Undergraduate Student Experiential Learning Program

The Undergraduate Student Experiential Learning (USEL) Program supports agri-food knowledge mobilization and helps develop the next generation of agri-food innovators.

USEL gives senior University of Guelph undergraduate students the opportunity to gain work experience and hone their knowledge translation and transfer skills through a summer work placement.

USEL students are selected via a competitive hiring process. Successful students are mentored by OMAFRA specialists and U of G research faculty.   

Please see the USEL Application and Report Tips and Guidelines for more information on project reporting. 

Current Opportunities 

Below is a list of USEL projects for Summer 2022. Expand each position below to learn more.

Check back in early 2023 for recruitment details and visit Experience Guelph to apply.

OMAFRA Mentors: Joanna Follings, Cereals Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor:

Dr. Helen Booker
Plant Agriculture
hbooker@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x56829

Mitra Serajazari
Plant Agriculture
mserajaz@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x58126

Preferred Location: University of Guelph campus and Elora Research station

Primary Research Priority: This research is aligned with Protection and Assurance - Animal Health and Welfare, Plant Health and Protection, and Food Safety priority

Primary Research Focus Area: This research focuses on studying different FHB field traits (symptoms) and post-harvest traits such as Fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) and vomitoxin in the grain of spring and winter wheat lines.  The results will provide information about genetic resistance to FHB of wheat lines. Additionally, the presence of vomitoxin in the grain impacts the health of humans and livestock.

Project Description:

Genetic resistance is one of the key management methods and the most environmentally friendly way to control crop diseases and plays an important role in plant health. Fusarium head blight (FHB) not only decreases yield but also produces toxins which are harmful for human and animal health. The wheat breeding program at the University of Guelph has established a FHB nursery at the Elora research station for several years. The screening of thousands of winter and spring wheat lines including material in registration trials helping both public and private sector developers of cereals to collect the required FHB resistance data, In addition, material for graduate and undergraduate projects have been successfully evaluated at the FHB nursery at Elora. The USEL student working on this project will work closely with the University of Guelph Wheat Breeding team, to learn how an artificial disease nursery works and how to evaluate resistance to FHB in wheat grown under inoculated mist irrigated field conditions. The student will also work with researchers on a specific field scale experiment that examines the resistance components of a biparental mapping population.

KTT Opportunities: 

  • Trends in plant attractiveness and the types of pollinators visiting each plant type will be discussed by the USEL student via a student presentation and handout at the annual UofG/Landscape Ontario’s Trial Garden Open House. Landscape Ontario has shown incredible enthusiasm and support for this project, donating a 20x20m plot of land in 2020, and a feature article on the LO website. Their hope is that this project continues to be a source of public interest for several years to come, and that future pollinator research can be conducted using the plots we’ve started.

  • The USEL student will also collaborate with Flowers Canada Ontario to produce or update literature (i.e. FCO’s post on pollinator friendly plants) that can be distributed to growers, gardening clubs and the public at events. The student will also author magazine articles (Greenhouse Canada Magazine, Landscape Ontario Magazine) on the final results of this multi-year trial. Further, all data will be entered into a national database run by Rutgers University to help identify plants to support pollinators using large data sets for use in future meta-analyses. Thus, this project is critical to providing a Canadian perspective on the role Ontario growers can play in changing the urban landscape to protect native pollinators.

OMAFRA Mentors: Christoph Wand, Livestock Sustainability Specialist and Dr. Tom Wright, Dairy Cattle Specialist 

University of Guelph Faculty Mentors:

Mike Steele
Department of Animal Biosciences
masteele@uoguelph.ca

Preferred Location: Guelph, Animal Biosciences, U of G

Primary Research Priority: 

  • Protection and Assurance - Animal Health and Welfare
  • Stewardship –Sustainable Production Systems
  • Economic Development – Competitive Production Systems

Primary Research Focus Area: 

  • Development of BMPs: Development of best management practices to improve farmed animal welfare (e.g. housing, equipment, pain management).
  • Health, Welfare and Productivity of Young Animals: Reducing morbidity and mortality in young, farmed animals.
  • Innovative/Disruptive Technology Development: Identification verification, validation, demonstration and adoption of new, innovative and disruptive technologies and practices to support a resilient and sustainable agriculture and food sector.
  • Improved Management and Processes: Improved management and processes (e.g. crop and livestock productions systems that improve yields and quality through agronomy, production practices, genetic methods, efficient fertilizer use).
  • Performance Measurement: Measure performance through baseline information, trend and gap analysis, impact assessment, and BMP adoption to quantify and benchmark performance.

