As far as Dr. Heather Darby is concerned, the best research innovations cut across the organic-conventional divide.
“Regardless of what kind of farming you do, if you don’t take care of the soil, it won’t take care of you,” the University of Vermont researcher said in an interview. “It really boils down to that basic truth.”
Dr. Darby said in the province recently to take part in a workshop and roundtable on organic grains. Co-sponsored by the Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network and the PEI Certified Organic Producers Cooperative, the session also featured Quebec dairy and grain farmer Archie Blankers.
“There can be some particular challenges growing grain organically and we are always trying to perfect best practices,” she said.
Her research in Vermont, which she is an agronomic and soils specialist, focuses in the area of soil health, nutrient management, organic grain and forage production and oilseed production. Dr. Darby said she views research very much as a partnership, saying farmers have shown themselves to be highly innovative.
She said one of the technical innovations she is now working with is an abrasive agent with the constituency of coarse sandpaper that can be use to control weeds. Dr. Darby said the strong growth in the organic sector in both Canada and the United States over the past several years has resulted in corresponding interest in organic research.
The Charlottetown session, which attracted close to 30 people, was designed as a chance for producers to exchange ideas on what has been successful on their farms. Dr. Darby said one topic that is always in the back of any producers mind is the impact of climate change.
“I know in Vermont, we are experiencing more extreme weather and I understand that is the case here as well,” she said. “Good soil health is the best defence a producer can have against climate change—in dry periods, it helps your crops retain water and in wet periods, it helps to improve drainage.”
She is hoping the fact the United Nations has declared 2015 to year of the Soil will help bring attention to the importance of good soil health. Dr. Darby added “unfortunately, the soil is something we tend to take for granted.”
The event was part of the effort by ACORN to revive the Maritime Organic Grains Network, which is intended to be a vehicle for organic grain and field crop producers to the to share information and look at joint marketing opportunities.