A newly-funded faculty chair at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) will be focused on growing food crops more efficiently while maintaining soil health.
Recruitment of the Martin and Denise Pick Family Chair in Sustainable Cropping Systems is underway and the position will be supported by a $2 million gift from the Pick family, along with funding from the OAC and an anonymous bequest.
“We’ve been in the agriculture industry all of our lives and we’ve been fairly well rewarded by it, so giving back feels like the appropriate thing to do,” says Martin Pick, retired executive of the Pickseed Group of Companies.
He recognizes that we cannot continually mine the land without restoring the soil. It’s an issue he learned about first hand while building a business in the forage and turfgrass sectors.
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“When the sod business was growing, sod growers were buying farms and they almost always had their best crop the first year after a regular agricultural crop was grown,” Pick explains. This lesson in soil quality and the importance of organic matter stayed with him.
Eric Lyons, acting chair of the department of plant agriculture, says producing more food using less space is a critical challenge.
“We need to think innovatively about what we do in farming and its impact on the environment, soil, water and carbon,” he says. “We can definitely improve our cropping systems to sequester more carbon, release less nitrogen into the atmosphere or through leaching into groundwater.”
In addition to teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels, the new chair will develop and lead a research program with a focus on the major crop-producing regions of southern Ontario.
Research will involve the integration of forage and cover crops into rotations for the provision of ecosystem services and enhancement of economic and environmental sustainability.
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Pick hopes the successful candidate will also focus on educating and encouraging farmers to use sustainable cropping systems continually.
“There is a lot of good work already taking place but I think the promotion of it has to be stepped up,” he says, referring to the decades-long crop field trials conducted at university research stations.
Pick’s parents, Otto and Marie, founded Otto Pick Agricultural Service in 1948 and were pioneers in crop rotation and rotational livestock grazing practices.
When Otto passed in 1959, Martin carried on the business with his mother and brother, Tom. In 2013, Danish seed company DFL Trifolium acquired the Pickseed Group of Companies.
Lyons expects to name the Martin and Denise Pick Family Chair in Sustainable Cropping Systems in early 2023.