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P.E.I. scientist striving to reduce climate change effects through agricultural practices


Photo of Judith Nyiraneza
Judith Nyiraneza is researching agricultural practices effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change. Photo by Ezra Santana.

It’s a sunny morning outside Charlottetown’s Research and Development Centre.

The wind blows steadily and birds chirp all around.

The doors to the building are locked, so I ring the doorbell.

A man opens the door and smiles.

“Good morning.”

I smile back.

“Hi, I’m here to speak with Judith Nyiraneza.”

“Oh, awesome. Come on in.”

Except for the occasional chatter here and there, it’s quiet inside.

The man sits behind the front desk and dials a number on the phone.

“Judith will be down here soon.”

Not even five minutes later, Nyiraneza greets me. Dark pants. Patterned shirt. Hair up. And a white lab coat.

Nyiraneza is a soil research scientist who specializes in nutrient management.

She’s currently leading a project to find out how to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in agriculture.

Nyiraneza’s project is part of P.E.I.’s plan to become net zero by 2040 and Canada’s plan to become net zero by 2050. Photo by Ezra Santana.
“You have seen the extreme weather events. So I think all countries, including Canada, we’re trying to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions because they’re the cause of extreme weather events."

The project is going to test agricultural methods such as rotational grazing, which is when farmers let their cattle consume only one portion of the land. This allows the soil to rest and gather nutrients.

Another practice to be tested is cover cropping, which is planting non-harvestable crops before, with or after harvestable crops to help heal and regenerate the soil.

So far, these methods have proven effective in optimizing harvest results and also caring for the soil.

And all this research is being done with the help of farmers.

“The advantage of having this project in agricultural farms is to have farmers on board so then, if something is working, they can adopt it quickly because they’ve been partnering with us. What I think will help them is really to increase the resiliency of the agriculture sector in general."

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, Nyiraneza’s previous project – The Living Lab Atlantic – showed managing nitrogen fertilizers can help reduce emissions.

“Nitrogen is an important input to maximize and to achieve optimum wield. The soil also supplies nitrogen, but nitrogen fertilizer has many components you can manage.”

An external partner of the project found that a slow release of the fertilizer can match the nitrogen demanded by the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also maximizing the crop wield. It’s a win-win.

She’s now also testing a reduced tillage intensity.

Tilling, or digging up soil on the land frequently and intensely can harm it by reducing the amount of carbon in the soil.

Without carbon, the land becomes infertile.

“The more you till it, the more you’re going to expose the soil’s organic matter to decomposition. So minimizing the intensity and frequency of your tillage is going to affect in the long run.”

Nyiraneza says the current project will go on till at least 2028 as a part of Canada’s plan to become net zero by 2050. It’s a collaborative effort between scientists from different areas, farmers, agro-economists, external partners and government departments.

Judith Nyiraneza in the lab
Nyiraneza is working with scientists from different areas, farmers, economists and even government agencies. Photo by Ezra Santana.

But what does it mean to become net zero?

Being net zero means having a balance in terms of emissions.

“Currently, we are producing more emissions than can be absorbed, which is contributing to rising global temperatures,” said Angela Banks, manager of P.E.I.’s Net Zero office.

Banks said recent events like the floods and wildfires in Nova Scotia and post tropical storm Fiona have increased the urgency to act towards the net zero goal.

“While not every country or company can decarbonize simultaneously, it is important for those that can do so more readily to pave the way for others. This is what P.E.I. is doing.”

The Net Zero office wants Islanders to know that by reaching its net zero goal, P.E.I. can become a leader and an example for other provinces that reducing emissions can have a positive impact both environmentally and economically.

“We want Islanders to realize that we are not immune to the impacts of climate change and that we all have a role to play in sustaining the planet for future generations. P.E.I., because of its size, can be agile and make changes that have far-reaching impacts."

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Hey, thanks for stopping by!

My name is Ezra (they/them) and I’m an aspiring storyteller who is half-way through a Journalism and Communications program at Holland College, P.E.I. 

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