Mon­i­tor­ing cli­mate’s im­pact on soil

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - OPINION - By Heather Cameron

Al­berta Agri­cul­ture and Forestry mon­i­tors how dry the cli­mate can get in the prov­ince.

“Al­berta Agri­cul­ture and Forestry uses weather sta­tions to mon­i­tor con­di­tions and form the ba­sis of reg­u­lar mois­ture sit­u­a­tion re­ports,” Ralph Wright, Man­ager, Agri­cul­tural Me­te­o­rol­ogy, Al­berta Agri­cul­ture and Forestry, says.

Ac­cord­ing to the Agri­cul­tural Sit­u­a­tional Mois­ture Sit­u­a­tional Up­date from July 29, 2019, the weather pat­terns through­out Al­berta have re­mained largely con­sis­tent through the month. The al­ready dry ar­eas in the North­ern Peace Re­gion and through­out South­ern Al­berta have re­mained as such.

The wet­ter ar­eas, which the re­port clas­si­fies as be­ing south of an east to west line from Grande Prairie down to Cal­gary and di­ag­o­nally to Lloy­d­min­ster, have re­ceived rain reg­u­larly. Due to a surge of thun­der­storms dur­ing the month of July, that rain­fall has been heavy more of­ten than not.

“Over the past 17 days, two ma­jor events have been re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing up­wards of 80 mm or more mois­ture to a large area stretch­ing from Cam­rose in the south, to Man­ning in the north-cen­tral Peace Re­gion,” Wright says. “Pre­vi­ously, the north­cen­tral Peace was rel­a­tively dry, but last week this changed when up­wards of 100 mm of rain fell in some lo­cales, bring­ing much needed mois­ture.”

A map on the Gov­ern­ment Al­berta web­site in­di­cates that some ar­eas of the prov­ince have a greater po­ten­tial for wa­ter ero­sion based on soil and land char­ac­ter­is­tics of the SLC and cli­mate.

An ar­ti­cle on the web­site pre­pared by Douwe Van­der­wel and Syd Ab­day states that soil loss due to wa­ter ero­sion re­duces crop yields and proper man­age­ment of re­sources can serve as a good pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure.

“Re­turn­ing crop residue to the soil helps to re­place or­ganic mat­ter and plant nu­tri­ents,” Van­der­wel and Ab­day’s ar­ti­cle states. “Ro­ta­tions which in­clude for­ages re­turn more residues to the soil and in­crease fer­til­ity. Ma­nure ap­pli­ca­tions and legume plow­down are also good sources of or­ganic mat­ter and nu­tri­ents.”

Van­der­wel and Ab­day iden­tify snowmelt and rain­fall as be­ing the driv­ing forces for wa­ter ero­sion on the prairies. Bare soils, steep slopes, long slopes that have no in­ter­rup­tion, silty soils, soils low in or­ganic mat­ter, and soils with an im­per­me­able layer are very vul­ner­a­ble to ero­sion, ac­cord­ing to the ar­ti­cle.

“Al­berta re­search shows that switch­ing to re­duced or zero tillage sys­tems is needed to pro­tect soils on steeper and longer slopes from ero­sion,” the ar­ti­cle from Van­der­wel and Ab­day says. “Zero tillage sys­tems min­i­mize soil dis­tur­bance to main­tain as much crop residue cover as pos­si­ble to con­serve soil mois­ture and pre­vent ero­sion. Long-term zero tillage also in­creases soil or­ganic mat­ter and im­proves soil qual­ity and fer­til­ity.”

Not only does wa­ter ero­sion have an im­pact on soil, wind ero­sion also im­pacts it. An ar­ti­cle ti­tled Wind Ero­sion Con­trol by the late John Tim­mer­mans and Frank Lar­ney, talks about how the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s re­sulted in dam­aged crops and un­us­able soil.

“The Dust Bowl cri­sis prompted prairie agri­cul­ture to seek ways to con­trol and pre­vent wind ero­sion,” the ar­ti­cle by Tim­mer­mans and Lar­ney says. “Much progress has been made since then with many in­di­vid­u­als de­vot­ing count­less hours to im­prov­ing the man­age­ment of prairie soils.”

Ac­cord­ing to the ar­ti­cle, ap­prox­i­mately 900,000 hectares of soils in Al­berta were dam­aged in the 1980’s due to strong winds. There are sev­eral types of wind ero­sion, the ar­ti­cle states, with the most com­mon be­ing the loss of top­soil and nu­tri­ents con­sid­ered es­sen­tial to crop pro­duc­tion.

“Wind ero­sion has plagued prairie agri­cul­ture for many decades,” the ar­ti­cle says. “How­ever, with to­day’s farm­ing equip­ment and prac­tices, wind ero­sion con­trol can eas­ily be a part of your crop and pas­ture man­age­ment sys­tems.”

Un­for­tu­nately, the ar­ti­cle is very clear about the fact that de­spite the use of pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures, wind ero­sion can still be caused by drought and con­stant strong winds. Emer­gency con­trols can be used, ac­cord­ing to the ar­ti­cle, and those con­trols in­clude soil rip­ping to sur­face clods or cover­ing the soil with ma­nure or straw.

“Wind ero­sion is a se­ri­ous prob­lem which threat­ens the long-term pro­duc­tiv­ity of prairie soils,” the ar­ti­cle em­pha­sizes. “By us­ing ap­pro­pri­ate con­ser­va­tion farm­ing tech­niques, you can re­duce wind ero­sion un­der most con­di­tions. The soil is a pre­cious re­source which needs your pro­tec­tion.”

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