Project Description:

The practice of using beef semen in dairy cows is undergoing rapid and dramatic adoption in the Ontario milking cow herd, with some genetic advisors directing dairy farmers to breed 40% of Holstein cows to Angus sires.  The resulting cattle will have profound impacts on the veal sector, dairy genetic selection pressure, beef carcass quality and the ability of farmer, feed and processing sectors to adapt quickly to the required logistics and marketing channels to ensure success.  Failure to make a smooth transition will demonstrate itself in undesirable animal welfare for these crossbred calves and economic outcomes for farmers in any parts of the evolving value chain.
This project will strive to step into this rapidly expanding gap and help this transition with the best intelligence from U of G, OMAFRA and industry experts via the KTT activities of this USEL position.

KTT Opportunities: 

  •    Execution of a ‘Dairy x Beef Summit’ amongst U of G, OMAFRA, industry, processing and retail thought leaders
  •    Implementation of a survey to benchmark adoption of practices amongst producers and reporting on the results
  •    Use results of benchmarking and Summit activities to help direct future research and development of best practices
  •    Site meetings with producers and processors on relevant findings
  •    Development of farm media reports on the topic, best practices presentations, Factsheets and findings to be shared with industry via OMAFRA channels such as the Virtual Beef e-zine, the ‘Ruminations’ column in the Dairy Farmers of Ontario magazine and the Ontario Cattle Feeders  newsletter

OMAFRA Mentor: 

Delma Kennedy, Sheep Specialist
Marlene Paibomesai, Dairy Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: 

Dr. Niel Karrow
Department of Animal Biosciences
nkarrow@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x53646

Preferred Location: Elora

Primary Research Priority: 2021.031 Health, Welfare and Productivity of Young Animals:

Primary Research Focus Area: What tools are available to improve and evaluate colostrum quality to mitigate the increasing issue of lamb mortality?

Project Description:

One of the ways that the Ontario sheep industry has been increasing productivity is by using breeds of sheep that have more lambs.  As prolificacy has increased so has lamb mortality.  This is a significant productivity loss and an animal welfare concern.  This is a complex problem that is influenced by a number of different factors.  Colostrum quality is one of those factors.  Producers have been looking for solutions and some have started trying to measure colostrum quality using digital brix refractometer numbers that have been developed for cows.

As part of the “Body Condition Score Influence on Colostrum Production and Quality in Small Ruminants” USEL project in 2021, samples of colostrum from ewes with different body condition scores were evaluated from one farm.  There were two interesting results from the work done last summer - 1) Digital Brix refractometer numbers used in other species to indicate colostrum quality did not appear to correlate to sheep colostrum quality (IgG) in any meaningful way; and 2) Sheep in body condition score 3.5 or more had significantly lower colostrum quality (IgG levels) than sheep that were under conditioned (BCS 2.5 or less).  Both of these results were interesting, but it is difficult to confidently say these measurements in one flock are sound and can be extrapolated to the Ontario industry.  As a result, it is important to measure colostrum quality in a second flock of ewes to get an indication of whether these results are repeatable and perhaps happening in other flocks.

The proposed 2021 project will plan to:  1) Summarize Brix refractometer information developed for other species and investigate whether any new information has emerged for sheep colostrum. 2) Collect and analyze colostrum samples from a second sheep farm.  3) Hold a producer education meeting on understanding sheep colostrum quality and potential tools for measurement.

