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Regional farming practices determine soil conservation solutions

Indian Head, SK., February 8, 2007:

Protecting and enhancing soil residue has become possible for farmers because of continuing research and developments in technology. That same research has clearly demonstrated that there isn't one solution that fits all crops in all areas of the country say specialists at the forefront of soil conservation.

In Western Canada no till, minimum till and direct seeding have meant a tremendous shift from the conventional summerfallow and tillage practices. In the East, direct seeding is combined with practices such as zone and strip tillage treatments, grassed waterways, terraced farming and others to maintain soil sustainability.

A feature article released through the national Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) Web site , says farmers across Canada are taking the message that soil and water conservation is crucial to success, and they are translating it into workable solutions for their farms in their part of the country.

"Farmers have done a fantastic job in adopting these improved practices," says Glen Hass, a retired Saskatchewan agrologist, extension specialist and former director of the SCCC. "We don't see the dust storms on the Prairies we would have a few years ago. And while there are major rainfall events and flooding in various parts of the country we're not seeing the horrendous cases of water erosion."

The SCCC has worked together with provincial associations and governments to help establish the "Taking Charge Teams;" regional committees which brought together national and provincial programs and initiatives and delivered them at the local level. "Because of this system the soil conservation message has reached more producers in a relatively short period of time," says Hass.

While direct seeding has worked well for almost all crops in Western Canada, it is not a good fit for potato production in Eastern Canada. In regions with intensive livestock operations and larger rural populations, there are further challenges of proper manure and nutrient management.

In Ontario, about 50 percent of high acreage crops such as wheat and soybeans are now being produced under no-till cropping systems. But Ontario's other major crop, corn, calls for different solutions.

"We need to continue to evaluate practices which can be adapted for specific crops and soils," says Harold Rudy, the executive director of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (PSCIA). "In many cases, no-till doesn't suit corn because without tillage it would take longer for heavier soils to warm in the spring."

Rudy says that researchers and farmers are evaluating strip tillage as a soil conservation solution. "From a crop production standpoint, we found this treatment as effective as conventional tillage and yet 60-70 percent of the field remains undisturbed," he says.

Soil conservationists in many jurisdictions use a benchmark figure of 30 percent crop residue cover at any time of planting as a goal of soil conservation efforts. In Quebec, reaching that figure has been slow, but they are making steady progress.

"Getting the soil conservation message out to producers takes time," says Odette Menard, a soil and water conservation specialist with the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture. "A lot of progress has been made and about four or five percent of Quebec farmland is now being managed under no-till cropping practices."

Menard says that more farmers in the province are becoming familiar with the terminology and the concepts as they see their neighbours adopting conservation practices. Some are also using a chisel plow or an offset plow to conserve the soil. "These practices, which improve soil quality also have an economic value," she says.

In Eastern Canada the wide variety of crops has meant numerous solutions for soil conservation. The efforts in potato production have been the most dramatic. In New Brunswick, for example, 30 percent of the potato acres are now managed by soil conservation practices to minimize erosion and improve soil quality.

"About 30 percent of the potato acres in the province are protected by measures such as diversion terrace systems which is contouring in combination with the use of grass or rock waterways," says Jean-Louis Daigle, executive director of the Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre. "Under the conservation farming practices in the region it is estimated that top soil losses have been reduced by 80 percent."

For the full story and more information on the Soil Conservation Council of Canada, visit the SCCC Web site at

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

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