Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Science: Progress in Research
Message from the Deputy Minister
As we celebrate our first 125 years of providing science and innovation to Canada's farmers and agri-food sector, it is a good time to take stock of our achievements and confirm our commitment to scientific excellence.
Our research has led to many groundbreaking discoveries that have greatly expanded Canada's agriculture and agri-food capacity. From Marquis wheat that helped settle the west and transform Canada into a world-class food producer, to today's advances in crop improvement using cutting-edge genomics, our scientists have provided the best possible science-based solutions to the sector's challenges.
This report highlights our most recent scientific achievements that illustrate the progress of AAFC research across the sector. We continue to drive innovation and ingenuity to ensure growth and prosperity for the sector, new opportunities for our farmers and a strong agricultural economy for all Canadians.
The next few decades will be an exciting time for our world-class researchers as we continue our collaborations inside and outside AAFC on crucial agricultural advancements and innovations to ensure a prosperous agricultural and agri-food industry and a sustainable and secure food supply for Canada and the world.
John Knubley, Deputy Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Welcome to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Science: Progress in Research.
From conducting cutting-edge genetic research to improve plant breeding techniques, developing a national capacity to generate biofuels, to commercializing healthier food and other agri-products, AAFC's science is generating new economic opportunities for Canadian farmers, processors, and retailers.
The research results highlighted in this report demonstrate the critical role that AAFC's science plays in delivering results aligned with Canada's national priorities: environmental science and technologies; natural resources and energy; health and related life sciences and technology; and information and communications technologies. The report also demonstrates the importance of collaborating with industry, academia, and other science-based government departments and agencies to leverage our agricultural research and development investments to help keep Canadian agricultural producers and processors and agri-entrepreneurs at the forefront of innovation for years to come.
Agriculture and the Environment: Protecting Our Food from Pollution, Pests, and Other Threats
Sustainable agricultural production and processing practices that safeguard the productive capacity of our air, water and land resources and our capacity to continue to create wealth from these resources for generations to come is a critical requirement for prosperity and competitiveness of the Canadian agriculture, agri-food, and agri-products sector.
Scientific Discoveries for Agri-environmental Health
AAFC scientists are improving the scientific understanding of agriculture's interaction with the environment. This basic research is fundamental to developing new and improved agricultural practices that address environmental challenges such as climate variability and crop, livestock, and water management in an economically sustainable manner. AAFC scientists in the Lower Fraser and Okanagan valleys of British Columbia, for example, are working to develop understanding, practices, and recommendations for managing nutrients (primarily phosphorus and nitrogen) to prevent soil, water, and air pollution where crops are grown under intensive management. The researchers map the chemical and physical attributes of soils, using samples collected over a two-year period in both regions and supplemented with samples from related experimental field plots, to develop site-specific management recommendations and risk indicators/assessments. Similarly, AAFC researchers in Harrow, Ontario are examining the surface soil layer to develop a model that will enable scientists and producers to predict the extent of risk for soil structure degradation from land use and tillage practices.
Improving Traditional Nutrient Management Practices
AAFC scientists are investigating new ways to improve the efficiency of fertilizers. Traditionally, producers on the Canadian prairies have tried to improve nutrient management by selecting fertilizer source, timing, and placement to optimize nutrient use efficiency. However, because of increased fuel and fertilizer costs and improvement in manufacturing technology, there is a growing interest in the use of enhanced efficiency fertilizers, which use novel formulations to improve nitrogen use efficiency. Enhanced efficiency fertilizer materials have long been used in specialty applications such as turf and ornamentals and AAFC researchers are now looking at several additives or coatings that can improve nutrient use efficiency or increase the timing and placement options available to producers by controlling the speed of release or interfering with soil-fertilizer reactions. For the producer, these novel products can reduce fertilizer losses, slow the conversion to less available forms, reduce the risk of seedling damage, and the need to invest in new equipment.
Transforming Knowledge into Sustainable Applications
AAFC's agri-environmental basic research develops innovative, sustainable solutions to minimize the adverse impacts on water quality and water use, climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as enhance the benefits that agriculture can have on the environment (i.e. soil, water, air, biodiversity). For example, researchers at the Dairy and Swine Research and Development Centre in Sherbrooke, Quebec, have been studying liquid manure for the last fifteen years and developed a unique and cost-effective process using bacteria that alleviates several of the problems associated with liquid manure (e.g., the contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, mainly in the form of methane and nitrogen oxide). The process, which occurs at low temperatures, is the most energy efficient system known today. The technology has been patented and licensed to Bio-Terre Systems, a company that has already built three full-scale units that process swine manure on commercial farms in Canada. The Sherbrooke team is now focusing on expanding the technology's application to dry agri-food wastes such as solid livestock manures and crop residues.
