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Reimagining potato farming: McCain Foods’ Farm of the Future Canada shows promise after two growing seasons

After two growing seasons, “we’ve made significant progress in testing different practices and approaches to regenerative agriculture”, McCain Foods says in a post on its LinkedIn channel.

The company says with these key learnings, it hopes to support its farmer partners “by providing them the tools and training they need to implement these practices on their farms, and working to ensure every potato that is made into McCain products is grown sustainably”.

As part of McCain Foods’ commitment to sustainability, the company says it aims to ensure that every potato harvested for its products is grown using regenerative agricultural practices. To support farmer partners and test various regenerative agriculture approaches, McCain Foods established three Farms of the Future in different growing regions worldwide.

Farm of the Future Canada, located near Florenceville, NB, has completed two growing seasons, with results reinforcing the potential of regenerative agriculture in mitigating the climate impact of potato farming.

McCain Foods recently released its Farm of the Future Year Two report for its farm in Canada, providing details on Year 2 highlights and goals for future growing seasons. We summarize the main points in the report below. The full report can be viewed here.

No significant difference in yield, quality with reduced inputs

Farm of the Future Canada’s second season featured three potato varieties grown on 150 acres, 193 acres of grains, 168 acres of cover crops, and 41 acres of pastureland for grazing. To benchmark regenerative agricultural practices against conventional farming methods, a non-scientific comparison was set up with Valley Farms.

Despite using less fertilizer and pesticides at Farm of the Future Canada, there was no significant difference in yield or quality compared to Valley Farms.

Achieving Expert level

The McCain Foods Regenerative Agriculture Framework is central to the project, defining core principles and measuring progress against seven indicators while offering farmers flexibility to adopt suitable practices. Farm of the Future Canada has achieved the Expert level in three of these indicators:

  1. Armoured Soils, Preferably with Living Plants: The farm was covered with living plants or residue for 290 days in 2022, exceeding the Expert threshold of 270 days.
  2. Enhanced Farm and Ecosystem Biodiversity: 28% of the farm’s land is dedicated to natural habitat, surpassing the 8% standard for the Expert level.
  3. Enhanced Crop Biodiversity: Depending on the season, the farm grew six to 12 cover crops, well above the Expert threshold of eight crop species.

The farm remains at the Beginner level for the remaining four indicators but has made progress in reducing pesticide toxicity, minimizing soil disturbance, reducing agro-chemical impact, and optimizing water use. The farm is only 16 points away from reaching the Master level in the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ).

Future outlook

In the coming years, Farm of the Future Canada will focus on reducing synthetic fertilizers, increasing the use of cover crops and green manures, and incorporating more precision agriculture technology, such as variable rate fertilizer application and See-and-Spray systems. These measures will further reduce the farm’s carbon footprint and the impact of agrochemical inputs.

The project expects EIQ values to continue to decrease, with the anticipated reduction of Mancozeb usage in 2023 potentially lowering the EIQ score to the Master level for the Agro-Chemical Inputs indicator.

While progress has been significant, Farm of the Future Canada acknowledges that achieving full sustainability is a multi-year process with areas for improvement. The farm remains committed to reimagining potato farming and fulfilling its promise to foster a sustainable future.

Source: McCain Foods. Read the full report here
Image: Credit McCain Foods LinkedIn channel

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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