Priorities:
This project will contribute to the OMAFRA Animal Health and Welfare research priority for the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.  Lamb mortality is a significant problem in the sheep industry with large prolific flocks having mortality rates that range from 12-20%.  Most of this loss happens in the first few weeks of life when colostrum quality influences first energy levels and then the ability to resist disease. This project contributes to the focus area of what tools are available to improve and evaluate colostrum quality to mitigate the increasing issue of lamb mortality by evaluating Brix refractometry for sheep colostrum so producers can make informed decisions about how to evaluate colostrum quality.

Project:
The main objective of this project is to contribute to the knowledge base of factors that affect sheep colostrum and how quality can be quantified and improved.  Data collected last year will be reviewed and more statistical power will be added to the existing comparison by collecting more data in a new season on a different farm.  The amount of data that can be collected and analyzed in a summer project is limited but a second year of data from a second farm will provide enough information to advise producers of the potential problems or benefits with using Brix refractometry as a measure of colostrum quality.

The specific objectives of the project are: 1) literature review and analysis of using Brix refractometer measurements to assess colostrum quality and factors associated with colostrum quality; 2) Organization of producer workshop/webinar on evaluation of sheep colostrum quality; 3) Increase number of colostrum samples evaluated; and 4) Update analysis of Brix refractometry and IgG comparison with additional data.

The 3rd year student will work with Marlene Paibomesai, OMAFRA Dairy Specialist; Delma Kennedy, OMAFRA Sheep Specialist and Niel Karrow, Professor OAC. The student will be involved in the KTT process from sample organization and lab analysis to planning and delivery of information to producers on colostrum quality and the value of potential tools for the measurement of quality.  The student will be expected to lead the project and develop the project management, communication and research skills needed for the project to be successful.

KTT Opportunities: 

  •    Development and production of article on current known best practices to improve colostrum quality and quantity on farm.
  •    Collaborate on development and delivery of workshop/webinar for producers on understanding the usefulness of Brix refractometry in evaluating sheep colostrum quality using the lab findings from 2021 and 2022.
  •    Organizing regular meetings to collaborate with University personnel, students and OMAFRA sheep specialists on the collection of climate data information, fecal egg counting and collection methodology.
  •    Networking with sheep industry researchers and extension personnel.
  •    Attending sheep industry and producer events to interact with producers and deliver materials.

OMAFRA Mentors: 

Hannah Fraser, Entomologist-Horticulture
Jim Todd, Industrial Crops Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: 

Dr. Cynthia Scott-Dupree
School of Environmental Sciences
cscottdu@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x52477

Preferred Location: Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Ensuring Protection and Assurance in the Agri-Food Sector - Plant Health and Protection

Primary Research Focus Area: Biology of Current and Emerging Pests / Integrated Pest Management

Project Description:

Common pests of Cannabis sativa found in greenhouse production systems include aphids, thrips, mites, and whiteflies, and efforts are underway to optimize biological controls project as part of overall IPM strategies.  In contrast, the arthropod complex (pests, natural enemies, pollinators) in Ontario field cannabis / industrial hemp, including both pests and natural enemies, remains undescribed.  While augmentative biological control is feasible in greenhouse production, it is considered cost prohibitive for most field applications.  Despite the rapidly increasing acreage of licenced outdoor cannabis in Canada since legalization in 2018, there is negligible pest management information available to Ontario producers, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.  A project is underway at the University of Guelph to develop recommendations for biological control in indoor and outdoor production of cannabis sativa (Alliance UG-T1-2021-100999).  This includes the first Canadian survey of economically relevant insect pests and natural enemies associated with outdoor cannabis production and an assessment of conservation biological control using companion plants to help growers use naturally occurring beneficial insects to manage their pests.

The project aligns with OMAFRA’s core business of Ensuring Protection and Assurance in the Agri-Food Sector with the research focus area of Integrated Pest Management by developing alternative control options for field cannabis and hemp producers in Ontario, and allowing growers and cannabis consultants to make informed decisions to enhance yield, quality, and profit.

