Motivation and Innovation with Dr. Jiang

 Dr. Yunfei Jiang standing in a field.

Dr. Yunfei Jiang, ECODA research partner and assistant professor in Agronomy at the Department of Plant, Food, and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University.

Dr. Jiang’s research area is focused on agronomy and crop physiology. During her MSc study at Dalhousie Agricultural Campus, she discovered her enthusiasm for looking at how environmental and management factors affecting plant growth and crop yield productivity. She continued with her PhD studies, working on the impact of high-temperature stress on pollen and seed development in field pea at the University of Saskatchewan. Later, during her postdoctoral fellowship working with Dr. Peter Pauls at the University of Guelph, Dr. Jiang got her first taste of intercropping (the bean variety mixture project) and how it could help in the battle against climate change. She has been hooked ever since and hopes to continue working with intercrops as one aspect of her research in the next Eastern Canada Oilseed Development Alliance (ECODA) research program under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (SCAP).

“We’re hoping to build on the project from the first CAP (Canadian Agricultural Partnership) cycle and continue looking at intercropping,” Dr. Jiang says. “When I started as an assistant professor at Dal-AC in January of 2022, Dr. Claude Caldwell, Professor Emeritus, was working on an ECODA-funded project on intercrops under the CAP program. In the summer of 2022, I collaborated with Dr. Caldwell to work on the project to determine the optimum seeding ratio for maximizing the outyielding potential and land use efficiency in intercrops involved with a pulse crop (i.e. field pea) and two Brassicaceae oilseeds (i.e., brown mustard and camelina).” 

Intercropping is growing two or more different crop species (sometimes different genotypes) in the same area and allowing plants to benefit from one another. For example, seeding peas and brown mustard close to each other. Brown mustard and camelina help keep down disease because they can act as a natural biofumigant and help form a structure with peas to maintain upright positioning later in the season when heavy rainfall events can lead to lodging and crop losses. Pea plants fix N2 from the atmosphere due to their symbiotic nitrogen fixation ability, so it reduces N input required for the cropping system. Dr. Jiang wants to fully understand the underlying mechanisms of intercropping. How does intercropping increase resource use efficiency such as nutrient, light and water? How does it impact soil health and pest control? Is there a higher yield and enhanced land use efficiency, thus a higher profit?

“Extreme and unpredictable weather events become more frequent under climate change,” says Dr. Jiang. “Intercrops may prevent complete crop failure and reduce market fluctuations when intercropped species have different tolerance to environmental stress. If there is a severe weather event and one crop fails but we have other crops that are resistant to environmental stress, growers don’t lose everything.”

Photo: pea and camelina intercrops.

“I have strong interests in both applied and basic research,” says Dr. Jiang. “It’s important to talk to growers and industry partners to understand what they need and adjust my research priorities accordingly. For example, with intercropping there is interest in exploring it. For the next cycle of funding, SCAP, I want to continue to collaborate with ECODA to study intercropping but with more combinations of crops than before and also to understand the underpinning mechanisms in intercropping.”

Listen to Dr. Yunfei Jiang tell you why her research is important for our future:

Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Yunfei Jiang
Tagged on: