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Crops Research

VIDEO: Plant Communication

Prof. Clarence Swanton discusses the implications of plant communication for improved agricultural yield.

Crops research will lead to enhanced yield, production and resiliency in our crops, expanded precision agriculture techniques informing farm management practices, and improved precision conservation techniques and assessments as well as on-farm ecosystem services.

In ‘mosaic’ systems, where agricultural land is mixed with natural areas, it is essential to understand how the services provided by natural land (biodiversity, pollination, soil characteristics) affect agricultural production. Food from Thought researchers will develop models to understand these relationships, identifying strategies to maximize both agricultural production and ecosystem services.

Agricultural practices such as the installation of tile drainage systems, reduced tillage or no-tillage, and the use of cover crops may improve agricultural outcomes such as yield and soil quality, but also impact the movement of water within the ecosystem. Food from Thought researchers will use a series of weighing lysimeters (devices that measure water loss in soil) to assess the impact of various agricultural practices on surface and groundwater recharge and flow, allowing us to better understand and model the movement of runoff in an agricultural system.

Soil and topography data can be used to map areas of high and low profitability in agricultural fields, enabling farmers to use precision management strategies to target input application and maximize their profits. Food from Thought will investigate the use of aerial sensors to assess topographic information about agricultural land and link these factors with a map of soil productivity and yield to develop profit maps within each field.


Existing nitrogen recommendation systems have had limited success in predicting the maximum economic rate of nitrogen application to corn, potentially because they do not address moisture availability, which affects nitrogen requirements and yield potential. In collaboration with stakeholders, Food from Thought researchers will analyze how nitrogen and soil moisture supply interact on a variety of soils to influence yield potential, developing a decision support system for rate and timing of nitrogen application that will maximize yield and profit.

Soil health is an important factor in ecosystem sustainability and agricultural production; researchers will determine existing levels of soil health and biodiversity and understand how soil diversity links to ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling. Increased levels of biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems through practices such as cover cropping and restoring non-productive land to native species have many benefits for soil, crops and water. A multi-disciplinary team will evaluate the economic and environmental benefits of cover crops, assess and develop dual-purpose cover crops that also serve as pollinator habitats, and understand best practices for germinating seeds in native prairie systems.


Bean variety mixture trial at Elora Research Station

Bean variety mixture trial at Elora Research Station

Growing mixed crops instead of monocultures provides benefits such as water efficiency, and increasing yield stability in dry beans. This research will determine the effects of increased crop diversity instead of a monoculture in dry beans on crops, soil, water, pests and pollinators, nitrogen fixing and on nearby ecosystems, and will identify and breed dry bean varieties that fix nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for application of nitrogen fertilizer.

Wild pollinators are needed to benefit crops, but very little research has been done in Canada on what flower species are best at attracting and maintaining healthy pollinators when planted within agricultural landscapes. Food from Thought researchers will assess pollinator presence in natural and agricultural settings, and will design floral seed mixes that can be planted on farms to attract native pollinators.


Arrell Food Institute Scholar Sabrina, left, counts flowers while Research Assistant Kyra, right, records data.

Food from Thought 2018 Research Assistant Kyra and 2018 Arrell Food Institute Scholar Sabrina count flowers in a measured area. They're looking at the relationship between amounts and types of flowers in an agricultural setting, and how that correlates with pollinator communities in the area.

Researchers will study the molecular and physiological mechanisms of yield loss in corn and soybeans due to the presence of cover crops and weeds; this understanding will allow us to breed soybean and corn plants that are more tolerant to under seeding of cover crops and weed competition.

Precision agriculture has the potential to significantly improve how we farm, but we need to better understand its impact. Food from Thought researchers will improve our understanding of current trends in agriculture, what affects farmer adoption of new practices, and effective policy tools and will attempt to understand the economic and environmental impacts of precision agriculture.

Meet our crops research experts

Explore our crops research projects

Agricultural Hydrology And Modelling

Cropping Systems: White Bean Diversity And Nitrogen Efficiency

Corn Nitrogen (N) Decision Support System That Incorporates Soil Moisture Interactions

Enhancement Of Cover Crop And Weed Stress Tolerance In Corn And Soybean

Enhancing Biodiversity Of The Agro-Ecosystem

Modelling And Monitoring Agro-Ecological Mosaic Ecosystem Sustainability

Pollinator Biodiversity Monitoring And Pollinator Seed Mix Assessment

The Digital Revolution And Sustainable Agriculture

The Soil Microbiome: Linking Soil Biodiversity To Soil Health And Ecosystem Services