News Releases

Agrologists work with farmers to look for new solutions for soil conservation

Indian Head, SK.,
January 22, 2007:

Extension efforts that have farmers and soil conservation specialists sharing ideas and knowledge are producing soil conservation solutions for crops that may not be suited to no-till farming.

The best way to have farmers embrace new ideas and for scientists to look for new ideas, is to look to farmers for inspiration, says a soil conservation specialist.

"It's just like planting seeds," says Odette Menard, a soil and water conservation specialist with the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture. "Farmers talk to each other and share what they are doing - those are the actions that plant the seeds for ideas. It is also important for researchers to be open to new ideas and approaches."

Glen Hass, a retired agrologist and former executive director of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada says that while the conditions across the country may differ, the objective of sustainable growth is the same.

"No matter where you farm in Canada, the challenge for producers is to balance the requirements of best management practices with economics," he says. "Farmers will adopt improved crop production practices as long as they make economic sense."

Hass says that research needs to take a whole system approach and identify practices that provide a balance between crop rotation systems and nutrient management systems. He looks for research that balances crop and livestock production systems so they fully complement each other.

"The emphasis needs to be on improved efficiency, making better use of available resources, and being prepared for new opportunities," he says. "All this has to fit within the context of being environmentally sustainable, as well as economical."

Jean-Louis Daigle, executive director of the Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre agrees. "A strong extension program is important, as is overall soil conservation research to establish economic benefits," he says. "We need to not only look at the economic benefits of best management practices at the farm level, but also the socio economic benefit as well."

In addition to reduced tillage, Daigle says farmers have embraced practices such as the development of grassed waterways, establishment of riparian area buffer zones, and the use of diversion terraces on fields prone to water erosion that help to improve soil quality and fertility and reduce the risk of pesticide leaching into water sources.

Many cash crops, such as potatoes, are not suited to no-till farming systems, and Daigle says current adaptive research is looking to develop innovative technology to improve farming systems and look for new feasible options.

In PEI, new research trials involving a new hilling tool are proving promising, according to Ron DeHaan, manager of the Sustainable Agriculture Section of the PEI Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture.

"What we're looking at over the next couple of years is a rear attachment to the hiller that digs a small depression along a compacted furrow," he says. "These small depressions will catch and hold the water, which not only improves available moisture to the crop, but reduces the risk of water erosion."

Researchers are ready to test the tool on a field level basis, under actual rainfall conditions in order to get the necessary buy-in from the farming community. "If we can use a technique such as this that is effective under 99 percent of the storm situations, farmers will adopt it," says DeHaan.

In PEI, researchers are working with farmers to improve nutrient management for potato crops. As an added incentive, any producer who implements a nutrient management plan and completes an Environmental Farm plan is eligible for a five percent reduction in their crop insurance premiums.

In Ontario, the wide diversity of crops need a variety of custom fit conservation tools. Horticultural crops, seed corn and sugar beets require solutions outside of traditional no-till or direct seeding. "We need to look beyond erosion control measures," says Adam Hayes, a soil management specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs.

"We need to be looking and talking about soil quality as a whole," he says. "That includes proper crop rotation, the use of cover crops, and practices which help build soil organic matter. It is important for research to develop and refine best management practices in key areas such as nutrient management."

For a more in-depth feature article on this subject, visit the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) Web site at www.soilcc.ca.

For further information, contact:
Doug McKell, Executive Director
Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Indian Head, Sask.
Ph.: (306) 695-4212
Web: www.soilcc.ca

Jerome Damboise
Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre
St-André, NB
Ph: (506) 475-4040