Water Institute scientists lead $1.9M project to help farmers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions

Friday, May 19, 2017

Today, University of Waterloo Earth scientists received a $1.9M grant from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to examine greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural systems, and the impacts of alternative land-use practices and beneficial management practices (BMPs) on greenhouse gases.

faculty delegates

The Honourable Raj Saini, MP for Kitchener Centre, Marwan Tabbara, MP for Kitchener-South Hespler, and Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism and MP for Waterloo with Prof. David Blowes, Prof. David Rudolph, and Prof. Bernard Duncker.

For decades, research into sustainable farming practices encouraged farmers to adopt measures known as agricultural BMPs, which aimed to balance environmental protection of water resources with agricultural production.

Recently, there has been an increased focus on how BMPs, meant to help farmers protect the environment, could be impacting greenhouse gas emissions,” says Professor David Blowes, Canada Research Chair in Groundwater Remediation and principal investigator for the project. “BMPs and land use practices may involve trade-offs and it’s important to quantify what those are.”

david blowes

David Blowes, Water Institute member. 

Farms are recognized as complex ecosystems that exchange a suite of greenhouse gases with the atmosphere through natural processes within the soil, crops, livestock, groundwater, and surface water. These greenhouse gases include not only carbon dioxide, but also far greater heat-trapping gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. It’s estimated that that the agriculture and agro-forestry sectors contribute around eight per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

“Farming and farming practices are complex,” says co-investigator David Rudolph, a professor and Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “This project is unique in that it brings together so many specialists from so many different disciplines to study this type of environment.”

The five-year project, which involves groundwater hydrologists, geochemists, soil scientists and microbiologists, will integrate laboratory experiments with field trials and numerical modelling to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient fluxes for BMPs and alternative land use practices. These include riparian buffers, drainage management and effluent treatment systems, manure/biosolid application practices, crop covers, constructed wetlands and manipulation of natural habitats (forested plots, treelines, and natural wetlands).

“Cold regions like Canada are predicted to experience some of the greatest impacts from climate change and extreme weather,” says Rudolph, also a member of the Water Institute. “This will also impact soil activity and in turn greenhouse gas emissions, especially when you think about how much land is devoted to agriculture across this country.”

Today’s announcement was made by Member of Parliament and Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger (Science BSc ’04) during her latest visit to the University of Waterloo, hosted by Prof. Bernard Duncker, Associate Dean of Research for the Faculty of Science. The project is one of twenty new grants funded through the Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP) in support of research into greenhouse gas mitigation practices and technologies for use on Canadian farms.

“Science and innovation will be the greatest ally in helping the agriculture industry meet the challenges of climate change,” says Minister Chagger, Government Leader for the House of Commons and MP for Waterloo. “Climate change and sustainability are key priorities for the Government and we are committed to help farmers adopt sustainable practices that will strengthen farm businesses and protect the planet.”

David Blowes is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and a member of the Water Institute. Additional University of Waterloo researchers also include Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor and Water Institute member Carol Ptacek, Program Manager Steven Holland and postdoctoral fellow Syed Hussain of the Groundwater Geochemistry & Remediation Research Group.

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