KTT Opportunities: 

The USEL student will work alongside graduate students conducting applied research in indoor (where possible) and outdoor cannabis production systems, under direct supervision of Dr. Cynthia Scott-Dupree, with mentorship of OMAFRA specialists Hannah Fraser (Entomologist Horticulture) and Jim Todd (Industrial Crops Specialist).  They will be directly involved in the development of leading-edge information for growers and consultants in Ontario and beyond, benefitting from early access to this information.  We anticipate that the student will obtain new skills and an opportunity for HQP development in preparation for graduate studies or other advanced training.  

Specific KTT opportunities will include:

  •     Development of photo guides of pests, beneficials, and damage, to assist with identification and diagnostics
  •     Development of a YouTube video summarizing results
  •     Authoring / co-authoring articles for use on OMAFRA and industry blogs and newsletters
  •     Authoring / co-authoring a poster for use at the Ontario Pest Management Conference
  •     Presentation at the USEL wrap-up meeting, to include the use of infographics and other tools for research dissemination/agri-food knowledge mobilization

OMAFRA Mentor: Christine O’Reilly, Forage & Grazing Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: 

Dr. Kim Schneider
Plant Agriculture
kschne01@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x52460

Preferred Location: Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Competitive Production Systems

Primary Research Focus Area: Improved Management and Processes

Project Description:

The ability to utilize pasture in an efficient and profitable manner is a critical driver of low-cost animal production systems (Hurtado-Uria 2013). Pasture utilization is a measure of the percentage (%) of the total pasture dry matter consumed by grazing livestock. Typical pasture utilization rates for Ontario pastures have not been determined. Knowledge is lacking on the impact of increasing pasture utilization rates on animal performance, output per unit area, and on profitability. This project will calibrate the rising plate meter, a standard piece of equipment to measure pasture biomass, for Ontario pastures. This information will then be validated for beef, sheep and dairy pastures across the province and the calibration information will be used to develop typical pasture utilization rates for these systems. Finally, the ability to improve pasture utilization rates based on management recommendations will be evaluated. This information will enable improved economic efficiencies for pasture-based management systems.

The Special Initiatives project “Increasing pasture utilization rates in Ontario” (UG-SI-2020-100755) is co-lead by Dr. Kim Schneider at the University of Guelph and Christine O’Reilly, OMAFRA Forage & Grazing Specialist. A MSc student has begun calibration work for the rising plate meter. The team will work with producers starting in spring of 2022 to validate plate meter use on farms, determine typical pasture utilization rates in Ontario, and improve pasture management recommendations. This phase of the project involves end-users of the research in the research process. To enable the researchers and producers to learn from one another, a peer-to-peer “discussion group” format will be used.

USEL Project:
Knowledge transfer through participatory methods is now established as the most effective method to increase knowledge and technology adoption among producers as it builds upon the knowledge within a group of producers and encourages peer to peer learning, (Holohan et al, 2020).

OMAFRA and U of G will establish three separate discussion groups comprised of six producers in each group located in Eastern Ontario, Southwestern Ontario and Northern Ontario. Producers selected will have beef cattle, sheep, or organic/grass-fed dairy operations with a grazing component. An OMAFRA livestock/forage specialist and the USEL student will facilitate these meetings. The method of facilitation for these groups will be guided by The Discussion Group Facilitators Handbook, (2020, Teagasc, Oakpark, Ireland). Each group will determine production performance targets to be achieved by Year 5 of the project and will be guided from the Ontario Cow-Calf Survey, (2018, Gordan, J.). Training on discussion group participation will be provided by OMAFRA.

It is acknowledged that these focus groups are relatively small, but we feel that they are appropriate for the project that aims to introduce a novel approach to pasture management. Adoption of a novel approach typically follows the innovation adoption curve, where a new idea is initially embraced by innovators (2.5% of the stakeholder population) and early adopters (13.5% of the population). Wider scale adoption occurs over time as the early majority (34% of the population) and late majority (34% of the population) learn about the new approach from innovators and early adopters. To that end, the small group of farmers from each sector will be recruited based on their interest in the novel approach and their status as innovators and early adopters who can influence their peers. This approach was selected as an effective method of knowledge translation and transfer.

