While the vision of an endless golden, rolling wheat field may elicit nostalgia for an imagined agrarian paradise, the intensive agrochemical and irrigation inputs needed to support such a monoculture reflect a harsher ecological reality. However, UBC Research Fellow Dr. Tejendra Chapagain is exploring possibilities for a more enlightened model in grain growing. Through an innovative project that integrates small-scale grain and legume production, Tejendra and his supervisor Dr. Andrew Riseman of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems are shedding light on farming systems in which crops grown together bring out the best in each other.
With stewardship as an underlying value, Tejendra’s research focuses on the use of manure and the intercropping of grains such as wheat and barley with legumes like pea, lentil and bean to enable on-farm nutrient cycling. This type of integrated system draws inspiration from the self-watering, self-fertilizing properties that typify the ways in which natural ecosystems might produce food (popular scientists refer to this copycat approach as “biomimicry”). His ultimate goal is to enable small-scale farms to improve their food security through effective, sustainable approaches to improving soil fertility.
By pairing grains and legumes in different spatial combinations, Tejendra hopes to design low-input organic cropping systems that have greater sustainability advantages compared to monoculture plots with respect to carbon sequestration, nitrogen-use efficiency, productivity, and systems interactions. Some of the specific components of his research include:
- Evaluating heirloom and commercial cultivars of cereals available in B.C.’s Lower Mainland for plant performance metrics such as yield, protein content, and their potential for inclusion in integrated cereal-legume trials
- Assessing plant traits, such as maturity dates, root architecture and disease resistance in small-grain and legume cultivars to help identify the most functional, synergistic pairings of legumes and cereals
- Testing which combinations of intercrops offer the best advantages over monoculture plots for effects such as productivity, biological nitrogen fixation and transfer, and carbon influx
Tejendra’s personal interests in community empowerment and rural development fit well with the potential public health benefits of his research. With greater attention to the linkage between human health and off-farm environmental impacts such as water pollution by pesticides and excess fertilizer, reduction of biodiversity, soil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions, the scope of possible impacts from his research extends well beyond the domain of biology. This type of integrative, multi-faceted research corresponds well with the UBC Farm’s vision of drawing upon its rich academic resources to model cutting-edge possibilities for more sustainable communities.
For more information:
- Evaluation of Small Grain Cultivars under Organic Cropping Systems during 2010 Spring Season, by Dr. Andrew Riseman and Dr. Tejendra Chapagain
- Additional project photos available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cereal-legume_intercropping_ubc/
- Email Dr. Chapagain at: email@example.com