More climate resilient biomass plants thanks to manipulation of plant microbiomes

L-R: Parliamentary Secretary Jean-Claude Poissant; Louis Arseneault, Vice-Principal (Communications and External Relations); Professor Don Smith; The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food; Dean Anja Geitmann; and Member of Parliament, Francis Scarpaleggia

On Monday, February 11, Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada was at Macdonald to announce a federal investment of up to $7 million to the Biomass Cluster under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. The cluster, led by BiofuelNet Canada and its Scientific Director and CEO Dr Don Smith (Department of Plant Science), will include an additional $3.1 million in contributions from industry, for a total investment of $10.1 million over 5 years.

It has been estimated that Canada has nine million hectares of marginal lands suitable for biofuel crops such as switchgrass of coppiced poplar, which could generate up to $400 per hectare in additional revenues. This cluster will investigate the economic aspects of marginal land and determine actual costs of different energy crops and residues through field demonstrations.

As the climate changes, plants are likely to become more stressed by high temperatures, more frequent droughts and increasing salinity. Smith has found a way to dramatically improve the way that plants deal with stress by manipulating compounds produced by microbes in the plant microbiome (like the human microbiome). This has the potential to support the development of more climate change resilient agricultural systems.

“Developing a good understanding of each of the components involved in energy crop production on Canada’s marginal land, including area, costs and benefits of production, and the environmental impacts of the resultant land use change, is urgently needed,” says Smith.

Overall, the Biomass Canada cluster will play a key role in integrating the Canadian agricultural sector into the developing Canadian bioeconomy, leading to job creation, greenhouse gas production and a more sustainable and climate change resilient agricultural sector in Canada.