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Food security

Grenfell working to increase availability of feed for local livestock

special feature: Environment

Part of a special series showcasing faculty, staff and students’ commitment to placing the environment at the forefront of  research, public engagement and teaching and learning activities at Memorial.

By Melanie Callahan

It’s no secret that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador depend heavily on imported food.

Improving the agriculture industry is good for the province’s economy — and the best management practices reduce the cost of production and protect our environment.

Short and humid

Researchers at Grenfell Campus are working to secure an adequate food supply for future generations. Dr. Raymond Thomas and collaborators are exploring mix cropping production systems as an approach to increase availability of feed in the province for livestock.

Intercropping, or mix cropping, is the practice of cultivating two or more crops together on the same farmland.

Several benefits can be derived from such cropping systems, including higher biomass production, improved forage quality, enhanced soil nutrient status and reduced incidences of disease, pest or weed coverage, and runoff generation.

The aim is to determine whether intercropping will bring about these benefits given the short and humid growing season in Western Newfoundland.

Crop fields at Pynn's Brook research facility.
Crop fields at Pynn’s Brook research facility.
Photo: Lori Lee Hollett

Adequate, accessible and consistent

While some animal feed is currently produced in the province, the bulk of it is imported from across Canada and the United States.

Newfoundland and Labrador farmers and agriculture producers struggle with an adequate, accessible and consistent supply of high quality forage for animal feed and bedding materials.

The mix cropping system of silage corn and soybeans has the potential to provide forage high in both carbohydrates and protein — the combination of the two is key.

“The silage corns used are high energy/carbohydrates-producing varieties obtained from Dr. Mumtaz Cheema’s silage corn varietal study, while the soybeans used are high protein-producing varieties,” said Dr. Thomas.

“Typically corn is high in energy but low in protein, while soybeans are high in protein and low in energy (carbohydrates). A ratio high in both protein and energy, along with other nutrients, is ideal for providing the basic nutritional requirements of agricultural animals.”

Dr. Raymond Thomas, right, and graduate students and project collaborators Muhammad Zaeem and Md Hossen.
Dr. Raymond Thomas, right, and graduate students and project collaborators Muhammad Zaeem and Md Hossen.
Photo: Lori Lee Hollett

‘Reducing consumers’ risks’

A higher quality feed relates to higher animal health and production. With higher nutrition, less feed will be required, thereby reducing the cost of production while increasing the quality of the animal as a food rich in protein and other essential amino acids and nutrients for humans.

“Considering the role of diet in health improvement and maintenance, acquisition/consumption of high quality animal products with enhanced nutrients has the potential to play a role in reducing consumers’ risks to some common diseases,” Dr. Thomas said.

It’s not just the cattle that will benefit from this crop mixing, either.

Corn is a high and faster soil resource user, which means it depletes the soil’s nutrients.

Soybean is restorative, which means it fixes nitrogen in the soil and has the potential to replenish some of the nutrients the corn would take out.

Roots hold the answers for the future of crops.
A closeup of crop roots.
Photo: Lori Lee Hollett

“In this context a mixed cropping system of corn and soybean has the potential to improve the soil nutrient status following crop production,” said Dr. Thomas. “This is one question we hope to answer at the end of this study.

“The vine type soybeans provide excellent cover as a cover crop. Dr. Lakshman Galagedera, also of Grenfell Campus, is investigating its potential of reducing soil erosion and improving soil hydrology in a mixed cropping system as a component of a separate but related study.”

Pilot project

Dr. Thomas’ first field season ended recently; the research team is now analyzing the data.

It’s the first of a two-year pilot project. The next phase is to repeat the study both at Grenfell Campus and at Delaware State University, the study’s collaborator.

The project is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Delaware State University, Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods and Memorial University. It is also graduate student Muhammad Zadeem’s master of science thesis project.

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