As he listened to research on the impact of nitrates in groundwater during a recent field trip to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Farm in Harrington, Ryan Barrett said he was struck by two things.
The research coordinator and communications officer for the PEI Potato Board joined members of the Canadian Water Network in touring some of the projects under way at the farm looking at ways to reduce the nitrate footprint-- particularly in areas where there is extensive potato production. The national network is involved with some of the projects, along with scientists and researchers from Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada, and a number of universities.
"The board is a big believer in this type of research," Barrett said. "It is vital to addressing the challenges we face as an industry."
However, he cautioned those involved with industry have long known there is no "silver bullet" that will magically solve the problem of nitrate levels in groundwater. He noted "this situation didn't develop overnight and it can't be fixed overnight, but growers are committed to following best management practices to do all they can to reduce nitrate levels."
He was particularly interested in a project from Erin Bishop at the University of Guelph, which concluded the Prospect potato variety is able to slow down nitrate leaching, while at the same time being cost effective for growers. Barrett said the news wasn't exactly a shocker-- acreage for the variety has been on the increase in recent years.
Russet Burbank, long the dominant variety grown in the country's largest potato producing province, has been identified as a significant source of nitrate build-up in the soil. Barrett said many growers have been seeking out alternate varieties and Prospect has been high on the list.
"However, Prospect does have a down side as it doesn't store as well as Russets," he said. "There is no variety that is perfect."
Bishop said there has only been "marginal nitrate abatement" to date, and suggested government and community programs such as water quality programs and consumer reaction could have a major impact. She concluded the target of 970 kg of N03-N set by the Kensington North Watershed Association "will never be feasibly attained."
She suggested abatement targets should be developed holistically, considering the economic and the hydrogeological factors.