Agroforestry Projects at the Guelph Research Station

Two agroforestry research projects led by University of Guelph researchers at the Guelph Research Station are being completed in fall 2020 and March/April 2021.

The first project—which is now complete—relates to biomass, or non-food plants such as trees with the potential to be used for fuel. As part of that project, “short duration woody crops” such as poplar and willow trees and grass varieties were planted. To complete the project, they were harvested in late 2020. A list of publications stemming from the biomass research is available in the Question and Answer section below.

During the spring of 2021, a second project is being completed. The project relates to intercropping— the practice of growing annual crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans or barley between rows of trees to improve ecological sustainability. As part of that project, the trees will be harvested, and their carbon content will be measured. The intercropping research project will further our understanding of the economics of tree-based intercropping systems for the benefit of Ontario landowners and farmers.

As institutional projects, the research plots and planted trees are exempt from the City of Guelph’s tree protection by-law. University of Guelph staff in the Office of Research have been working with the City of Guelph to ensure the tree harvest complies with local by-laws.

There will be machinery and activity at the Guelph Research Station during March and April 2021 as trees in the research plot areas are harvested. The harvest involves a 30-hectare parcel of land along the East side of Victoria Rd. S. between Stone Rd. E. and College Ave. E. in Guelph.

Aerial view of the plots  Aerial view of the plots from the East

Contacts:

If you have questions about the research station, please contact:

Remo Pallottini
Director, Research Facilities Management
Phone: 519-824-4120, Ext. 56639
Email: remop@uoguelph.ca

To learn about results from this project:

Please contact Dr. Naresh Thevathasan.

Questions and answers about the biomass harvest

A: Long-term agroforestry research has been taking place at the Guelph Research Station since the 1980’s. Agroforestry is an approach to land use that incorporates trees into farming systems and allows for the production of trees and crops or livestock from the same piece of land in order to obtain economic, ecological, environmental and cultural benefits. 

In November 2020, a long-term agroforestry research project led by University of Guelph researchers at the Guelph Research Station was completed. The project relates to biomass—non-food plants such as trees with the potential to be used for fuel. Work on this biomass project will further our understanding of growing biomass crops on land that is not otherwise suitable for growing crops and furthering knowledge about carbon sequestration and alternative fuels.

As part of that project, grasses (such as switchgrass) and about 32,000 trees were planted, and to complete the project, they were harvested. The final assessment of the project will be made after the 2020 growing season, the data analyzed and reported, and the project discontinued.

In spring 2021, a long-term agroforestry research project into intercropping will be completed. It has been underway at this site since 1987. It involves over 4,300 trees on a 30-hectare parcel of land along the East side of Victoria Rd. S. between Stone Rd. E. and College Ave. E.

Intercropping is the practice of growing annual crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans or barley between rows of trees to improve ecological sustainability.

In this phase of the project, the trees will be harvested and their carbon content measured to evaluate the economics of the intercropping system.

The results from this research will be shared with landowners and farming communities in Ontario and will be of interest to global research communities and researchers working on climate change adaptation mechanisms that use an agroforestry approach.

Work on this biomass project and will further our understanding of growing biomass crops on land that is not otherwise suitable for growing crops and further our knowledge about carbon sequestration and alternative fuels.
A: The Guelph Research Station, located on the east side of Victoria Rd. S. in Guelph, is a multidisciplinary research facility and home for agroforestry and biomass research programs. Research trials are conducted on site, including trials in agroforestry led by University of Guelph researchers in the School of Environmental Sciences. The Guelph Research Station is owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the Ontario Government and the University of Guelph.
A: The biomass projects are a partnership among of a number of agencies, including the:

 

  • Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Natural Resources Canada;
  • Ontario Biomass Producer Cooperative (members);
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between OMAFRA and the University of Guelph; and
  • Ontario Ministry of Environment.

The Guelph Research Station is owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.

The intercropping research and tree harvest is being funded by Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs through the Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the Ontario Government and University of Guelph.