OMAFRA and Industry Priorities:
The project aligns with OMAFRA’s ‘Competitive Production Systems’ Priority. It supports the goal to improve production efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness through technology adoption and innovation. Improving pasture utilization is very difficult without accurately being able to estimate your forage biomass. This can be done efficiently and easily using a rising plate meter, but it needs calibration for Ontario pastures. Adoption of this technology will enable Ontario’s grazing livestock sectors to set targets for pasture utilization and being able to measure and track this progress will assist in achieving more efficient, productive, and competitive systems. The discussion groups are critical in developing further KTT initiatives to encourage adoption.

The research focus area ‘Improved Management and Processes’ includes crop and livestock production systems that improve yields and quality through production practices. Improving pasture utilization has been shown to reduce the cost of production and reduce the land base required – an environmental impact – to raise ruminant livestock; this approach to pasture management is a cropping system under question 8.2.1 (What ingredients, feeding programs, cropping systems and/or feeding technologies can improve the cost of production for livestock and final product quality while minimizing the environmental footprint?). Finally, improving pasture utilization is a production strategy that can improve the long-term profitability of pasture forage, thereby addressing question 8.2.9 (What production and market strategies can be used to improve the long-term profitability of crops (e.g. forages)?). The discussion groups within the wider project will inform the researchers about current management and processes in order to use the rising plate meter to improve them from that baseline.

References:
Holohan C. 2020. Best practice experience in farmer discussion groups – Development of an advisor handbook. Animal Grassland Research and Innovation Program, Teagasc, Oakpark, Ireland. https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/publications/2020/The-Discussion-GroupFacilitators-Handbook.pdf

Hurtado-Uria, C., 2013. Adaption, Evaluation and Validation of a Mechanistic Grass Growth Simulation Model for Temperate Grass Based Systems. Cork Institute of Technology, p. 236.

KTT Opportunities: 

The student will take a leadership role in managing the SI project’s discussion group component. This will involve:

  •    Planning and attending monthly meetings for all three discussion groups.
  •    Planning and attending the whole-group summer meeting.
  •   Developing KTT resources to help producers in the discussion group use the rising plate meter and interpret the data it generates (e.g. factsheets, infographics, videos).
  •   Communicating with producers, OMAFRA specialists, and researchers to facilitate better input from end-users into the research and faster KTT back to end-users.

The learnings and resources developed from this project will advance the availability of information on this new approach to pasture management to the ruminant livestock sectors. This helps deliver on key industry priorities to make pastures more productive and profitable.

OMAFRA Mentors: 

Fadi Al-Daoud, Greenhouse Vegetable Specialist
Chevonne Dayboll, Greenhouse Floriculture Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: 

Dr. Thomas Graham
School of Environmental Sciences
tgraham@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x54869

Preferred Location: University of Guelph’s Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF)

Primary Research Priority: Competitive Production Systems

Primary Research Focus Area: 

Improved management and processes
Increasing adoption of novel technology

Project Description:

Background: Winter greenhouse production in Ontario is dependent on supplemental lighting to provide adequate light levels during the shorter days. Producers can choose from different technologies to satisfy their lighting needs, including high pressure sodium (HPS) and light-emitting diodes (LED). LED have given producers the ability to fine-tune the spectral quality of light they provide to their crops, which has resulted in greater efficiencies by maximizing the amount of light used by the crop. Producers can use different light spectra to control and steer crop development. The effects of light quality on plant development and nutrient uptake are well documented in the scientific literature. Exposing plants to different light spectra has a profound influence on nutrient uptake and plant development. What is not well understood is how light quality affects symptom development in crops experiencing nutrient deficiency. Producers rely on visual cues displayed by plants to identify potential nutrient deficiencies in their greenhouses. Greenhouse producers would benefit from knowing how symptoms of nutrient deficiencies are expressed by plants under different light recipes so that they can rectify any nutrient imbalances before they negatively impact production.   

