The country's first agricultural living lab is being established in PEI.

The East Prince Agri-Environment Association is spearheading the effort, bringing together 14 different partners to develop eight best management practices and five supporting activities on its 14 member farms. Malpeque MP Wayne Easter visited Bedeque Farms recently to announce up to $2.4 million in funding over the next four years.

Andrea McKenna, who is the manager of the Agri-Environmental Association, explained when the group was formed four years ago, they prioritized a list of areas where they felt improvements could be made. Since then, they have been partnering with a number of researchers, as well as government and academic institutions, to address those issues.

"This is another major step in that process," she explained.

The Association will lead on-farm research activities in collaboration with over a dozen partners and local producers, including more than 20 science teams from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The projects to be tackled over the next four years include; Use of fall seeded cover crops followed by primary tillage; Use of fall seeded cover crop following potato production; Use of full season soil building rotation crops for building soil organic matter; Nurse cropping demonstration trials within potato and corn production systems; Demonstrating Climate Change Adaptation of Potato Productivity and Nitrogen use Efficiency as Affected by Supplemental Irrigation Scheduling and Nitrogen Rate; Demonstrating Climate Change Adaptation of Potato Productivity and Nitrogen use Efficiency as Affected by Supplemental Irrigation Scheduling and Nitrogen Rate; Demonstrate the performance of potato varieties under irrigated conditions to measure the response for reducing water wastage and nutrient leaching; Reducing nitrogen losses through the use of Slow Release Fertilizer Products and Using constructed wetland and vegetated grass waterways to improve water quality.

"This significant investment and new, innovative, collaborative research approach will put PEI farmers at the core of developing and testing best management practices," Easter said "With tailored tools, they will have the power to drive productivity in a sustainable fashion in the fields across this beautiful province."

The veteran MP said it also will provide "made in PEI" research data, something that is vital because soil types and growing conditions vary across the country. Easter said the initiative is part of a $70 million investment outlined in Budget 2017 to further support agricultural discovery science and innovation, with a focus on climate change and soil and water conservation. Additional living laboratories are slated to be built on the Prairies, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia.

The former national president of the National Farmers Union praised the East Prince Agri-Environmental Association, saying they have focused on research and bringing groups and researchers together since they were founded.

McKenna said the partners for the project include participating potato producers, PEI Potato Board, Kensington North Watershed Association, Souris and Area Branch of the PEI Wildlife Federation, PEI Watershed Alliance, Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture, University of New Brunswick, University of Prince Edward Island, St Francis Xavier University, Genesis Crop Systems, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, PEI Department of Environment, Water and Climate Change, PEI Department of Agriculture and Land and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

"This project will allow researchers to work directly with producers in our local fields and waterways to conduct real time accurate research that will provide better information for decision making," She concluded. "Ultimately, our goal is to build a stronger agroecosystem."

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