GHG emissions from cattle farms may also be reduced by changing some conventional management practices. It is possible that bringing steers to market five months earlier than usual, feeding them more legumes instead of hay, or reducing the number of days that a cow isn't lactating have positive impacts on methane reduction. AAFC researchers in Lethbridge, Alberta plan to investigate these strategies from a life-cycle perspective because lowering emissions from one stage may increase them at other points along the production system.
Strategies for Reducing Groundwater Contamination
AAFC scientists in Saskatoon are working to improve farm management practices and reduce groundwater contamination with research into possible solutions to properly clean spraying equipment and safely dispose of any extra pesticides. One possible solution is the biobed, which is a pit filled with a mixture of soil, compost (or peat) and cereal straw. The spongy mix serves to absorb large volumes of spray rinsate while promoting microbial degradation of the pesticides. Liquids leaving the biobed pits have significantly less pesticide, and thus pose less threat to groundwater. AAFC researchers are currently investigating how the system will perform under Canadian conditions (i.e., differences in temperature, moisture, and herbicide formulations and concentrations).
Partnerships with Environmental Benefits Now and in the Future
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has also been working with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to use Earth Observation (EO) satellite information from RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2. Using EO data, AAFC has developed soil drainage and soil permeability classification models, maps of soil drainage and soil water regime indicators, classification of soil series into hydrologic soil groups, and a soil profile geographic database of the Montérégie, Quebec agricultural area. AAFC is also developing new methods to identify agricultural land at high risk for soil water erosion at snow melt based on RADARSAT-2 images.
Satellite radar imagery is also behind AAFC's recent partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). The ESA chose Indian Head, Saskatchewan, as one of three sites—the other two being Flevoland, The Netherlands, and Barrax, Spain—over which it will collect space-borne radar images. The imagery data will be examined by the researchers for use in land cover mapping, crop management, and new applications tailored to environmental monitoring.
Green Pesticides: From Concept to Commercialization
Currently, there are more than 20 AAFC scientists from coast to coast working on the development of biopesticides (a biological agent or microorganism such as bacteria, used to control insects, weeds, and plant diseases in place of synthetic pesticides). For example, work is progressing at the Saskatoon Research Centre on the development of a bacterium (Pseudomonas fluorescens) as a soil-applied bioherbicide for control of wild oats and green foxtail in the Canadian prairies. In addition, a product made from the soil fungus (Phoma macrostoma) has shown promise as a control agent for dandelions and other broadleaved weeds. Scientists at the Saskatoon Research Centre are currently working with The Scotts Company, which plans to register and commercialize this biopesticide for use on turf grass in urban centres. Similarly, AAFC researchers in London, Ontario, are working with the company AgraQuest Inc. in California to bring to market a bacterial agent to control blueberry leaf blight and peach leaf curl, while AAFC scientists in Saint-Jeansur- Richelieu, Quebec, have created new formulations of Bacillus thuringiensisbased biopesticides to improve product strength. Lastly, Pest Management Centre-funded researchers are working to commercialize a pest control product against the cabbage looper, a chronic insect pest in commercial greenhouses.
Another natural and novel pest management approach that AAFC scientists are currently investigating involves clearwing borers, which are worldwide pests of many high-value nursery and horticultural crops. Instead of having to kill the pests, researchers in Summerland, BC are investigating the use of semiochemicals (naturally-produced message-bearing compounds that govern many insect behaviours such as mating, aggregation, and feeding) to develop organically approved products to control borers.
DNA Testing for Sudden Oak Disease
A new DNA test for sudden oak death disease was recently developed by AAFC researchers in Ottawa. The test, which is the result of collaborative research with Natural Resources Canada, is currently being used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture, and has ensured that Canada is still considered free of this pathogen.
From the Lab to the Farmer: Agri-environmental Commercial Successes
AAFC helps industry explore new economic opportunities Wheat midge, for example, is a major pest faced by wheat growers across the prairies and during the past decade has caused multi-million dollar losses. Wheat breeders and entomologists have worked together to develop a strategy that will protect both the genetic resistance of wheat cultivars and the midge's natural parasitoid, a small parasitic wasp that feeds on the midge larvae. The approach used, known as a refuge, uses a proportion of susceptible plants (10%) interdispersed or in proximity to resistant plants (90%) in order to prevent or delay the development of insect resistance. AAFC scientists at the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg and the Semi-Arid Prairie Agriculture Research Centre in Swift Current have developed a new, rapid, and inexpensive DNA diagnostic platform that is currently being used to fingerprint Canadian registered wheat varieties and monitor field plots that represent a midge varietal blend. GenServe Laboratories, Saskatchewan's leading provider of applied R&D and technology commercialization, has just received ISO accreditation for the RIDT DNA fingerprinting of the feed blends and have completed fingerprinting 500,000 individual seeds from midge blends for various commercial seed companies.[Photo caption] Bumblebees, which are used primarily as pollinators in greenhouses, may soon performing double duty: AAFC scientists in Harrow, Ontario have developed a system where bumblebees leave the hive through a biopesticide dispenser and disperse the microbial control agents to plants.
