Living Lab – Atlantic

This project is a component of the Living Labs Initiative and is led by the Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture. Research activities are conducted on farms in the Dunk River, Kensington North and Souris Watersheds, and at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Harrington Research Farm.  Prince Edward Island is characterized by iron rich soil which raises specific challenges for agriculture. This soil is prone to weathering, erosion, and nutrient leaching. Thus, research activities have been conducted to determine if it is possible to control nitrate leaching into the groundwater by providing adequate soil moisture over the growing season using irrigation. This research emphasizes the utilization of wireless soil moisture monitoring equipment that can communicate with potato producers to let them know when soil conditions are suitable to irrigate. These can also be used to inform when soil moisture is sufficient, and irrigation is not needed. The ultimate goal is to keep the soil moisture in the optimum range so the crop can effectively use all the nitrogen fertilizer applied.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Varying or uncertain soil moisture levels in the growing season under a changing climate has been considered as one of the factors that contribute to the steady declining yield in Prince Edward Island (PEI). In an effort to find ways of dealing with drier conditions caused by climate change, several potato growers have adopted supplemental irrigation on a portion of their crop with varied results.  However, with climate change, precipitation during the growing season is less frequent with higher intensity and unpredictable patterns. Irrigation has allowed growers to withstand periods of drought at critical stages of the crop growth while still relying on natural rainfall to provide most of the crops water requirements. The varied yield responses to supplemental irrigation implies that current irrigations practices may cause over-irrigation or under irrigation rather than providing optimal watering to dissolve fertilizers and favoring the plant growth. Optimising soil moisture for crop growth involves matching the supply of water to crop water demand in time and space. In this humid region, optimal water supplies should correspond to precipitation supplemented by irrigation. The uncertainty with precipitation can cause over- or under-irrigation. Additionally, irrigation can play an important role in applied fertilizer efficiency.  During drought periods, fertilizer cannot dissolve without water and therefore is not accessible to the plants, potentially causing large amounts of leaching to the ground and surface. Overall, this research aims at creating agroecosystems that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Image of a sustainable urban rainwater management project in the City of Vancouver. The schematic includes incorporation of greenscaping as a way of not only beautifying the streetscape, but also to provide functional purposes such as rainwater management and small areas of habitat refugia. The image shows the integration of sustainable design with climate adaptation actions. Specific foci are on the inclusion of more city street trees, native plants, areas for pollinators, rain gardens, and the creation of common spaces for gathering.

Identifying Actions

The goal of this trial is to explore irrigation techniques that reduce the effects of a changing climate by minimizing water usage and nutrient leaching. Like other projects in the Living Laboratories Initiative, the objective is to identify actions and research innovative practices through partnerships with producers and local collaborators. This project is assessing the effectiveness of traditional and decision-based supplemental irrigation treatments at standard and reduced nitrogen applications. It is important to provide farms with answers on what irrigation strategy is most beneficial to potato production on PEI while reducing the environmental impact. The purpose of on-farm irrigation trials are to provide insight for the correct timing and frequency and depth of irrigation water to prevent nutrients from leaching and erosion of the shallow sandy loam soils.


To facilitate the implementation of the technologies and practices uncovered in this Living Lab, including a socio-economic analysis to understand the impacts to on-farm profitability, the impacts of on-farm social benefits and the barriers and incentives for PEI farmers to adopt these beneficial management practices.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

As part of this Living Lab experiment, the trial treatments used to evaluate various types of nitrogen fertilizers have been analysed based on the amount of potatoes harvested under each treatment, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions related to each treatment, as well as the residual soil nitrogen left in the ground after the harvest.

Next Steps

The next step in this project is to communicate the environmental and economic benefits of new agricultural practices to the farming community, in order to share the findings of this initiative.