Demystifying soils holds key to farming viability, ecosystem health
Indian Head, Sask., March 13, 2008
Soil is a unique combination of the simple and complex – plain as dirt to the eye, yet in reality a sophisticated blend of elements vital to ecosystem health.
Today, understanding this true nature of soils and the long-term implications of soil management practices is more critical than ever, say soil conservationists.
This is necessary to both keep soils productive for industries such as farming and to address broad environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions.
"On the Canadian prairies, our soils are built up from the last glaciation, but with new farming approaches and other practices we can alter them very quickly," says Dr. Brian Amiro, head of the department of soil science at the University of Manitoba. "These changes have wide-ranging effects, not only on the soils themselves but on the variety of ecosystems where soils play a central role."
Amiro and fellow soil conservationist Peter Gamache discuss these effects and the importance of long-term research to manage them, in a new feature story available on the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) Web site at www.soilcc.ca.
In agriculture, getting producers on side with the concept of long-term thinking is critical, says Gamache, a team leader with Alberta Reduced Tillage Linkages, a program that works with Alberta farmers to increase the adoption of sustainable production systems.
There are many agricultural producers who want to conserve soils, says Gamache. But in order to do that, they also need to survive economically. "Today we have the knowledge and tools to accomplish both. Short-term needs can't be ignored, but a strong focus on longer term impact is needed to get the most overall value."
Low tillage benefits are a good example that long-term thinking is key to understanding the full value of conservation practices, says Gamache. "From our experience, most farmers who switch to minimum tillage practices do see some changes in their soils in the first three, four, five years. But it's really in the seven-to-ten year range where the major benefits kick in – you see a much healthier, much more productive and sustainable soil base."
The latest thinking in soil science is pushing for more studies of soils and related systems on a macro-level basis, to capture more of the true nature of soils and their broad impact.
"When we view soils on a narrow basis, we're not really getting the complete story," says Amiro. "For example, there may be a practice that appears very good for a particular industry, but may have effects on water holding capacity or other aspects that won't show up for decades.
"We're realizing we need to ask different questions than what we've typically been asking, to get a better handle on those broader long-term implications. I think today we're on the edge of a much better understanding of what those questions should be."
For the full story, "Blazing a trail for a new soils mindset," visit the SCCC Web site at www.soilcc.ca. 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
Tel: (306) 695-4212
Dr. Brian Amiro
Department of Soil Science, University of Manitoba
Ph: (204) 474-9155
Team leader, Alberta Reduced Tillage Linkages
Ph: (780) 422-7922