Agriculture and Energy: Tapping Into Canada's Abundant Natural Resources
With a wealth of natural resources, Canada is in an excellent position to become a world leader in the development of bio-based products (bioproducts). These products include any energy, commercial, or industrial product (other than food or feed) that utilizes biological products or renewable domestic agricultural (plant, animal, and marine) or forestry materials. In the long-term, the bio-based economy can offer alternatives to fossil-fuel products and innovative products with new functionalities.
Developing New Crop Varieties for Resistance and Potential Bioproducts
Clubroot has emerged as a serious threat to the canola industry. First found in canola in Canada in 2003, clubroot can cause yield reductions in heavily infected fields from 50 and 100 percent. By 2008, it had been detected in over 400 canola, mustard, and vegetable fields in the province. Because most of Canada's canola is produced in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, the further establishment and spread of clubroot could be catastrophic for the $11 billion canola industry. A meeting of researchers and industry held in 2009 identified a number of gaps in basic scientific knowledge surrounding the disease organism (Plasmodiophora brassicae) and its control that must be addressed.
Scientists at the Saskatoon Research Centre are screening genetic stockpiles of canola germplasm for clubroot resistance. They are working to better understand the frequency and distribution of the disease across the Prairies, evaluate the potential for variety resistance and biocontrols (e.g., indigenous soil microorganisms) to control clubroot, and collect information on the impact of crop rotation on pathogen resistance. The researchers have found and studied more than 2,000 soil microorganisms that have the potential to colonize canola roots and provide durable root protection through induced resistance or competition with the disease organism and more are being discovered. Once they have identified candidates with a high potential to control clubroot, applied research will be needed to determine optimal formulations and application techniques. This research is vital for the management of clubroot on canola.
Another serious plant disease threatening Canada's agricultural success is soybean root rot. Scientists have been looking for the virulence factor genes of soybean root rot for over 40 years. Through advanced DNA marker technology, researchers at AAFC's Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre in London, Ontario, recently identified three genes that will help unlock the door to new resistant soybean varieties. The discovery will also help researchers develop new diagnostic tools and management strategies.
New Crop Breeding Techniques Yield Potential Bioproducts
Scientists at the Saskatoon Research Centre are using traditional and molecular breeding techniques to develop strains of Brassica carinata (Ethiopian mustard) that could be used as biopesticides, biolubricants and fuel, and industrial products. Similarly, AAFC scientists in London are investigating the microscopic soil-dwelling life forms of the root zone for potential bioproduct applications. Dubbed "the underground revolution in sustainable crop production," this micro-zone has the potential as a source of new biofertilizers that would reduce costs and environmental impacts of conventional fossil fuel products. And then there's Camelina sativa, a high oil-content member of the mustard family, which is showing great potential as an alternative biofuel for jets, as well as a number of other commercially important applications (e.g., a replacement feed for the aquaculture industry; a source of Omega 3s for the nutraceutical industry; and a viable cash crop for Canada's agricultural and seed crushing industry). Although the potential uses for the Camelina plant are vast, the genomic information about the plant is limited and and there's a need for more basic crop development work and agronomy research. The Camelina project, which is being managed by Genome Atlantic, is a four-year, $6.15M project that will feature researchers from a variety of institutions across Canada, including AAFC, and reaching into the United States and Europe. The project aims to help Canada leverage the potential commercial and social benefits of this plant by developing tools and knowledge to facilitate the refinement of particular traits to create lines for various industries and determining the effectiveness of Camelina as a replacement feed and oil.
Biomass Harvest from Natural Willow Rings Around Prairie Wetlands
In recent years, there has been a strong interest worldwide in the use of biomass for energy production, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as dependence on fossil fuels. One source of biomass that has received significant attention is the willow plant (Salix spp.) This plant is ideal for bioenergy production since it has the potential for high biomass production in a relatively short time frame, and will continue to re-sprout after multiple harvests.
While most of the focus to date has been on intentionally planting and managing willow as a crop, AAFC scientists, in conjunction with colleagues at Natural Resources Canada, are investigating the potential for using naturally occurring willow stands growing around small wetlands or sloughs for biomass production. In order to determine the feasibility of this approach, they have identified a number of basic knowledge gaps, including the biomass production potential of the stands, the fuel characteristics of the biomass, and the impacts of mechanical harvesting on harvest efficiency and stem regrowth.
