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Link to South America offers Canadian farmers lessons in soil conservation

Indian Head, Sask., February 26, 2008

Linking with like-minded groups in other countries can help Canadian producers enter the next generation of soil conservation, says a leading soil conservation advocate.

Although more producers than ever are embracing soil conservation practices such as no-till, many agree there is still a lot more that can be learned to make these practices more efficient and profitable, says Doug McKell, a Regina, Saskatchewan area producer and executive director of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC).

McKell recently traveled to Paraguay and Brazil to see how producers there are tackling the challenge of soil degradation. What he found was a group of farmers working together to protect the soil from erosion through widespread no-till practices, cover crops and watershed management.

"It doesn't matter where a farmer is from, the bottom line is still the bottom line," he says. "Just like Canadian farmers, producers from Paraguay and Brazil look for solutions that will not only ensure the long-term sustainability of the soil but also address economics and create short-term efficiencies as well. Although there are certain climate and cultural differences which may not always make these efforts easily translatable to Canada, if we learn from some of their ideas there could be some phenomenal potential."

McKell's visit is the result of the SCCC's relationship with the Confederation of American Associations for the Sustainable Production of Agriculture (CAAPAS), an umbrella organization for soil conservation efforts throughout North and South America. "It's similar, albeit at a larger scale, to what the SCCC does with our regional Taking Charge Team network, which provides a link between national and provincial programs and initiatives, helping producers learn from each other at a grassroots level," he says.

Paraguay farmers have almost entirely embraced no-till practices, says McKell, with over 90 percent of cropped land under no-till systems. "These practices provide a notable yield advantage. And the fields that we visited had excellent residue coverage and exhibited no evidence of soil erosion, either by wind or water."

Co-operatives are widely used in Paraguay to drive profits and increase buying power, says McKell. "As in Canada, there are co-operatives in the country which serve primarily to collect and market grain. However, the Paraguay agricultural industry takes the co-operative concept a few steps further, with value-added processors and input supply and machinery dealerships which operate under a co-operative structure."

The use of cover crops for residue cover, runoff protection and nitrogen fixing is extensive in Paraguay and other areas of South America, says McKell. Tropical areas such as Paraguay enjoy a natural advantage over Canada when it comes to cover crop usage. "However, it may still be something we should be looking at developing in Canada, at least in the areas where we have the longest growing seasons."

Watershed management was a hot topic during McKell's tour of the state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. "Brazil has seen the same type of soil degradation we have experienced in Canada, which means there's the risk of water being affected by soil runoff. Right now, producers, landowners and municipal representatives are trying to develop ways to manage this risk at a watershed level rather than tackle it at an individual farm level."

South American farmers are interested in developments taking place in Canada, particularly on the subject of carbon credit trading, he says. "They are also moving along with their science in quantifying the benefits from carbon sequestration in their soils. I spoke with a director of more than 10 research centres in the Rio Grande do Sul state who told me their main research focus is on the development of this science and the protocols necessary for carbon offset trading."

For the full story, "Lessons in soil conservation," as well as general information on the SCCC, visit the SCCC Web site at www.soilcc.ca.


For more information, contact:

Doug McKell, Executive Director
Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Indian Head, SK
Tel: (306) 695-4212
Web: www.soilcc.ca