Zachary Buchanan

Role: HQP Scholar

Degree: M.Sc.

Project: Effect of best management practices (BMPs) on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in an Ontario grain production system

Department:  School of Environmental Sciences (SES) (OAC)

What inspired you to pursue your current degree? 

I grew up on my family’s cash crop farm in Essex County. Living and working on the farm encouraged me to pursue an interest in agriculture. I became particularly excited about using cover crops and striving to make our farm business both economically and environmentally sustainable. This has inspired me to pursue my current master’s degree in environmental sciences.

What about your research area excites you? 

The field of environmental sciences in relation to agriculture is a very hot topic right now. Our government is pushing for the agri-food sector to reduce its emissions, and farmers are looking for innovative ways to make their farm operations more sustainable. In addition, there is the overarching issue of food security, stressing the importance of maintaining or improving yields. It is exciting to be able to contribute to improved management practices and policy which will improve the sustainability of our agri-food industry. It is also a pleasure to work with some of the leading environmental science and plant agriculture experts at the University of Guelph.

What challenges do you find in your research, and how do you try to overcome them? 

It can be challenging to balance crop production’s environmental and agronomic aspects. It is easy to emphasize one or the other. However, finding the proper balance is the key to a sustainable production system. I am striving to find this balance in order to maximize production while minimizing environmental impact.

How would you describe your research and the implications of your project? 

My research is investigating the combined effects of cover crops and 4R practices on nitrous oxide emissions in a typical corn-soybean – winter wheat rotation. Nitrous oxide is released from agricultural soils as a result of nitrogen fertilizer additions and is over 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This research will play a role in informing management recommendations for farmers across Ontario, as well as contribute to lowering nitrous oxide emissions while improving yields. This type of research is critical for achieving fertilizer emission reduction targets.

What are three of your favourite activities outside the lab? 

Outside of the lab, I spend most of my time working on my family’s cash crop farm in Essex County. I also enjoy fishing and hunting.

What is one important thing you have learned during the pandemic?

One important thing I have learned from the pandemic is that proper communication and expression of ideas are critical in science. We were overloaded with vast amounts of scientific research from different governments and organizations with differing viewpoints, resulting in inconsistencies and confusion. I think it is extremely important to share scientific ideas in a way that can be easily understood and trusted by people who are outside the scientific community.