Shorter fries or the clean-Earth potato concept for Nitrogen and water management under a changing climate

Tuesday, 17 June 2014
146B-C (Washington Convention Center)
Martine M Savard, Geologocal Survey of Canada, Quebec, QC, Canada and George Somers, Drinking Water and Wastewater, Prince Edward Island Department of Environment, Labour and Justice, Charlottetown, Canada
Producing food for the growing population of the world poses significant challenges for the sustainability of global ecosystems. A prime example is the degradation of water quality due to the aggravating imbalance in the terrestrial nitrogen (N) cycle linked to increasing use of N-bearing fertilizers. Related environmental impacts such as groundwater quality degradation and eutrophication of coastal estuaries tend to be local in nature but are closely connected to global economic factors. In this presentation, we examine the N budget for Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, and estimate the overall N fluxes entering and leaving the island, the fate of N remaining in the province, and the relationships between local environmental and economic conditions, and global market trends. Agricultural activities, especially potato production, dominate the PEI N cycle, and N imports, largely in the potentially harmful reactive form (Nr), which far exceed quantities of harmless N fixed in food products exported from PEI. The resulting burden of the remaining Nr in the province has its most profound effect on groundwater, the sole source of drinking water and the primary pathway of N to estuarine ecosystems. We also know that the effects of one potential adaptation scenario by the agricultural sector to climate change could significantly increase the Nr transfer to groundwater and intensify its degradation.

It seems overall that adoption of innovative approaches to nutrient management is hindered by a lack of incentives for producers, and global consumer preferences for specific potato product features such as long fries (production of big tubers prevents cultivation of cover crops which help reduce environmental impacts). A new global strategic approach may help circumvent some of the non-technical barriers to sustainable food production practices. We therefore introduce the concept of the clean-Earth potato to promote consumer demand for potatoes produced in an ecologically sustainable fashion, including perhaps, a preference for shorter French fries.