Soils Champions

Eight things we've done to fight soil erosion

PEI potato farming family tackles unique challenges

The Waughs have become strong promoters of beneficial soil management practices in their province, sharing their ideas freely with others.

Ask any producer who has ever planted a crop in Prince Edward Island and they will likely tell you that farming in the province goes hand-in-hand with its own set of unique challenges when it comes to preserving soil quality. PEI's rolling landscape leaves farmland vulnerable to soil erosion from water, while its long, narrow fields and sandy-loam soils can make runoff a consistent challenge.

Grounded in a strong sense of environmental responsibility, the Willard Waugh family of North Bedeque, PEI has taken the appropriate actions to protect and conserve the soil on their 500 acres of potatoes along with crops of cereals and forages. In the process, they have become strong promoters of beneficial soil management practices in their province, sharing their ideas freely with others.

Environment a priority

The Waugh family began farming more than 75 years ago in Lower Bedeque. Willard's sons Gordon, Ronald and Allan, along with grandson Andrew, are now continuing the Waugh family tradition.

Environmental stewardship has been a longtime priority on the Waugh farm, which was one of the first 20 farms in PEI to complete an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). The Waughs have gone on to implement most, if not all, of the actions identified in their EFP. Their many efforts to protect soil quality on their farm and rented properties include terracing, grassed waterways, strip cropping and minimum and reduced tillage.

These efforts have paid off, with 90 percent of their farm and 100 percent of their rented properties having acceptable soil loss rates. Here's a snapshot of what they've done.

1. Terracing and grassed waterways. Diversion terraces and grassed waterways redirect water runoff and, in the process, help prevent soil erosion as well as reduce off-farm nutrient loading.

2. Strip cropping. Planting crops in crossways strips also helps slow down runoff and protect the soil. Between strip cropping, terracing and grassed waterways, the Waughs have improved 555 acres of farmland on six farms.

3. Shelterbelts. The Waughs have a number of shelterbelts along fields, fence lines and the farmstead that protect the soil by minimizing the effects of wind. They also provide habitat for wildlife.

4. Cover crops. Winter cover crops are key tools the Waughs use to prevent soil erosion from wind and water. Cover crops retain a protective layer of crop residue and help optimize use of soil nutrients, in the process using surplus soil nitrogen that could otherwise be leached into ground water or lost to the atmosphere. The crops also capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is stored as carbon in plant tissue and the soil.

5. Nutrient management plan. The Waughs' nutrient management plan helps them track and manage the fertility of their soil while optimizing crop production. It also reduces unwanted impacts on water quality. The Waughs have worked with the PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association's Taking Charge Team on a three-year demonstration project with nutrient management planning.

6. Crop rotations. The Waughs use potatoes, barley, milling wheat, ryegrass for seed and legumes in their crop rotation strategy. A diversified crop rotation increases organic matter in the soil and minimizes the risk of crop diseases, insect pests and weed control issues.

7. Applying organic material. The Waughs apply 175 bales of hay mulch in the fall, covering 30 percent of their potato acreage. This practice adds some extra organic material to the soil but more so reduces the impact of wind and water erosion on soil loss rates.

8. Minimum and reduced tillage. Perhaps the most prominent of all soil conservation practices, minimum and reduced tillage is used on the Waugh farm to reduce soil disturbance and loss of nutrients, improve soil quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Soil champions

The Waughs are a strong example of producers who have identified risks to their soil and have taken several actions to protect its ability to grow food now and into the future. It's for this reason that they are counted among the many champions of the soil throughout Canada who are going the extra mile to protect this often-overlooked resource. For more information on soil champions, visit the Soil Conservation Council of Canada Web site at www.soilcc.ca.