Harrington Research Farm expanding use of land for organic farming

Maureen Coulter comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 7, 2015

Roger Henry, a research technician with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is responsible for implementing most of the fieldwork at Harrington Research Farm's organic plots. Henry stands before an organic corn silage plot in 2013.

©Photo special to The Guardian

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have decided to expand the amount of land used for organic production at the Harrington Research Farm as there have been more inquiries for them to be involved in organic trials by farmers and companies.

They will now have 30 acres instead of 20 acres by 2017.

In order for the land to be considered for organic trials, they have to be out of conventional production for three years, meaning no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or insecticides used in production.

Aaron Mills, a research scientist with Charlottetown Research Development Centre, said they are the first research station in Canada seeking certification for their land.

In order to become organic, they will have to be examined by a national or regional certification body.

Vernon Rodd, also a research scientist with Charlottetown Research and Development Centre said organic management is a longer-term management, as they can't use the same processes as regular farmers.

"If you have a disease or pest issue you have to plan for it in advance versus what some of the conventional farmers have sprays available to them," he said.

For the past 10 years, organic experiments have been conducted on the farm, but Mills said they want to ensure that the land is certified so they can continue to participate in the national projects that require organic land.

Their research includes looking at rotations, testing new varieties and approaches to growing crops using organic methods and evaluating different sustainable ways to control weed, insects and disease.

This year various organic crops were grown including potatoes, corn, hemp, barley, squash, wheat, rye, black beans and soybeans.

"With everything there are challenges in every location but there are also successes too," said Rodd.

Mills said there is not a lot of research happening on a national level as far as organic agriculture is concerned.

"It's growing, but it's nowhere near as much as there would be on the conventional side," said Mills. "The research that we are doing, it benefits the organic farmers specifically but a lot of those techniques can be applied to conventional farming as well so it's a win/win situation for both sides of the fence."

Mills said some of the more successful organic farms in the region are based in P.E.I.