Prairie Post (West Edition)
Farming Smarter series addressing soil erosion in Alberta farmlands
Farming Smarter is in the process of engaging in a “Soil Conversation” with farmers provincewide about the negative impacts of soil erosion.
The Soil Conversation Series was put together at the request of the MD of Taber, the County of Forty Mile, the County of Newell, and Lethbridge County after all four municipalities experienced accelerated soil erosion last winter.
“Last winter in particular was especially bad for soil erosion and blowing; so they wanted to address it,” confirms Farming Smarter assistant manager Jamie Puchinger. “Legally, they have the authority through legislation to be able to enforce social erosion issues. They didn’t really want to start there, and they wanted a partner that is considered unbiased and scientific to relay information before the enforcement. So they wanted to create a series of articles just outlining some of the different topics.”
The series of articles deals with five different aspects of soil erosion. The first two already published speak about the enforcement powers municipalities have to address soil erosion and the economic losses sustained due to soil erosion.
“The topsoil is the most productive strip of soil. Losing any amount of topsoil disproportionately impacts productivity, even if there is a decent amount of topsoil,” explains Gurbir Dhillon, a research scientist at Farming Smarter in Lethbridge, in the most recent article.
“It’s hard to quantify the losses but studies suggest that the loss of soil from erosion has negatively impacted [Canadian crop] yields by five to 10 per cent,” says Dhillon.
Puchinger says the final three topics in the series will deal with the loss of soil health which comes from erosion, neighbour relations and mitigation strategies.
Most of the erosion concerns expressed to Farming Smarter by the counties, confirms Puchinger, have to do with heavy tillage specialty crops, but also apply more generally.
“There are specialty crops with heavy tillage where we need to be doing more on those parcels, but it doesn’t exclude dryland, zero-till farmers from considering other alternatives to make sure they are also not losing topsoil,” she says.
Puchinger hopes the Soil Conservation Series is going to inspire farmers to take action on soil erosion for their own clear benefit before it has to come to any enforcement-type of situation with the counties.
“There are a number of problems related to soil erosion,” she states. “For yourself, if you are the one losing soil you are losing nutrients and the structure of the soil if it blows. Because what’s underneath isn’t as high in organic matters. You are depleting your own field.
“As a receiver of your neighbour’s soil, you are also losing productivity. So the neighbour blows their topsoil, and you think: ‘This is going to be fantastic!’ But it also brings weed seed. It also brings potential disease. And it also brings very fine particles. So it is not the structure you want for your soil. On top it is very soft and it is not going to provide any true value. In fact, it is also going to hurt your yield. That has been proven. Wherever the erosion particles land, it’s going to have reduced productivity as well.”