Four native Canadian willow species were found to be growing around the small wetlands in the study area near Indian Head, Saskatchewan. By measuring stem regrowth and the number of regenerated stems per stump, the researchers discovered that the biomass production potential from these willow stands was not quite as high as what was generally reported for willow plantations. However, taking into account the amount of energy and greenhouse gas emissions required to produce willow biomass in a plantation, they found that both the energy consumed per unit energy delivered, and greenhouse gas emissions, were lower for the natural stands.
This research has the potential to lead to a number of benefits for Canadians. It provides basic scientific evidence that biomass from natural willow stands around small wetlands presents a potential economic opportunity for renewable bioenergy feedstock production. At the same time the application of an economically and environmentally sound production process may help sustain rapidly disappearing wetlands that are important for wildlife habitat, and water function and quality.
New Tools to Map and Manage Canada's Natural Resources
AAFC is involved in numerous studies, projects, and initiatives to determine how best to manage Canada's biomass resources for the emerging bioeconomy. AAFC researchers in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, for example, have developed a new GIS product in collaboration with Natural Resources Canada, Industry Canada, the National Research Council, and Environment Canada that will help map Canada's biomass production potential. The Biomass Inventory Mapping and Analysis Tool, or BIMAT, will yield valuable data with widespread applications ranging from improved evaluation of landscape impacts in context with other activities, to helping attract investment in biomass based processing facilities. The data will also help with the carbon accounting and sustainability assessment of multiple biofuel systems.
Collaborating to Conserve Canada's Natural Resources
Scientists at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre are helping to catalogue living organisms through a North American initiative called the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) and a global indexing project called Species 2000. The ITIS catalogue will contain scientific names, synonyms, common names and hierarchical classification for land, water, and airborne organisms mainly found in North America from all biological kingdoms - animals, plants, fungi, and microbes. Through this, AAFC is facilitating the sharing of biological information among researchers and cooperating agencies globally through a worldwide network. This project - by giving a baseline for species at this point in time - is a significant contribution to the world's ability to describe, conserve, and manage biodiversity.
From Wonder Oil Seed to Biodiesel: Canola's Commercial Successes
Canola is one of Canada's most valuable crops, with annual exports of canola seed, oil, and meal that are valued at over $3 billion. As such, it has received significant amounts of AAFC research and investment over the years. AAFC's research into canola for biofuels began close to twenty years ago. Researchers at Saskatoon Research Centre began working with the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission to find an economical method of producing biodiesel in Canada. This interest was supported by a community initiative proposed by a group of Foam Lake canola producers who wanted to develop non-food uses for oilseed crops. In 1996, this group incorporated to form Milligan Bio-Tech Inc., which continued to work with AAFC.
Last July, Milligan Bio-Tech Inc. celebrated the grand opening of their crushing and bio-diesel facility in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan. Using technology licensed from AAFC, the facility produces high-quality biodiesel from non-food grade canola that is normally considered unusable by the industry. Milligan also supplies other canola-based products including diesel fuel conditioner, penetrating oil, road dust suppressant, and oil and meal feed supplements, to the agriculture, aviation, forestry, trucking, and mining industries. Sales of these products have increased every year since Milligan began production as markets have expanded across Canada, the United States, and overseas.
New Easy-to-Use Quick Test to Predict Canola Spoilage
New seed tests developed in Brandon, Manitoba will soon help canola growers identify deteriorated seeds that may not germinate properly. Too often the effects of deteriorated seeds (e.g., lower seedling emergence and crop establishment, and ultimately poorer yields) don't emerge until the seeds are sown, when it's too late do anything about it. AAFC scientists have developed a simple, quick and inexpensive test that farmers can use on their farms to spot germination problems in canola and barley harvested under damp conditions. The test (which costs approximately $800) is more economical for farmers than existing tests which require equipment that runs close to $45,000.
Food and Health: Delivering Safe, Nutritious Products to Canadians
Canadians are increasingly health conscious and demanding foods with specific nutritional attributes such as nutraceuticals (foods that contain naturally occurring compounds that may be beneficial for disease prevention) and other innovative health-related products. The development of these products can not only enhance human health and wellness, but also provide new opportunities for Canadian farmers and agri-food firms.
Scientists at AAFC's Food Research and Development Centre in Saint Hyacinthe are shedding new light on the nutritional aspects of probiotics, and looking for new methods, such as encapsulation, to maximize the delivery and efficiency of these beneficial bacterial cultures in the human digestive system. AAFC scientists at the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg are investigating the beneficial effects of foods that may have positive impacts on the cardiovascular system, by measuring the effectiveness of bioactive compounds at the molecular level in a variety of fruits and vegetables. The results of this research will help the development of value-added food with evidence-based health claims. These activities provide new opportunities for Canadian farmers and agri-food firms by expanding marketing alternatives.
