News

  • 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

  • New publication: New pathways for teaching and learning: the posthumanist approach

    How can we engage all teachers and learners in thinking, feeling and being responsible for ourselves, one another, and the planet? In the new paper, New pathways for teaching and learning: the posthumanist approach, written by  Fiona Blaikie, Christine Daigle and Liette Vasseur, the authors explore embracing a posthumanist pedagogy and returning to holistic, ancestral and Indigenous ways of knowing.

    From the paper’s introduction:

    “How does one “posthuman” teach another? Applying a posthumanist approach to education involves rethinking pedagogy, knowledge production and dissemination. If there is a need to understand the world differently, we must “defamiliarize [our] mental habits” (Braidotti 2019, 77) by moving away from a humanist worldview. This worldview has not only shaped our thoughts, but also our institutions. Universities and education systems are structured around binaried teacher-learner relationships, as well as seeing disciplines and school subjects as discrete entitites with their own objects and methods of study and practices. What changes must we bring about so that we can imagine and understand the world and ourselves in new ways? A posthuman approach can change the way we value ourselves, other species, the planet, and beyond. It requires thinking about the system as a whole instead of each agent as a perfect independent entity; it requires valuing all agents and their relationality.”

    The paper was prepared for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and can be found on its website. 
    You can also download the paper here .

    Categories: Updates of the Chair

  • Let’s Adapt to Climate Change — Adaptation Series Post 4 – Policy-based Adaptation (PbA)

    The role of the government is crucial for encouraging adaptation to climate change.


    Governments and the policies they draft have an important role to play in supporting the efforts that all sectors of society make to adapt to climate change.

    Policy-based Adaptation (PbA) involves the integration of climate change adaptation into various local, regional, provincial, and national policies for sustainable investments, actions and development. PbA becomes very important in the context of the agricultural sector because addressing climatic variability through policies can impact both food production and food security.

    Governments play a crucial role in encouraging adaptation to climate change through policies and incentives. They also offer services such as cost-benefit analysis of adaptation options, information and database management for climate data, extension activities, the undertaking of risk and vulnerability assessments and the provision of technical and financial support to monitor and contain pests, weeds and invasive species. Integration of the top-down and bottom-up policy approaches to climate change adaptation have been found to be the most effective for the agricultural sector.

    Local participation is key to the long-term success of any policy implementation, but there is also the need to consider all options and approaches in order to adapt to climate change. Adaption is context-specific and localized to fit to each unique situation, and doing so will ensure the mitigation of the negative impacts of climate change to the 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 & 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 3: Community-based Adaptation (CbA)

    Locally relevant research and partnerships with academic institutions, MEOPAR Focus Group Meetings involving a co-construction approach, and partnerships with organizations like the ALUS Foundation are relevant CbA strategies to cope with climate change.


    Over the last few weeks, the MEOPAR team has focused on ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) and technology-based adaptation (TbA) options for Niagara in its blog posts. Since the role of communities is crucial in enabling action, today’s blog post will shed some light on some of the various community-based adaptation (CbA) strategies that have been found to be promising for Niagara’s agricultural sector.

    CbA is an adaptation approach that involves the participation of everyone in a community in all the steps of the adaptation process, from planning to implementation, with or without the help of external resources (such as researchers). It is usually referred to as a co-construction approach. CbA is based on social learning, capacity building and public engagement to define solutions that are locally appropriate and may later be integrated into various policy structures.

    CbA strategies that use the co-construction approach have been applied to cereal (wheat, barley, oats and rye), oilseed (soybean, sunflower and canola) and vegetable (cabbage, tomato, potato, onions, peas) production in Canada. Rather than policy development, a much better coping capacity to extreme events can be developed with potentially greater social acceptability and implementation by applying a bottom-up co-construction approach. The MEOPAR-Town of Lincoln Climate Change Project is, in fact, based on this approach. This participatory approach can facilitate the inclusion of Niagara farmers in adaptation planning (especially to recurring droughts and floods).

    CbA strategies can also involve the establishment of local farmers’ organizations that develop strategies to cope with climate change. These organizations can also play a critical role in the uptake and implementation of the latest technological innovations in agriculture, such as irrigation, tillage and storage.

