Living Lab – Quebec

This Living Lab project is located across three small watersheds from the province of Quebec: the Rivière du Bois-Blanc watershed, the Rivière du Pot au Beurre watershed, and a region called the South Shore of Lac Saint-Pierre watershed. These territories are a part of the large watershed of Lac Saint-Pierre, a basin in the St. Lawrence Seaway between Trois-Rivières and Sorel-Tracy. Living Lab – Quebec was developed through the collaboration of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec (UPA), and a variety of local producers and partners. Approximately 50 farmers are taking part in this project. Like the other projects in the Living Labs Initiative, the over-arching goal is to foster and accelerate the adoption of better agricultural practices through the direct implication of producers in the research process. First, through information and co-development meetings, the participating producers and collaborators have identified three environmental priorities for the region: soil management (climate change and soil quality), water quality, and biodiversity. Moreover, livestock feeding, and waste management were identified as complementary research themes. The Living Lab initiative seeks to study each theme through the framework of climate change. Second, research activities oriented towards cover crop rotation, riparian buffers and their impacts on biodiversity, water management, microbiome and soil health, livestock feeding, and waste management have been implemented on participating farms in a context of real production.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The impacts of climate change on agroecosystems are increasingly tangible. Earlier and longer periods of drought during growth season foster costly impacts on crop yields. Better agricultural practices can help to minimize these impacts, but their adoption by producers can be hindered by the production context. The Living Labs Initiative seeks to establish a new paradigm for scientific research in agroecosystems, in which the process to adopt more durable practices is promoted and accelerated. By placing the producers at the center of the research process and involving them directly in the co-creation of research protocols, AAFC hypothesizes that farmers are likely to adopt better practices once positive results emerge.

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 first step of the project Living Lab – Quebec was to build an organizational structure that would create an optimal environment for participative collaboration of agricultural producers in the three watersheds. These watersheds are characterized by intensive farming and the necessity to quickly adapt to the impacts of climate change. Preliminary meetings  introduced the Living Labs Initiative to agricultural stakeholders and farmers. Information sessions and a series co-development and co-creation of research protocols workshops were organized during the first phase of the project. Following this, the selected research activities started and focused on the following themes: cover crop rotation, riparian buffers and their impacts on biodiversity, water management, microbiome and soil health, livestock feeding and waste management.


Following the information sessions and co-development workshops, the established preliminary research protocols were presented to producers in order to obtain their comments and modifications. These protocols were the subject of working sessions in the collaborative environment of the thematic innovation cells to establish the list of farms that will become active participants in the research process. Farms that were established as non-active participants but still manifested an interest in the research, were allowed to maintain their collaboration by staying as a member of the innovation cell and interacting during the research process. The innovation cell acts as the control center for research activities within the Living Labs – Quebec project. Multiple innovation cells were put in place to address problems and concerns formulated by producers during co-development and co-creation meetings:

  1. an innovation cell focused on cover crop rotation tackles issues related to soil health, erosion, nutrient management and crop rotation;
  2. an innovation cell on riparian buffers focuses on the protection of water bodies, water quality, and biodiversity (pollinators and farmland birds);
  3. an innovation cell focuses on the management of watercourses in agroecosystems;
  4. finally, an innovation cell targets livestock feeding and waste management.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The research activities conducted are as follows:

  • Agricultural producers have implemented, in partnership with scientific researchers from AAFC, a test network on several farms to quantify the nitrogen nutrient supply in different cover crop management modes. The goal of these tests was to reduce the quantities of nitrogen fertilizers used. This network also allowed to assess the impacts of cover crops on soil biodiversity, carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately, soil health.
  • A second network, involving around twenty agricultural businesses, has intensively studied riparian buffers, whether they took the form of prairies, or were composed of herbaceous plants, shrubs or trees. Some of these buffers were already existing, while others were newly implemented. The goal of this research was to evaluate their impacts on biodiversity in agroecosystems (soil microbiome, pollinators, and farmland birds), and on their capacity to intercept the flow of surface runoff and of associated contaminants towards the hydrographic network. Lastly, the community and economic impacts of riparian buffers were considered.
  • In the three targeted watersheds for the project, a characterization of the areas that could potentially be the subject of concrete actions linked to watercourse management is under way.
  • Several dairy and pork production businesses established a research protocol to characterize animal diet and link it with the environmental and fertilizing impacts of the use of livestock manure on agricultural soils.
  • The project also involved a collaboration with a local Indigenous community to assess the possibility to re-integrate in the agroecosystems plant species of spiritual, cultural and economic importance.
  • Socio-economic surveys were also used to target more precisely the ways to overcome the barriers to the adoption of better agricultural practices.

Next Steps

The research results obtained after the first year of experimentation continue to be the subject of in-depth analyses. They will be presented to the producers along with the results of the current year. Afterwards, discussions will follow to establish the relevance of rapidly adopting practices that have real economic and environmental potential for agricultural businesses, to take the study further for the practices that will require more development cycles, and to reject those that have failed to achieve the objectives set by the producers.