Discovering New Techniques to Promote Disease Prevention
There is evidence that antioxidants, which are found naturally in fruits and vegetables, can help prevent various cancers, heart disease, and diseases of aging. Currently, researchers in British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are investigating a number of different techniques to exploit or boost the antioxidant content in many common fruits and vegetables. Scientists at AAFC's Guelph Food Research Centre, for example, are studying lycopene, dubbed “the world's most powerful antioxidant,” to better understand its stability and bioavailability in tomatoes and to develop practical applications for tomato producers. In Summerland, British Columbia, AAFC researchers have discovered that the antioxidant activity in culled sweet cherries is similar to market-grade ones, and are now looking at ways to extract these valuable constitutents from the cherries, instead of throwing them away. At the Atlantic Food and Horticultural Research Centre in Nova Scotia, scientists are studying how production and postharvest storage environments influence antioxidant content of a variety of fruits and vegetables, including apples, potatoes, and spinach. And at the Atlantic Cool Climate Crop Research Centre in Newfoundland, scientists are focusing on the development of a production system of cool climate specific half-high blueberry and lingonberry varieties that combine high antioxidant content with high yield and pest resistance.
Similarly, anthocyanins, a group of chemical substances that confer the red, blue, and purple colors of most food products, are well recognized as demonstrating an array of biological activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-carcinogenic. Scientists at Guelph's Food Research Centre are developing laboratory techniques to define the role of anthocyanins from selected starchy food extracts (e.g., purple potatoes, purple cabbage, purple carrots, purple onions, grape powder, black rice and blue wheat), in regulating the glycemic response and their potential for slowing the progression of insulin resistance. If proven effective, the potential market for the development of new products with built-in starch inhibitors is immense: an estimated two million Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetes and another six million are afflicted by insulin resistance, the precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
Value-Added Milk: Adding Flax Meal to Dairy Cow Feed Can Enhance Human Health
In 2009-2010 alone, AAFC researchers published over 30 scientific publications containing new knowledge on flax that provides the basis for additional benefits to the environment, the health and productivity of poultry and livestock, human health, and farm profitability.
Canada's blue-flowered flax crop is grown mainly in the cool, northern climate of the western Canadian prairies. Commonly found in breads and cereals in the middle ages, the consumption of flax decreased when wheat and corn became more popular. Consumption of flax became prominent again in the 1990s when basic scientific research indicated that the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), fibre, and lignans found in flax could have human health impacts, particularly for cancer prevention and cardiovascular health.
Flaxseed contains a lignan called secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG), an antioxidant that scavenges for certain types of free radicals produced by our bodies as they convert fats, proteins, alcohol, and some types of carbohydrates into energy. Scientific research has shown us that free radicals can damage tissues and lead to diseases such as certain types of cancer.
While flax seed can be consumed directly in our diets, scientists have discovered that the consumption of poultry and livestock products derived from animals that have been fed diets containing flaxseed meal, can also confer the health benefits of flax lignans to humans.
At the Dairy and Swine Research and Development Centre in Sherbrooke, Quebec, researchers are currently studying the conversion by cows of the plant lignan found in flaxseed meal into a form that is more highly available for absorption and utilization by humans. When flax is consumed directly, lignans aren't as readily absorbed into the human intestine as lignans that are found in the milk of cows fed flaxseed meal. When flax is consumed by cows, the lignan is converted in the rumen from a plant form to a mammalian form, and then excreted in the milk. Scientists found that when cows ate a diet enriched in flax meal for as little as a week, the concentration of the converted lignans in the milk was significantly increased.
This new knowledge has the potential to lead to an innovative practice for milk production in Canada and in turn, economic benefits for dairy farmers.
The Future of Food Safety
Ensuring that Canada's food supply is safe and free of toxins, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and fungal parasites, and chemical residues requires the development of tools, technologies, and practices to detect, describe, and monitor food contaminants.
Scientists at the Food Research and Development Centre in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec are using nanotechnology (the study of materials and properties at the molecular level) to develop new tools for the rapid detection of pathogens, toxins, and other dangerous threats to plant, animal, and human health. The research team is working on identifying the biologically active molecules in a number of contaminants to develop a biocaptor that will be able to rapidly detect minute concentrations of potential threats in the air. The team will then work with industry to develop a prototype that farmers and processors can use to ensure the safety their agricultural and agri-food products.
AAFC scientists are developing new methods and technologies to ensure that Canada's agricultural farming and processing systems and the agri-food products that they generate are free of toxins, pathogens such as Salmonella and E.coli, and other potential threats to plant, animal, and human health now and in the future.
Translating Basic Research into Better Farm Management Practices
Increasing the quality of food and the safety of the food system, as well as enhancing the security and protection of the food supply requires practical solutions that can be implemented by farmers and industry.
