What’s happening with Our Soils?

At the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation meeting in Saskatoon a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Stewart Brandt talk about the soils in our province. Some of the news was good and some showed that we have areas that we need to improve our management systems. It was an interesting talk and I will try to go through the highlights. His first comment was that our soils are living organisms with great diversity. All the management practices that we have introduced in the last 100 years have had an impact on our soils. It must be recognized that summer fallow had a major negative impact on the prairie soils. We used to use 3 to 5 tillage operations in a year and the number has dropped. Now in the Meadow Lake area, we have 80% or more of our soils that only see one tillage per season. This has stopped soil erosion potential with our soils. We also have stopped and possibly reversed the downward trend in the soil organic matter in our soils. These are good things and should help to stabilize and improve yields. Crop rotation has always been a part of soil management practices in this area. It was looking like canola and wheat were going to be the only crops that we grew in the area for annuals but the pricing of peas, oats, lentils and barley have all made a comeback and it looks like we will see more of these crops in the area’s rotations this year. This is good for our soils because growing more crops improves our soils by encouraging more diversity in the organisms that are present. In general, the acres of canola, peas and forages are up which all help provide more diversity in our soils. Higher yields are a general trend in agriculture in the area. The science that we have in place has made it so that we can grow more bushels. With more bushels comes more organic matter and with more organic matter comes more activity in the soil by the microbes that are present. Microbes are critical for the breakdown of the straw and roots that we leave in the fields. With more for the microbes to feed on, we are going to see a more active and healthy soil. With chemicals and fertilizers, we must be aware of potential contamination issues in our groundwater and sub-surface water. These issues are being monitored and this must continue to happen to make sure agriculture stays a friend to the environment. The one area that we are sliding is with our soil phosphorous levels. We continue to harvest and ship our soil phosphorous with our crops. We must replace this element at a high enough rate to ensure that we do not run short in the future. Our soils are looking good according to Stew Brandt. We need to continue this to make sure that our agriculture industry stays sustainable.