    Other larger organizations can also help to find solutions on a local level. For example, the ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) Foundation has been actively involved in the domain of conservation agriculture (a type of EbA) in six Canadian provinces. The Foundation aims to protect ecological services that are important in farmlands and combines CbA with EbA, in order to help farmers become more resilient.

    Institutions like Brock University, AAFC Vineland and Niagara College can also play a considerable role through extension and research collaborative activities. Research on improved climate-resilient crop varieties, multi-cropping, technological advancements and market diversification for produce, for example, has been suggested as a means for Niagara’s agricultural sector to adapt to climate change. Researchers can also help in taking a co-construction approach.

    In summary, CbA strategies are relevant to Niagara’s agricultural sector and, combined with the other adaptation approaches, can help the sector better adapt to the impacts of climate 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 DeCock, 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

  • 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

  • Changes in Niagara garbage collection schedule: a great step towards a zero-waste future

    Waste management continues to be a major challenge across the globe, with improper waste disposal resulting in high levels of pollution. In order to tackle this global issue, it is important that communities, and in fact all residents, rethink their waste management strategies. In the Niagara Region, an October 2019 waste management services report analyzed the contents of the average Niagara resident’s weekly garbage disposal and found that compost and recycle programs were being underutilized by residents. Only 48 per cent of households were found to be using the Green Bin (compost) program and, on average, 64 per cent of what Niagara residents placed in the garbage could have been recycled or composted. That means that only 36 per cent of the typical curbside garbage in the region was actually landfill garbage: 50 per cent was found to be compostable organic material (such as food leftovers) and 14 per cent was recyclable material.

    In response, the Niagara Region has made improvements to its waste management collection with the goal of increasing resident use of green bins for organics composting and encouraging the proper recycling of plastic, glass and cardboard products. As of October 19, 2020, the collection schedule changed to bi-weekly garbage pick-up, with continued weekly pick-up of recycling (blue & grey bins) and organic compost waste (green bin). Residents are now able to put out two containers of garbage on their scheduled pick-up week, and purchase additional tags if needed. This means that residents can still put out the same amount of garbage, they just have to wait two weeks to do so. The region hopes this will encourage individuals to use their green bins properly and help work toward it’s goal of diverting 65 per cent of waste from landfills. This can only be achieved, however, if we all put in an effort to rethink how we deal with our waste management.

    This change in the collection schedule has many benefits for the region, the first extending the lifespan of the landfill site. It also helps fight climate change Reducing the amount of waste going to landfills also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases (methane) that are released into the atmosphere. Less waste in the landfills also helps prevent the leaching of harmful chemicals, from plastics and other chemicals, into the environment. Proper recycling can also help in the reduction of greenhouse house gases through a reduction in energy consumption. Using recycled materials to make new products reduces the need for new materials. In turn, this avoids the greenhouse gas emissions that would have result from creating those new materials. This relates back to the idea of a circular economy, where we use products, services and resources for as long as possible and then recover and regenerate them at the end of their service life.

    Reducing the frequency in garbage pick-up also results in a reduction of the number of garbage trucks on the road. This, in turn, also mean a reduction in harmful emissions contributing to climate change. As well as the environmental benefits, having fewer wate collection trucks on the road also benefits the community by reducing traffic and lowering the financial costs for expenses like fuel and vehicle maintenance. Garbage trucks and other heavy vehicles can also cause significant damage to roads over time (such as the creation of potholes), and having less trucks on the road could potentially lower road maintenance costs in the region, too.

    If you are concerned about this new schedule and and its impact on your household waste disposal, there are many ways that you can reduce the volume of your waste and work towards proper waste disposal. Rethinking how you shop is a great place to start; you can look for products that contain less waste or buy in bulk. Shifting your mindset to think more about your waste habits and educating yourself on transforming your current habits into more sustainable ones will also help to ease the transition. Stay tuned for future blog posts where we will be discussing more on proper waste management and how we can work on improving our waste habits. It is important to note that there will also be province-wide changes to the recycling system coming in a few years and that the MEOPAR team will also discuss those changes and their implications in future blog posts.

    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln 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