THUNDER BAY — Climate change is expected to create opportunities for agricultural expansion in Northern Ontario.
It's why a Lakehead University researcher is receiving over a quarter of a million dollars in grants for new research.
Dr. Amanda Diochon is an associate professor in geology.
She's getting an Alliance grant of about $173,000 and $108,000 from Grain Farmers of Ontario to study the effect of land conversion practices on soil health and the yields of barley and oats.
Diochon said expanding agriculture in the North will require forest and scrub-bush to be converted to productive fields.
"We will examine the longer-term effects of land conversion on soil health and soil organic matter to identify the best indicators for monitoring change in soil health here in Northern Ontario," she said.
She and her team will also set up a field trial to study the effects of woody residue incorporation, the rate of fertilizer application, and rotation strategy on oat and barley yields.
Diochon's project is one of a number for which Lakehead University researchers were recently approved for funding totalling over $3 million.
Dr. Ashley Thomson, assistant professor in natural resources management, gets an Alliance grant of $80,000, and $40,000 from Resolute Forest Products and the Superior-woods Tree Improvement Association.
Her team will develop and validate genomic-assisted breeding models for increased productivity and wood quality for black spruce.
"We are aiming to improve the growth and quality of black spruce in Northwestern Ontario," Thomson said.
Traditional tree improvement programs to date have produced modest gains in black spruce growth, but this takes a long time to achieve, she said.
"With this research, we will test the application of a relatively new approach to improved breeding called genomic selection."
This will be the first study to evaluate the accuracy of genomic selection applied to an operational breeding program for black spruce in Ontario.
The two projects are among Lakehead's beneficiaries of over $2 million in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and about $1.15 million from partner organizations.
Dr. Pete Hollings – geology professor and Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation industrial research chair in mineral exploration – is receiving five Alliance grants worth over $1 million, plus $650,000 from partner organizations including Clean Air Metals, Impala Canada, Enersoft and Generation Mining, and Wesdome Gold Mines.
One of his team's projects will focus on the Eagle River Complex in the Mishibishu Greenstone belt between Wawa and White River.
Working with two graduate students over the next three years, Hollings' work will study the rock formation and develop models that Wesdome can apply to its ongoing exploration program.