the presence of cover crops can help buffer the impacts of soil runoff or drought-induced soil cracking.

    Overall, cover crops have the potential to be a relatively inexpensive and effective strategy for improving the health of the vineyard from the ground up. A plant does not have to be a cash crop to perform a service for the vineyard. These crops can also help integrate the vineyards more holistically into the surrounding landscape. The ecological services provided by cover crops are substantial even beyond the vineyard, as well, allowing vineyard owners to improve their own crops while also providing benefits to nearby growers and the surrounding ecosystem in the process.

    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

  • Wetlands: Our natural flood protection partner

    Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authorities E.C. Brown Wetland Restoration site in South Pelham with Katleya Young-Chin, Ecosystem Restoration Specialist.


    Wetlands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, supporting well over 100,000 species globally. Humans rely on this diversity for a wide range of goods and services (known as ecosystem services), and wetlands are important for the social, economic and ecological health of our country.

    Despite their obvious contributions, however, more than 87 per cent of our global wetlands have been lost, primarily due to land conversion, invasive species and climate change. Southern Ontario, the most biologically diverse life zone in Canada (home to over 2,500 species of plants and animals), has lost over 90 per cent of its original wetlands due to urbanization and agriculture. As one quarter of all the wetlands in Canada are found in Ontario, their disappearance in the province has had a significant impact and been associated with increased flooding as well as the deterioration of wildlife biodiversity and water quality.

    Wetlands play a significant role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, by helping to reduce and prevent flooding. Acting as natural “sponges,” wetlands capture and slowly release water back into the environment after rain events. Since our human-made infrastructures (buildings, roads, parking lots) are not permeable, water will quickly “runoff” to the nearest low point. In urban settings, that runoff usually flows to storm drains, and most of those drains then directly discharge in creeks, rivers or lakes. This fast transfer of water (stormwater runoff) can quickly overwhelm creeks, rivers, and stormwater systems and when excess water has no place to go, flooding happens. Contrary to the common belief, quickly moving water off the landscape will not reduce flooding, it actually increases it. Too much water in such systems leads to blockage and back-up (including in houses).

    To illustrate how flooding can happen in urban areas, consider an average sized house which typically generates approximately 2,000 litres of runoff during a typical rain event. This is about the equivalent of 150 bathtubs full of water. In Niagara, with close to a quarter of a million dwellings, this is the equivalent to filling 1.7 million bathtubs, or 100 Olympic swimming pools, with stormwater.

    Niagara and its surrounding areas have seen significant wetland losses, currently approaching 90 per cent. That losss, coupled with the increased storm frequency and intensity caused by climate change, is causing large volumes of stormwater to be generated which is overwhelming infrastructure and causing flooding that is reaching disastrous proportions.

    An example of this was seen in Walkers Creek, St. Cathraines, on September 3, 2018, when a high instensity storm dumped one metre of rain water on the North end of the City within a two- hour period, causing widespread road and basement flooding.

    A 2019 study by the Canadian government looked at ecosystem services provided by wetlands. The study found that each hectare (ha) of wetland located in the upstream portions of urban watersheds (drainage area) could provide upto $3,500/ha in flood damage reduction by intercepting and absorbing rainwater before it reaches urban centres. All remaining Canadian wetlands, if used wisely, can sustain biodiversity and ecosystem services for future generations. Where wetland functions have been degraded, conservation and restoration partnerships should be explored. This process should start with the owners of the land, which may include private, public, government and Indigenous communities. Wetlands, as part of planned green networks, provide multiple economic benefits, including relief from storm flooding.

    Locally, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has a partnerhip with Ducks Unlimited Canada for wetland restoration and conservation initiatives and is a great place to find out more information www.npca.ca

    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 DeCock-Caspell, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier & Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog