On-going agroforestry research programs at the University of Guelph (UG) will continue to play a vital role in the expansion of agroforestry in Ontario. This will complement several new programs in ontario that support the introduction of trees into agricultural landscapes (e.g., C$15 million Green Cover Program, creation of Greenbelt zones, implementation of the Source Water Protection Planning, agricultural production systems that create outcome-based value chains, Canadian Forest Service (CFS) initiatives (e.g. Forest 2020), etc.).
Agroforestry land-use systems can be sustainable and hence agroforestry research goals and objectives will contribute towards numerous outcome-based environmental, social and production "Value Chains" (environment, public health, food, bio-economy, production) and therefore potentially could create many cross-links between "value chain-based" program clusters.
The need for science in support of current and proposed federal and provincial tree planting initiatives is vital. Over the next several months, a draft report from a reforestation survey conducted this summer and sponsored by various partners will help us understand the operational needs of reforestation in southern Ontario, and any associated research needs. There is excellent potential to work with forestry and agricultural/horticultural partners, particularly OMAF, OMNR and University of Guelph.
Research Progress in 2004
A project was implemented involving the design of a Vapour Compression System to process sap into maple syrup. once developed, the production efficiency of this system will be compared with other more conventional processing systems. Research also started to determine the impact of the 1998 ice storm on the health and productivity of sugar bushes 5-6 years after the storm event.
Investigations at UG of carbon sequestration potentials in tree-based intercropping systems and in conventional agricultural systems is almost complete. In the poplar system, the net C sequestration was quantified to be approximately 2 t ha-1 y-1, and the net C sequestration in the spruce system was 1 t ha-1 y-1. In the sole (mono) cropping system, the net C sequestration was 0.4 t ha-1 y-1. It can be concluded that C sequestration in the poplar and spruce systems was 5 and 2.5 times more than that of the sole cropping system, respectively.
This aspect of enhanced C sequestration potentials in agroforestry systems should be further investigated along with an economic analysis so that the economics of C sequestration in agroecosystems can be understood. The latter may become an important tool to measure C credits in the future. It is also important to note that these sequestration potentials were achieved with minimal (if any) decline in crop productivity (per unit area basis). Losses of crop output as a result of land removed from production (tree rows) are offset by long-term on-farm equity development and the increasing value of environmental benefits (promoting environmental "value chains").
Agroforestry Development in Ontario
The Eastern Ontario Model Forest (EOMF) under contract to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and with guidance provided by numerous stakeholders is in the process of developing the Agroforestry Best Management Practices Manual, the 17th in the series of Best Management Practices. This Manual will document methods of improving agricultural practices by integrating environmental concerns with planned production methods and financial goals. It organizes provincial agroforestry practices and forms the basis for future strategic planning in agroforestry research, education and development.
The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) has indicated that with support through the environment pillar of the Agricultural Policy Framework, the next generation of Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) will be introduced shortly. Several environmental cost-share programs, funded through the federal government, are also anticipated. A suite of opportunities will be offered to ontario farmers through to March 31, 2008. OSCIA also announced that the $15 million Green cover Program in Ontario will have four components: Conversion, Riparian Area Management, Shelterbelt Establishment, and Technical Information. The program will potentially be funded through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and delivered to the farm community by OSCIA.
The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) has indicated that the two overarching developments of the past few months are the establishment of a Greenbelt around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and the announcement of funding for Source Water Protection Planning. As both of these developments are bound to have significant impacts on agriculture, both can be expected to have impacts on agroforestry. It may be too early to know exactly the outcome, but enough is known to predict some fruitful research directions. The following should be essential with respect to implementing Source Water Protection Planning: understanding water quality, the potential impact of farms on water quality, and the role that agroforestry practices and natural areas can play in safeguarding water sources, or mitigating impacts that do occur.
The creation of the Greenbelt suggests that Source Water Protection and Natural Heritage Protection are going to be heavily emphasized in this area. Additionally, it can be surmised that a better understanding of the role that agroforestry can play in protecting natural heritage features or ecological processes, will help agroforestry achieve its potential as a land-use planning tool relative to initiatives such as the Greenbelt.
One of the notable agroforestry achievements of the past 12 months is a Canadian Forest Service (CFS) initiative known as Forest 2020. This program aims to establish 1100 hectares of carbon sequestration plantation demonstration areas throughout Ontario. The Conservation Authorities have been the main delivery agent for this program, in partnership with the Ontario Forestry Association. The targets are close to being reached.
By Naresh Thevathasan, University of Guelph, and Dave Chapeskie, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food