Alaksen National Wildlife Area (Alaksen), at the mouth of British Columbia’s Fraser River, is one of the few wildlife reserves in North America that utilizes agricultural production to provide habitat for migratory birds and other protected species. It is managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). One of the unique characteristics of Alaksen is the use of farmed land as a way to produce forage and habitat for migratory waterfowl. Three farm families have farmed and stewarded the land at Alaksen since the 1970s.
Maintaining economic viability and farming livelihood alongside wildlife and habitat conservation is increasingly challenging due to climate change, soil degradation and high water tables. To ensure sustainable farming where environmental protection, financial stability and societal wellbeing coexist, the CWS, Alaksen farmers, Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) and Sustainable Agriculture Landscapes Lab (SAL) are working together towards a long term goal of finding best practices to reduce the use of conventional pesticides and fertilizers while maintaining farm economic viability.
Specifically, several research trials will be established on farmers’ fields to provide evidence-based information on organic farming practice at Alaksen and best practices to help farmers reducing the use of conventional pesticides while maintaining their farm viability and food production capacity. Research results will provide our partners with information such as cultivars suitable for their land, cover crop rotation practices, pest and soil management practices, and market information to ensure farm businesses’ adaptation and success.
Moreover, this project demonstrates a true partnership between private sector, governmental agency and university to achieve environmental conservation while maintaining economic livelihood for farmers. The results will help serve as examples for future collaborations and can be applied to other sensitive habitat areas in Canada.
The overarching goal of this project is to provide scientific evidence on best practices in transitioning from conventional to organic practice for farmers operating in the Alaksen National Wildlife Area (Alaksen). Four experimental field trials (comparing organic and conventional practices) will be conducted over a three-year period to:
Identify alternative approaches for controlling weeds and soil pathogens using organic weed management system and fungicides (Forage regrowth trial).
Identify potential valuable novel varieties and potential new crops suitable for unique environmental factors at Alaksen (alternative crop/cultivar comparison trial).
Evaluate the effectiveness of organic insect management alternatives and impacts on the environment of Alaksen (Insecticide comparison trial).
Determine the impacts of increased or reduced tillage and organic fertilization regime on soil health properties at Alaksen (tillage and fertility comparison trial).
Lead research team
Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (Kent Mullinix, Leah Sander, Micheal Robinson and Wallapak Polasub)
Sustainable Agriculture Landscapes Lab (Sean Smukler and Jordy Kersey)
Government and Industry Collaborators
Environment and Climate Change Canada (Courtney Albert)
March 2021 – Soil sample collected to assess baseline data on agrochemical residue and soil carbon.
April 2021 – Experimental plots have been tilled and prepared.
May 2021 – Field plots have been fertilized and plants have been seeded or transplanted, data collection has begun.