A: The trees being harvested are located on the east side of Victoria Rd. S., mostly out of site from the road; they are NOT the tall trees lining Victoria Rd. The trees were planted in 2005 and 2009 and include: hybrid poplar clones, willow clones, polyculture (switchgrass, sorghum, big bluestem/grass, little bluestem), miscanthus and switchgrass. The trees are not part of the Arboretum.

Overhead view of hybrid poplar plots planted in 2005Overhead view of hybrid poplar blocks planted in 2009 ~13 hectares and concentrated willow blocks planted in 2009 ~3.0 hectares

Approximately 4,300 trees of 10 species on the East side of Victoria Rd. S. between College Ave. E. and Stone Rd. E. are being harvested. These trees are planted at the Guelph Research Station and are not part of the Arboretum.
Short rotation woody crops are harvested using heavy equipment referred to as a ‘feller-buncher’ that both cuts and bunches multiple stems at one time. The harvested material is then baled and taken from the site to commercial processing facilities where it is weighed, and further sampling can take place. The root systems of the trees are left in place and allowed to regrow for future harvest, also providing stability to the soil terrain.
A: The trees were planted as part of research trials. Harvesting the trees is part of the normal research growth cycle is necessary to determine their biomass/carbon content.

Completing the projects will ensure the full value of this research investment is realized.

A: After their carbon content is measured, their value will be determined and then they will be sold.
A: University of Guelph staff in the Office of Research have been working with the City of Guelph to ensure the tree removal complies with local by-laws. As an institutional use, the research plots are exempt from the City’s tree protection by-laws. A Tree Management Plan was provided and approved.
The University of Guelph will retain the services of qualified contractors and forestry consultants to prepare the necessary plans and complete the harvest.
A: The trees and grasses will be harvested at ground level, leaving the root systems in place. These varieties will regrow from the root bases which will continue to stabilize and protect the soil terrain.
A: No, the removal of trees is part of an ongoing research project. However, it is important to harvest the trees before the sale to ensure the full value of this research investment is realized.
Researchers planned the harvest to minimize impact on wildlife. It is important to note the research site where the trees were harvested is an agroforestry plot and not a forest. The trees were planted with the intention to harvest them and measure their carbon content. Several factors prevented birds from nesting and other wildlife from making homes here, including:
  • A tree density of about 100 trees per hectare; significantly less (<10%) than the 1,500 to 2,000 trees per hectare in a forest.
  • Agricultural crops grown between tree rows.
  • Tractor, truck and human traffic.

Specifically relating to bird nesting, the harvest was planned for before bird nesting time. It was completed on March 22, 2021, before the bird nesting time identified by the Government of Canada for zone C2. The Arboretum across the street provides a suitable place for animals to nest and live without human or machine traffic.

No, the trees being harvested are not part of the Arboretum. Nearby walking/hiking trails will not be affected.

Published research related to this site includes more than 50 theses, with students from 35 different countries coming to Canada to participate in the research. Below is a list of publications associated with the biomass research project:

Ayerb, N.W., Goretty M. Diasa, G.M, Kariyapperumaa,K., Thevathasan, N., Gordon, A., Sidders, D. (2017). Life Cycle Assessment of Heat Production from Short-Rotation Willow in Southern Ontario, Canada. Applied Energy: 342-353

Bazrgar AB, A Ng, B Coleman, MW Ashiq, A Gordon and N Thevathasan (corresponding author). 2020. Long-Term Monitoring of Soil Carbon Sequestration in Woody and Herbaceous Bioenergy Crop Production Systems on Marginal Lands in Southern Ontario, Canada. Sustainability, 12, 3901. 16 pp.

Borden K, Marney E Isaac, Naresh V Thevathasan, Andrew M Gordon, and Sean C Thomas (2014). Estimating coarse root biomass with ground penetrating radar in a tree-based intercropping system. Agroforestry Systems: DOI 10.1007/s10457-014-9722-5.

