Research roundup

FIND OUT WHAT’S NEW IN THE WORLD OF RESEARCH

Testing a new, renewable fertilizer source
Katharine Tuerke
Anaerobic digesters turn biodegradable waste collected from farms, factories and cities into a valuable source of renewable energy. University of Guelph researchers think the left-over waste produced by these digesters (called “digestate”) could also be an effective fertilizer for promoting plant growth.
 
Professor Paul Voroney and Master’s student Christine O’Reilly are comparing the height, biomass and yield of corn plants treated with either digestate or traditional fertilizers. Preliminary results show that corn treated with 50, 100, 150 or 200 kg N/ha as digestate grew at similar rates as those treated with traditional fertilizers.

“These results are promising. Digestate could be a viable, economic and environmentally friendly option for farmers as well as an extra source of income for others,” says Voroney.

Next, the researchers will compare soil nitrogen levels on fields treated with digestate and traditional fertilizers to assess the breakdown of digestate over time and the timing of nutrient release.

Funding for this research was provided by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Improving disease resistance and yield of winter hardy spring wheat
Andrea Seccafien
Ontario’s warm, humid weather allows wheat to reach a high yield potential, but also leaves wheat susceptible to fungal diseases. In response, a Guelph research team is working towards wheat varieties that are better suited to this environment.

University of Guelph Plant Agriculture Professor Duane Falk is developing lines of winter hardy spring wheat that have improved disease resistance, high yields and good quality for milling and baking. Spring growth speeds up the breeding process significantly.

Falk had success with his first round of breeding and identified a breeding line with good lodging resistance, height, maturity and Fusarium resistance.

However, the quality was poor. In a second round of breeding, the wheat quality was higher, but it was prone
to lodging.

In the next round of breeding, Falk wants to combine the desirable characteristics from these two lines to produce wheat that combines disease resistance and high quality. “We are trying to develop improved varieties faster that will be better for the farmers so they can grow high quality wheat more efficiently with less severity of disease,” says Falk. 

This work is supported by the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) through AAFC’s Developing Innovative Agri-Products initiative. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a founding member of the CFCRA.

High density corn deals with stress
Andrea Seccafien
With the increasing global demand for food, researchers are questioning how to boost yields of all crops, including corn. One way being tested by University of Guelph researchers is increasing corn density.

Plant Agriculture Professor Clarence Swanton and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs corn specialist Greg Stewart are studying the effects of early season stress on high density corn plants. They want to know if yield variability is caused by an interaction of plant density and environmental stress.

They compared the effect of stress created by starter fertilizer, early weed competition and soil compaction on corn populations of 60,000, 75,000, 90,000 and 105,000 corn plants per hectare. They predicted that the increased density of corn causes the plants to have a smaller root system and less strength against environmental stress.

But they were surprised to find yield at high densities is not decreased by a greater vulnerability to stress. In fact, corn grain yield was reduced by stress variables in all densities. Next year the researchers plan to repeat the study with a range of hybrids to try to identify a hybrid that can be planted at a high density.

“This discovery is significant because it removes stress as a variable from the equation. This path of research may be useful in breeding information that could result in new hybrids that are specifically bred for high populations,” says Swanton.

This project was funded in part through Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of Growing Forward programs in Ontario. Funding has also been provided by Grain Farmers of Ontario.


Research Roundup is provided by members of SPARK (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge) at the University of Guelph’s Office of Research. For more information, contact a SPARK writer at 519-824-4120, ext. 52667.

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