Project:

  •    Growth chambers at the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Sciences (CESRF) would be used to grow vegetables (eg. tomato), flowers (eg. mums), and herbs (eg. basil) under different light regimes (eg. white and red/blue light).
  •    Plants would then be exposed to different nutrient deficiencies (eg, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron) for a number of days.
  •    Nutrient deficiency symptoms would be measured and documented using specialized cameras and/or software.
  •    Plants tissue would be sent for nutrient analysis, and the results would be tabulated and analyzed.
  •    Digital aid to help producers identify symptoms of nutrient deficiencies under different lights.
  •    The student would learn hands-on skills in growing plants in a research laboratory, data collection and analysis, and communicating research results to agricultural producers.

Priorities: This project would help increase the adoption of more efficient LED for supplemental lighting in the greenhouse sector by providing more information about their effect on plant development. Also, different types of production research areas would be interconnected and fill a knowledge gap about how different lighting recipes affect nutrient uptake and development of nutrient deficiency symptoms.

KTT Opportunities: 

The student would:

  •     Include the results from this project in a digital aid that greenhouse producers can use to identify potential nutrient deficiencies in their crops which may be different under different light recipes.
  •     Development of an infographic or booklet-style product that can be distributed to producers and used in future OMAFRA KTT, including articles published on the OnGreenhouseVegetables and OnFloricuture blogs and in Greenhouse Canada Magazine, OMAFRA production publications, and OMAFRA’s Greenhouse Vegetable Course.

OMAFRA Mentors: Benoit Lebeau, Engineer, Non-Agricultural Source Materials

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: 

Ryan Prosser
School of Environmental Sciences
prosserr@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x52190

Preferred Location: Guelph, University of Guelph

Primary Research Priority: 

Soil Health
Sustainable Production Systems

Primary Research Focus Area: Environmental Impacts of Management Practices

Project Description:

This project will generate data on the exposures and effect of microplastics on understudied ecological communities that provided important ecosystems services to Canadians. Soil ecosystems provide a variety of critical ecosystem services to Canadian, e.g., maintenance of water quality, nutrient cycling, food. Unfortunately, soil ecosystems have received far less attention in terms of the potential risk of microplastics to their structure and function compared to marine ecosystems. Though multiple potential pathways of microplastic exposure have been identified for soil ecosystems (e.g., biosolids, municipal compost), but the potential exposure of Canadian soils and the effects on soil communities represents an important data gap to understanding impacts of microplastics to soil ecosystems, which inhibits policy and decision making. In general, fewer studies have attempted to characterize the concentration-response relationships between microplastics and soil biota. Microbial communities are the main drivers of biogeochemical cycles, and changes in their abundance, activity and taxonomic diversity will, therefore, affect biogeochemical pathways. These pathways underpin the ecosystem services provided by soils, such as soil fertility (for food, fibre and fuel production), water quality, resistance to erosion and climate mitigation through reduced feedbacks to climate change, yet the literature contains few studies on the potential effect of microplastics on soil microbial communities. Similarly, very little research has been conducted on the effect of microplastics on plant growth and plant-associated microbes (e.g., mycorrhizal fungi) or the uptake of microplastics by plants, both have important implications for agricultural production and human exposure. Macro- and micro-invertebrates play many important roles in soil ecosystems, e.g., nutrient cycling, maintenance of soil structure and productivity, yet the characterization of effects and accumulation of microplastics in soil invertebrates is lacking. Soil invertebrates are also likely to be primary consumers of microplastics, which makes them a priority for studying the effect of soil microplastics. These invertebrates are also intermediate components of the food web, making understanding their uptake and effect of microplastics critical to understanding the potential for trophic transfer and indirect effects on higher trophic levels.