New Laboratory Techniques to Investigate Food Allergens
Food allergy research is a national science program priority under AAFC's Science and Innovation Strategy and research is underway at the Food Research and Development Centre in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, to identify, characterize, and control allergens in the food chain. AAFC scientists are focusing their research on better understanding the role and impact of food processing on food allergenicity and on the development of technologies to reduce food allergenicity. If successfully applied, the research could provide new technological and marketing opportunities to the food industry for the development of safe and innovative hypoallergenic food products.
Reducing the Risk of Disease in Animal Production
AAFC scientists in Agassiz, British Columbia, are looking for ways to improve animal health, more specifically, finding alternatives to traditional antibiotic use in animal production. Antibiotics have been widely employed to reduce the risk of disease in animal production, however such practices have been linked to a rise in the incidence of antibiotic resistance in intestinal bacteria, which can be spread through manure, soil, water, and food. Cranberries may have bioactive compounds that could be used in animal production to reduce the use of antibiotics. If their hypothesis is confirmed, the knowledge and technologies could then be applied to all animal production in Canada to decrease the emergence and the persistence of pathogenic bacteria.
Developing Better Crop Lines for Disease Resistance
Common bacterial blight (CBB) is the most important leaf disease of dry beans (such as navy, black, pinto, great northern, small red, and kidney beans) in Canada. Current options available to manage this disease include antibiotics and copper compounds, which have economic as well as environmental downsides associated with their use. Scientists at AAFC's research centres in Morden, Manitoba, Lethbridge, Alberta, and Harrow, Ontario, are trying to change this with a coordinated breeding project, using molecular markers (specific fragments of DNA), to improve dry bean yields, seed quality, and disease resistance. Most recently, they released two new navy bean lines with much improved resistance to CBB and received support for registration from the Prairie Grain Development Committee. One of these lines is now in the registration and commercialization process. Through breeding projects such as this one, AAFC is providing reduced risk tools to growers, which help to protect the environment and health of Canadians.
Partnering for Better Food Safety and Quality
Guelph's Food Research Centre's Pilot Plant exemplifies how partnerships can increase the productivity and competitiveness of Canada's agricultural and agri-food sector. The pilot plant is quickly developing into a site for world renowned research in food safety, thanks to $1,150,000 investment from AAFC in partnership with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada. The recently completed state-of-the art facility is one of the only existing facilities with containment units that allow researchers to work with pathogens (e.g., E.coli, and Salmonella) rather than surrogates to validate emerging food safety technologies. Drawing experts from across the country, and making Canada a leader in pathogenic research, the Pilot Plant will benefit farmers by improving food safety techniques and help them produce products with longer shelf life and increased quality.
Turning Agricultural Research into Market Opportunities
It can be a long, arduous process to go from concept to commercialization. However, this investment in sound research and expertise generates many innovative market-ready products and processes for the agricultural and agri-food sector.
Enriching Food with Omega-3 Fats
Scientists at AAFC are helping the industry evaluate and develop new systems to enrich food products with omega-3 fats. Eggs, and some meat and dairy products enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with heart health and may also improve the immune system and reduce the risk of developing some cancers, are already available to the Canadian consumer. Now, AAFC scientists at the Lacombe Research Centre in Alberta are collaborating with researchers at the University of Alberta and the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on projects feeding flaxseed to pigs to increase the omega-3 fatty acid content in pork. Through projects like these, AAFC's science is continuing to find innovative ways to integrate omega-3 fatty acids into the food we eat for the benefit of Canadians.
Canadian Farm Technology Captures International Interest
An AAFC-inspired piece of farm equipment is helping reduce disease in carrot fields PEI, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Developed at the Crops and Livestock Research Centre in Charlottetown, PEI, the carrot-trimming device trims a portion of the canopy of carrot tops in-between the growing rows, helping control white mold, a devastating disease caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum that makes carrots unsuitable for human consumption. The device also provides a simple way to reduce chemical pesticide use in carrot production.
Agriculture and ICT: Charting the Path Forward for Canada's Agricultural Sector
New advances in information and communications technology (ICT) are protecting the genetic diversity of Canadian livestock and poultry breeds, providing tools to monitor environmental degradation and disease and pest outbreaks, and are even leading to the development of new cultivars. Ultimately, sophisticated agricultural applications will increase the effectiveness, efficiency, safety, sustainability, and flexibility of producers, as well as boost production efficiency and the competitiveness of Canadian agricultural products.
Computer Science Yield Genetic Plant Discoveries
Bioinformatics, the application of computer science tecniques, are helping scientists manage and extract meaningful information from the large amount of data generated by research programs.
