The University of Saskatchewan (USask) has received close to $12 million from Genome (G-nome) Canada’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Food Systems initiative (CSAFS).

The funding is earmarked for climate-related research projects focusing on sustainable and resilient agriculture with the overall goal of exploring innovative and sustainable solutions for Canada’s food chain and agricultural production.

Dr. Jon Bennett,  an associate professor in USask’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources, is the co-lead of one of the projects, with Dr. Sean Asselin (ass-lynn) from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Swift Current Research and Development Centre.

Bennett says the multi-pronged project will examine the benefits of species and genetic diversity in Canadian grasslands.

"The idea is that native plants are a much more diverse group of plants than we currently use in forage systems for livestock, and they’ve got a lot of features that aren’t replicated in seeded pasture right now."

They hope to find some populations or species that can be used to increase the ecological goods and services provided by these agroecosystems.

He notes part of the research will also explore carbon sequestration in soils. 

"One of the greatest benefits of grassland systems is carbon storage, so the research team will measure levels of carbon in pastures and in grasslands housing native plant species."

Along with experts from AAFC and the University of Manitoba, Bennett is working with researchers from across USask to further the project.

Dr. Patrick Lloyd-Smith (PhD) and Dr. Sean Prager (PhD) with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources are both involved with the project, with Prager’s work focused on the habitation of beneficial insects in pasture-use grasslands and Lloyd-Smith helping develop economic models to measure the impacts and perceived value of bringing in native plant species.

Dr. Seok-Bum Ko (PhD) with the College of Engineering is also involved, in developing artificial intelligence models to better predict carbon storage in soil using the data gathered during the course of the project.

Bennett praised the diverse team and credited Genome Canada for helping provide the funding and support to advance this area of agricultural research.