Living Lab – Eastern Prairies

The Living Lab – Eastern Prairies is part of a larger project, the Living Laboratories Initiative, which seeks to advance collaborative agricultural science and help address some of Canada’s most pressing environmental issues. The Initiative is a network of Living Labs across the country where farmers, researchers and various partners work hand in hand on farms developing novel tools and techniques that are tailored to local environments and needs.  The Living Lab – Eastern Prairies consists of research activities located in four watersheds in Manitoba: Upper Oak River, Swan Lake, North Shannon Creek, and Main Drain. In these sites, farmers, researchers and a variety of local partners collaborate to find solutions to local agri-environmental problems. Local partners and farmers have identified four environmental priorities considering the diversity of the agricultural landscape of the region: soil health, water management, habitat conservation, and climate change. Furthermore, research activities are developed to reflect the particular needs and priorities of each watershed. The over-arching goal is to accompany producers and collaborators towards improving resiliency and sustainability of agriculture in the four targeted watersheds.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The conversion of the Canadian prairies to agricultural production has presented challenges that call for management practices that will help producers adjust to climate change, reduce water contamination, improve soil and water conservation, and maximize habitat capacity and biodiversity on agricultural landscapes. To achieve this, producers, partners and scientists are working together to co-develop management practices and evaluate their feasibility and benefits to ensure better and faster adoption, through the following activities:

  • Identifying the impacts of existing natural depressions and wetlands on hydrology, peak flow, runoff volumes and water quality
  • Co-developing on-farm soil health and fertility indicators
  • Understanding the landscape dynamics and nutrient use efficiency of slow release forms of fertilizer
  • Assessing the environmental benefits of zone management and spatially targeted conservation practices
  • Developing tile drainage management practices to reduce nutrient and habitat losses
  • Evaluating innovative approaches to prevent losses of water and nutrients by capturing and storing runoff water on the farm
  • Evaluating the use of regenerative grazing management to capture and sequester carbon in grassland soil
  • Identifying and evaluate practices to enhance beneficial insect habitat in cropland and set aside land while minimizing production risks
  • Measuring the socio-economic impacts of beneficial management practices adoption for producers and communities

Identifying Actions

Because the resulting innovations are co-developed with farmers from beginning to end, they are more likely to be adopted. The co-development process ensures that innovations are economically viable, technically feasible and desirable for the producers in addition to being scientifically sound. Collaboration with farmers throughout the cycle of innovation is therefore essential.


The information sessions and co-development workshops between producers and collaborators have helped to establish the priorities for research and to co-develop research protocols to address agri-environmental issues identified by the producers. These priorities and actions have been implemented in the research activities. Currently, farmers within the Upper Oak River, Swan Lake, North Shannon Creek and Main Drain watersheds are taking part in research projects that include the construction of perennial grassed runways and buffer strips, cover cropping, inter-cropping, and poly cropping, and the construction of small wetland retention ponds.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

This initiative seeks to develop technologies and better management practices, which helps to empower Manitoban farmers by giving them the tools to adjust to climate change and better address water quality, soil conservation and improve biodiversity on agricultural landscapes. Through this Living Lab, producers are better equipped to enhance habitats for beneficial insects, develop better tile draining practices, prevent nutrient, water and habitat losses, and to use regenerative grazing management to capture and sequester carbon in grassland soil.

Next Steps

The next steps in the project include completing data collection, and analysis as well as interpretation of results. Individual research activities will then be synthesized together and best management practices across the four priority areas, soil health, water management, habitat conservation and, climate change, can be identified and communicated to producers.