The use of genetic markers, marker assisted selection (MAS), and automated genotyping is helping plant breeders develop faster-to-market varieties. In order to manage the complex data related to this technology, biologists at the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg are working with bioinformatics scientists to develop web-based software which hosts interactive genetic maps as well as software which transforms high-throughput marker data into a more traditional presentation. Access to this data has resulted in great gains in MAS-based program efficiency and is helping scientists improve Canadian crop varieties.
New Tools for Testing Crop Diversity
A new tool developed at the Saskatoon Research Centre is helping scientists examine the past 100-plus years of genetic diversity in crops. Molecular techniques allow scientists to study varieties of specific crops to see how their diversity has evolved over the years. The research team is currently examining samples of oat, flax, hard red spring wheat and potato (including oat samples that go back 115 years). The changes in genetic diversity within crops not only impact breeding programs but the sustainability of Canadian agriculture in the future.
Modelling and Radar for Better Farm Management Practices
Scientists in Fredericton are using a lighter and portable harmonic radar to study the colonizing behaviours of three recurring pests: the Colorado potato beetle on potatoes, the plum curculio in orchards, and the corn rootworm on corn. For some insect species, movement toward and into host plants are critical periods that offer windows of opportunity to manage their population. The data from the harmonic radar will provide detailed information on the behaviour of these insects to help scientists determine appropriate control measure, strategies, timing and best management practices to effectively manage these pests when they're on the move. The research will ultimately reduce insecticide use.
Partnerships to Conserve Canada's Genetic Resources
On a global scale, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have recognized the importance of protecting and preserving genetic resources for food and agriculture and have helped establish a worldwide network of plant and animal genetic resource centres.
Banking on a Future for Seeds
As part of a global initiative, AAFC has deposited over 15,000 distinct samples from the Canadian collections (representing about 90 species of plants) to a global seed storage facility in Norway. AAFC's plant genebanks include collections at the Saskatoon Research Centre, Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre and the Potato Research Centre where genetic material is provided to Canadian and international scientists for research purposes and crop development. On Canada's behalf, AAFC also maintains the principal world-base collections of barley and oat, and contributes seeds to global initiatives. Scientists and industry can access and obtains genetic resource material for breeding new crop varieties.
Maintaining Animal Genetic Resources
Scientists worldwide are joining forces to protect valuable genetic resources and ensure the long-term sustainability of livestock production systems and maintain food security. The response here at home was the creation of the Canadian Animal Genetic Resources (CAGR) Program, a joint initiative from AAFC with the University of Saskatchewan. The mission of the program is to ensure the long-term conservation of genetic diversity of Canadian animal and poultry breeds by cryopreserving the germplasm, and maintaining food security. To this end, the researchers collect samples of semen, embryos, oocytes, DNA of different livestock and poultry breeds, from individual producers, breeding centres, associations, and veterinarians.
Plant Databases Protect Canada's Cash Crops
Around the world, the science of taxonomy assists in early detection of invasive species and supports accurate diagnostics of pests and pathogens.
Scientists at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa, Ontario maintain the country's largest bio-resource reference collections of fungi, insects and vascular plants. The collections are not only important in protecting and preserving Canadian biodiversity, but they also help address economically important problems for the agri-food sector. The collections help scientists identify unknown species and specimens, sometimes for the first time; develop control measures to stem the advance of invasive alien species into Canada; and forecast the spread of invasive species. Research in Ottawa is also helping discover the scientific and environmental importance of the specimens; and, with increasing importance, provides support for research aimed at reducing the billions of dollars lost annually to invasive species in agriculture, forestry, northern wilderness areas, and other native habitats.
Using the collections, AAFC scientists have helped track the invasion of the European common reed, one of the top invasive alien plant species in Canada. Tall, thick reeds reaching up to three metres, leaves with razor sharp edges, and deeply embedded rhizomes assist this large perennial grass in effectively crowding out native plants and aggressively taking over habitats. AAFC scientists not only studied the new species and plotted its movement, they furthered their research to predict future spread of the invader and warn of impacts on ducks in prairie potholes and interference with water flow in western irrigation districts. AAFC scientists are currently working to support the development of monitoring and management strategies.
DNA and Detection Systems to Counter Bioterrorism
AAFC scientists partnered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Natural Resources Canada's Canadian Forest Service in a three-year project to develop collections, DNA databases, and detection systems to counter bioterrorism against agriculture and forestry. Over the course of the study, which was funded by the Defence Research and Development Canada's Chemical, Biological, Radiological-Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI), the project team assembled a biological collection of critical fungal plant pathogens of high risk to Canadian crops, forests, and the food supply; developed a multi-gene DNA sequence database and molecular diagnostics for these fungi; and updated an online database documenting the occurrence of all known plant pathogens in Canada. Although the purpose for developing the assays was to detect the deliberate introduction of exotic pathogens in Canada, the immediate deployment and use of some assays for accidental introductions is helping to protect the health of oak trees and soybean, potato, and corn crops in parts of Canada. The project team is now looking to use it to track other anticipated airborne threats such as the new potentially devastating strains of wheat stem rust called Uganda 99.
