Modeling concurrent improvement of water quality and crop production in Canadian Prairies

Sepideh Kheirkhah and Monireh Faramarzi


Water quality plays a significant role in dealing with multi-disciplinary challenges of water resources management. The dependency of water quality on various water-use sectors such as agri-food signifies the importance of studying biogeochemical processes at a regional scale. In a large watershed comprising various land management effects, water quality degradation can threaten water and food supply and security. In food exporting regions such as the Canadian Prairies, nutrient enrichment and eutrophication of receiving water bodies can adversely affect the ecological and economic function of these lands and water bodies due to conventional agricultural activities. Adopting an integrated ecological agriculture system with conventional farming could facilitate sustainability in food production with less degradation of soil and water resources. This research aims to explore the impact of ecological farming on improving water quality and crop production at the Nelson River Basin (NRB), the largest river basin in the Canadian Prairies. For that purpose, the process-based Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) is developed and evaluated to represent crop yields, phosphorus (P) loads, and streamflows for the 1982-2016 period. The effect of cover-cropping, as an ecological alternative, is then analyzed on crop yield and variation of P accumulation and transport from soil to waterways in the NRB. This research would highlight the trade-offs and the extent to which the ecological cover-cropping system can sustain food production. Our results can help policymakers in achieving multi-functional objectives by meeting the growing food demand while restricting water and soil deterioration.  

Keywords: Water Quality Management; Crop Yield; Ecological Agriculture; SWAT; Canadian Prairies 

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