Determining specific compost blends for regenerative Agriculture in central Alberta

Project Details

Status: Completed
Investment: $194,998
Commodity: Multiple Livestock
Organization: University of Alberta
Investigator: M Derek MacKenzie

Decreased soil health costs Canadian farmers upwards of $1B per year.

Why is this research important for Alberta ag?

Currently in Alberta, approximately 45% of the province is dedicated to intensive agriculture, which may have negative impacts on soil health due to the use of inorganic fertilizers, herbicides, and tillage. Decreased soil health costs Canadian farmers upwards of $1B per year. The main causes of soil health degradation in Alberta include these factors below:

  • overgrazing

  • salinization through extended periods of drought

  • soil compaction via poor tillage practices

  • soil erosion, via wind (especially during drought) or intense rainfall/runoff resulting from improper tillage practices

  • climate change and extreme weather events

  • ineffective winter crop cover practices; and maybe most importantly loss of organic matter.

Currently there is no recommended rate of application of compost for grain production in Alberta and it is not clear if inorganic fertilizers will need to be used to off-set nutritional requirements not met by the slow release fertility of compost. This short-term project will be used as a starting point to determine what kinds of compost blends to use in larger soil health trials.

What benefits can producers expect from this research?

The current proposal is designed to test the specific types and rates of compost application for different soil types to maximize productivity and carbon (C) sequestration, and minimize GHG emissions across different soil types.

Regenerative agriculture, which uses practices such as no-till, compost fertilizer, inter-cropping, and cover cropping, is gaining traction in Alberta as a way to improve soil health while also improving grain productivity, and cattle food quality and productivity. It may also have positive economic implications by being more cost effective and using less non-renewable energy for production. By using compost additions as fertilizer and inter-cropping grain for silage, researchers expect to see a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, more diverse microbial community, and improved carbon sequestration and soil health, all while producing better food for livestock.

Researchers anticipate this project will show that regenerative agriculture using compost and biochar as soil conditioners is a feasible practice in Alberta. This project intends to show that these practices will reduce GHG, sequester C in soil, and improve microbial diversity and function. Finally, improved soil health will benefit producers by achieving GHG reductions and producing C credits.

How will these research findings reach producers on-farm?

Researchers will partner with several Regional Research Associations, including Gateway Research Organization (GRO), and Circle T Consulting. These partners will help us identify field research sites, help with planning and implementation of field plots and sample acquisition, and work as extension agents for the results from this project. This project will are also be partnering with Elevate Organics, a compost producer in Westlock, AB. Elevate is producing compost from City of Edmonton curbside organic waste separation. This is a novel product in AB and has great potential to be used in as a biofertilzer. Another industrial partner is Innovative Reduction Strategies Inc., a biochar producer in Edmonton, diverting wood waste from the landfill. And finally, project researchers are working with several different producers directly to gather farm specific data.

Funded in part by the Government of Canada under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.