Cardinael, R,  N. Thevathasan (corresponding author), A. Gordon, R. Clinch, I. Mohammed and D. Sidders (2012). Growing woody biomass for bioenergy in a tree-based intercropping system in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems 86: 279-286

Clinch, R.L., N. V. Thevathasan, A.M. Gordon, T.A. Volk and D. Sidders (2009). Biophysical interactions in a short rotation willow intercropping system in southern Ontario, Canada. Agriculture, Ecosystem and Environment.131:61-69Coleman B, K Bruce, Q Chang, L Frey, Siyu Guo, MS Tarannum, A Bazrgar, D Siddrs, T Keddy A Gordon and N Thevasathan (corresponding author). 2018. Quantifying C stocks in high-yield, short-rotation woody crop productions systems for forest and bioenergy values and CO2 emission reduction. The Forestry Chronicle Vol 94, N0 3, p 260-268.

Graham J, P. Voroney, Brent Coleman, B. Deen, A. Gordon,. M. Thimmanagari and N. Thevathasan (corresponding author) (2018). Quantifying soil organic carbon stocks in herbaceous biomass crops grown in Ontario, Canada. Agroforest Syst: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-018-0272-0

Lutes K, M. Oelbermann, Naresh V. Thevathasan and A.M. Gordon (2016). Effect of nitrogen fertilizer on greenhouse gas emissions in two willow clones (Salix miyabeana and S. dasyclados) in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems. DOI 10.1007/s10457-016-9897-z.

Mafa-Attoye, T.G., N. Thevathasan and K.E. Dunfield (2019). Indications of shifting microbial communities associated with growing biomass crops on marginal lands in Southern Ontario. Agroforestry Systems.  DOI: 10.1007/s10457-019-00445-w

Marsal F., Naresh V. Thevathasan (corresponding author), S. Guillot,  A. M. Gordon, M. Thimmanagari, W. Deen, S. Silim, R. Soolanayakanahally and D Sidders (2016). Biomass yield assessment of five potential energy crops grown in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems. DOI 10.1007/s10457-016-9893-3

Muhammad Waseem Ashiq, Amir Behzad Bazrgar, Houman Fei, Brent Coleman, Kevin Vessey, Andrew Gordon, Derek Sidders, Tim Keddy and Naresh Thevathasan (corresponding author) (2018).  A nutrient-based sustainability assessment of purpose-grown poplar and switchgrass biomass production systems established on marginal lands in Canada. Can. J. Plant Sci. 98: 1–12.

Sean Simpson, Dunfield K.E., Khosla1 K., Lyons E. M., Thimmanagari M., Coleman1 B., Thevathasan N.V. (2020). The influence of biofertilizer effect on switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) crop yield under greenhouse and field conditions in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. American Journal of Agricultural Research 5:100.

Thevathasan N (corresponding author), Andrew Gordon, Jamie Simpson, Xiaobang Peng, Salim Silim, Raju Soolanayakanahally and Henry de Gooijer. (2014). Sustainability Indicators of Biomass Production in Agroforestry Systems. The Open Agriculture Journal 8: 1-11.

Wotherspoon, A., Naresh V. Thevathasan, Andrew M. Gordon and R. Paul Voroney (2014). Carbon sequestration potential of five tree species in a 25-year-old temperate tree-based intercropping system in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems: DOI 10.1007/s10457-014-9719-0

Zainab AL-Kaabi, Ranjan Pradhan, Naresh Thevathasan,  Andrew Gordon,  Yi Wai Chiangand and Animesh Dutta (2019). Bio-carbon production by oxidation and hydrothermal carbonization of paper recycling black liquor. Journal of Cleaner Production 213:332-341.

Reports

Thevathasan N. (2019). Quantification and long-term monitoring of soil carbon sequestration in woody and herbaceous bioenergy crop production systems on marginal lands in Ontario. U. of Guelph, School of Env Sci. 14 p.

Thevasathan N and Coleman B. 2017. Final narrative report: “Quantifying C stocks in high-yield, short-rotation woody crop production systems for forest and bioenergy values and CO2 emission reduction”. U. of Guelph, School of Env Sci. 11 p.