The potential USEL student will be assisting researchers on the characterization the microplastic content in different types of biosolids (e.g., dewatered cake, liquid) collected from municipalities across Ontario (e.g., Region of Waterloo, Region of Halton, City of Toronto) through our partnership with Terrapure. The student will also assist with the sampling of soil and earthworms from fields that have been amended with different types of biosolids from different municipalities. Finally, the student will assist with controlled toxicity tests in the lab to investigate the effects of different size microplastics on soil fauna (e.g., Eisenia andrei).

The proposed project relates to “Soil health and Sustainable Production Systems”, which has been identified as an OMAFRA Priorities in the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance Research Program of 2021-2022.  It will generate valuable information for the beneficial use of biosolids that is applied to agricultural land as an amendment for soil health and nutrient for crop production.

KTT Opportunities: 

The student will have the opportunity to interact with farmers and members of the wastewater industry to discuss the importance and associated risks of the land application of biosolids (e.g., present at the Water Environment Association of Ontario meeting).

The student will also help to develop materials (e.g., videos, social media posts, information briefs) for a national campaign that is being run by Environment and Climate Change Canada and Ocean Diagnostics to educate and engage Canadians on plastics and the microplastics pollution problem. Another goal of the campaign is to increase the profile of Canadian microplastics researchers and their work and provide credible scientific information on microplastics to the public. The student will not only have the opportunity to help with this campaign, but they will also help generate and summarize data for the campaign as part of their placement. They will also have the opportunity to present the work that they conducted during their USEL placement with other undergraduate and graduate students through a platform presentation in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph.

OMAFRA Mentor: Benoit Lebeau, Engineer, Non-Agricultural Source Materials

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: 

Dr. Adam Gillespie
School of Environmental Sciences
agilles@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x52075

Preferred Location: Guelph, University of Guelph

Primary Research Priority: 

Soil Health
Sustainable Production Systems

Primary Research Focus Area: Environmental Impacts of Management Practices 

Project Description:

This project examines the types and quantities of plastics (macro and microplastics) that are present in sourced separated organic (SSO) and compost from various municipalities that may have differing policies on the acceptance of plastic bags in green bin programs.  Given that some municipalities allow kitchen and pet waste to be collected in plastic (i.e., shopping) bags and disposed of in green bins while others do not, this project will seek to compare the plastic content and types of these contrasting programs.  The project also will examine the presence of plastic degradation products, including those of biodegradable plastic bags sold for composting.  

This aligns with the OMAFRA Water Quality & Soil Health priority by addressing contaminants of emerging concern and the Reducing Waste priority by assessing potential unintended consequence of plastic material in sourced separated organics, which may end up in urban-based organic soil amendments (i.e. municipal compost) that may be applied to agricultural land.

KTT Opportunities: 

Many KTT opportunities are expected through this project.

  •     The student will learn about the sources, types, and concentrations of plastic in source-separated organics and compost through various activities and interactions with stakeholders such as
    •      Knowledge transfer from researchers at UofG
    •     Interactions with municipal staff administering SSO collection and/or compost programs to learn details and differences in the province, which may influence the types and concentrations of plastic in compost
    •     Interactions with operators of compost facilities to learn details about SSO pre-treatment and composting processes that may impact types and concentrations of plastic in compost.
    •     Interactions with provincial staff to understand regulations associated with the production and use of SSO compost in Ontario.
    •     Applied research by sampling, testing and analyzing SSO and compost for plastics   

 

  • The student will be presenting the results of this project to:
    •     Collaborators at the participating municipalities and composting facilities
    •     UofG students in the same program, and
    •     OMAFRA Environmental Management Branch staff through “EMB Talks” Virtual Series
  • The student will assist an MSc student in the development of an educational component for elementary students showing the importance of sorting plastics in the municipal compost stream.