Agriculture and Collaboration: Supporting Innovative Research, Development, and Partnerships
AAFC has been providing solutions for agriculture, rural communities, and Canadians for 124 years. To provide solutions for the new challenges and opportunities facing the agricultural sector and Canadians, AAFC is committed to creating critical mass of science capacity and to develop new partnerships among Canada's university, government, and industrial sectors to enhance returns on investments in science and innovation.
Growing Forward: Supporting Local Agricultural Sector Needs and National Priorities
Federal, provincial, and territorial governments launched a new agricultural policy framework in 2009 called Growing Forward. Developed through extensive consultations with farmers, producers, and other Canadian stakeholders, Growing Forward builds on the strengths of the previous Agricultural Policy Framework and provides a stronger focus on innovation and competitiveness. As such, AAFC has developed a suite of initiatives that support agricultural research activities, such as the Sustainable Agriculture Environmental Systems Initiative, the Animal Plant and Health Research (APHR) Initiative, the Canadian Integrated Food Safety Initiative, and the Growing Canadian Agri-Innovations Program.
Growing Canadian Agri-Innovations Program (GCAIP)
The federally funded and delivered Growing Canadian Agri-Innovations Program (GCAIP) is geared toward accelerating innovation and the adoption of new technologies. Initiatives under GCAIP will help to build an innovative and competitive agricultural sector by encouraging industry leadership and investment in agricultural science and innovation. These intiatives include:
- Promoting Investment in Innovative Agri-Products
- Canadian Agri-Science Clusters
- Developing Innovative Agri-Products (DIAP)
Agri-Foresight is helping the agricultural sector anticipate possible challenges and opportunities. Decision makers in governments, academia, and industry are collaborating to systematically explore "what if" scenarios from multi-disciplinary perspectives and develop innovative solutions. At the inaugural Agri-Foresight workshop on the topic of adaptation to climate change, some 60 participants came together to develop four plausible scenarios of possible futures. Follow-up workshops engaged participants in discussing related policy and market issues; analyzing science, technology, and innovation; and planning appropriate actions that various players might take.
Promoting Investment in Innovative Agri-Products
The Promoting Agri-Based Investment Opportunities Initiative brings together small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs with potential private investors to promote and explore potential opportunities in agri-based business ventures. Over the next three years, up to eight symposia events will be held across Canada to provide entrepreneurs with an opportunity to pitch their business proposal to potential investors, as well as to transfer information about innovation best practices, risks, and opportunities. The initiative is expected to result in increased private sector investment supporting greater development and commercialization of new practices and products. The first symposium was held in March 2010, during which eight innovative agri-based entrepreneurs pitched their agri-business ventures (e.g., global technology licensing, proprietary honey products, and diagnostic kits for food safety and nutrition) to 20 potential investors. A second symposium was held in Saskatoon in November, and a third will take place in Halifax in 2011. There is an increasing awareness of the need for new investment opportunities in agriculture, and these symposia are attracting considerable interest.
Canadian Agri-Science Clusters
The Canadian Agri-Science Clusters Initiative provides a coordinated approach to address industry priorities. Each cluster mobilizes scientific and technical strengths and resources for applied research, leading to greater profits and enhanced competitiveness.
The Dairy Cluster, for example, will help the dairy industry bring together the best scientific and technological expertise to accelerate research into the nutritional qualities of dairy products and to find ways to improve cow herd productivity through better animal health and breeding. Research will focus on strategic issues that the dairy industry has identified as priorities.
Another new cluster announced under this initiative will give oil seed producers the tools to protect and build their businesses. The Canola Cluster will be led by the Canola Council of Canada in partnership with the Flax Council of Canada, industry scientists, and universities. Working together, these groups will study canola and flax oil nutrition, as well as the nutritional properties and production of canola meal for animal feeds. Of the $14.5 million investment in the cluster, $4.6 million will be used to fund research into clubroot, a disease threatening an industry worth close to $5 billion in annual farm gate receipts. There are currently 10 clusters up and running.
Developing Innovative Agri-Products (DIAP)
The Developing Innovative Agri-Products (DIAP) Initiative funds innovative projects that bridge the gap between research and the marketplace. The funding available under DIAP is meant to encourage other funding partners to participate by reducing the overall project risk. Investments in these projects will transform ideas into prototypes and create new market opportunities.
DIAP-funded projects underway include research on grape production in Ontario, improved flax varieties, better herbicides for pulse farmers, and new apple and sweet cherry varieties.