Now based in Nova Scotia as director of the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC) at Dalhousie University, Andy still feels a tug toward the Saskatchewan farmland of his youth. “I’m a prairie boy,” he says. “I have a strong sense of familiarity with the landscape and agriculture there.” He finds it gratifying to support the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative, whose work dovetails nicely with OACC’s mandate of coordinating the science of organic agriculture in Canada.
While in university, a desire to find alternatives to pesticides and herbicides led Andy to study soil conservation, applied ecology and land reclamation. During a summer soil sampling job, he met an organic farmer whose love of the land resonated with his, confirming that farming can incorporate those approaches. Joining the OACC soon after it began in 2001, Andy became centre director in 2011 when founder Dr. Ralph Martin moved on. In collaboration with the Organic Federation of Canada, OACC leads the Organic Science Cluster program, funding research that is finding practical solutions
to farmers’ challenges while also learning more about how organic farming systems work. Across the prairies, that research has led to advances in weed control, fertility management, crop rotations, organic plant breeding, and more.
Organic agriculture scientists can be scrutinized by their peers much as organic farmers are scrutinized by their neighbours, Andy observes. “The science cluster has helped change that by bringing integrity and credibility to organic science. And it is training a lot of graduate students who move on to support the organic industry. So our role as a centre is really building scientific capacity in organic agriculture across the country.”
What Makes Andy a Champion?
As head of a scientific centre specifically dedicated to organic agriculture, Andy contributes invaluable expertise that has enabled POGI to succeed. Coming to the table immediately, he collaborated with the Organic Federation of Canada to find some of the matching industry dollars needed to fund POGI’s launch. Joining both the optimization and transition advisory committees, he dedicated time, research funding and staff resources to key projects. For example, The Green Manure Tool Kit was based on the work of OACC communication officer Joanna White. Informally and at conferences, Andy furthers POGI’s work by sharing his knowledge and ideas.
“The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative is first of all very important because it was strategic and coordinated – a regional initiative, not just provincial. Its collaborative nature helped bring people together and capture efficiencies across the prairies. It produced accessible tools, and its communication roll-outs were some of the strongest I’ve seen. The on-farm trials helped farmers become role models for a mindset of continuous improvement. There are always funding constraints, but having said that, all those things POGI was doing are really bang-on.”