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Proving economic value key to future of soil conservation, say industry leaders

Indian Head, Sask., September 5, 2007:

Proving the economic value of soil conservation to producers is key to protecting Canada's soil resources, say leaders on the front lines of promoting safe soil practices. The challenge is coming up with the numbers to prove that value.

"Even though more producers than ever are using soil conservation practices today, soil degradation continues to be a problem that costs Canadians around two billion dollars a year," says Doug McKell, director of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC). "In order to keep our soil resource vital and productive, the agricultural industry needs to find ways to engage the next generation of soil conservation."

One way to do this is to emphasize the economic benefits of safe soil practices such as zero-till. "This is already being done on a small scale," says McKell. "Producers such as Jocelyn Michon from Quebec have provided leadership by studying the value of soil conservation on their own farms, while scientists such as Carlyle Ross are calling for more research in this area and better tools to communicate the results to farmers.

"However, the science associated with these practices has suffered over the past few years with government budget cuts and changing priorities. As a result, there is a lack of solid scientific data on this subject. We need to revisit how science can provide the proof for soil conservation Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs), tie it to producer value, and get this information out to as many producers as possible."

Michon, a producer from Sainte-Hyacinthe, Quebec, has worked tirelessly to attach specific numbers to his soil conservation practices by analyzing efficiencies on his own farm. What he found was substantial. Michon estimates that using zero-tillage practices saves him, on an annual basis, approximately $25,000 in machinery costs, $8,000 in machinery maintenance, $15,000 in fuel, and, thanks to the build-up of nutrients in his soil, as much as $15,000 in fertilizer.

But even if organized scientific research were to discover similar numbers, effectively getting the message out to producers in an era of shrinking on-farm resources would still be a challenge, says Ross, a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Edmonton, Alberta. Using demonstration sites to promote economic value may be one way to help fill this void, he says.

"In the past, these sites have mainly been used to focus on the environmental benefits of soil conservation," says Ross. "However, the same principle can be applied to the economic benefits as well."

Support from the scientific community is required before any of this can happen, says McKell. "Ultimately, agriculture needs good science that proves both agronomic and economic benefits as well as good policy that can get this information into the hands of producers."

For the full story, "The search for soil conservation economics," visit the SCCC Web site at SCCC is the face and voice of soil conservation in Canada. A national, non-governmental, independent organization, it was formed in 1987 to provide a non-partisan public forum at the national level for soil conservation.

Using a grassroots approach combined with the scientific, technical and practical experience of its members, it works with government and private industry, individuals and non-government organizations to address soil degradation and facilitate exchange of information across Canada.

For more information, contact:

Doug McKell, Executive Director
Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Indian Head, SK
Ph.: (306) 695-4212

Jean-Louis Daigle, Executive Director/Directeur général
Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre/
Centre de conservation des sols et de l'eau de l'Est du Canada
Saint-André (Grand Falls), NB
Ph.: (506) 475-4040