OMAFRA Mentor: 

Peter Doris, Environmental Specialist
Anna Crolla, Environmental Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: 

Dr. Bassim Abbassi
School of Engineering
babbassi@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x52040

Preferred Location: Guelph

Primary Research Priority: 

Competitive Production Systems (Economic Development)
Sustainable Production Systems (Stewardship)

Primary Research Focus Area: 

Improved Management and Processes; Performance Measurement (Competitive Production Systems)
Environmental Impact of Ag Production (Sustainable Production Systems)

Project Description:

Proper management of on farm generated washwaters continues to be a challenge for the agriculture sector. Failure to divert 1st rinse, lack of maintenance/pump out and lack of/or improper design are common problems with some of the on farm washwater management systems leading to unacceptable discharges to the environment.  Coupled with these practical problems are challenges with respect to the approval and regulation of these systems.  Examples include uncertainty with respect to the approval of sediment tank treatment trench systems (a.k.a. septic systems) for milking centre washwater (MCWW) under the Ontario Building Code.  

This project will build on work in the summer of 2021 which examined issues specific to MCWW.  This 2021 work identified that a level 1 septic system (standard septic system) can suffer from performance problems especially if the 1st rinse is not diverted and if regular pump outs of the tank are not done.

The 2022 USEL project will examine current data and studies related to the use of advanced systems (called Level 4 systems under the Ontario Building Code). Level 4 systems have additional features, compared to a Level 1 system; an example of an advanced feature is an additional tank after the sediment tank with oxygen pumped in it to further breakdown biological material in the washwater.  

It is hoped that this work will lead to improved systems for washwater management on the farm and provide greater confidence to regulators with the approval of these systems.

KTT Opportunities: 

The student will prepare and deliver a summary report and presentation on the findings of their work.  Specifically, it will highlight the performance of different level 4 systems and other relevant factors (cost, installation considerations, ongoing management requirements, etc.).

Information will be delivered to OMAFRA staff and will be offered to industry personnel such as:

  •     Farm groups (examples, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Goat Breeders Association);
  •     Liaising with other government officials (i.e. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing) and municipal building officials; and
  •     Other presentations for government, farmers and various stakeholders.

In addition to the student report, the student will draft an Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre (ORWC) Infosheet(s) and related articles and assist with OMAFRA factsheet development/revision.  

It is hoped that this work will aid in the updating of ORWC course material related to septic design and management for MCWW and eventually lead to the development of a manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal.

OMAFRA Mentor: Daniel Saurette, Land Resource Specialist-Soil

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: 

Dr. Kari Dunfield
School of Environmental Sciences
dunfield@uoguelph.ca
+1-519-824-4120 x58088

Preferred Location: Guelph. Flexible.

Primary Research Priority: Preparation of KTT document(s) describing important soil health concepts

Primary Research Focus Area: Topsoil/Soil health (i.e., organic matter, microbiome, nutrients)

Project Description:

Soil health is an important concept that refers to a soils ability to perform a myriad of functions related to agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. We know that soil health depends upon biological, chemical, and physical features of the soil and that on-farm management decisions impact long-term soil health. Managing soil health is important for both economic, food security, and environmental reasons and we know that some important features of soil health are degrading within Ontario agricultural landscapes (e.g., soil loss to erosion, organic matter declines)

Despite the importance of soil health, there is still limited data in Ontario on the status of soil health. To address this, in 2019 the “Ontario Agricultural Topsoil Sampling Program” was initiated. This program was designed to gather baseline soil health data and link these data to environmental and management conditions on-farm to determine how best to preserve and promote soil health in Ontario.

The primary duties of the USEL student would be translating the results of the Ontario Agricultural Topsoil Sampling Program into meaningful messaging for researchers, farmers, and the public. The student would learn how different features (biological, chemical, physical) of a soil are important in agriculture and how to target soil health messaging to different audiences. There will also be opportunities for the student to get on-farm experience sampling soil and speaking to farmers, as well as analysing soil data in the lab.

KTT Opportunities: 

The KTT activities the student would be involved in include:

  •     Engaging with growers about their farming practices
  •     Developing soil health infosheets that summarize results of the topsoil survey program
  •     Exploring how to target soil health messaging to multiple audiences
  •     Presenting results to the OMAFRA community

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