Soil Conservation Week highlights land stewardship, public education

Soil conservation makes land more productive, but the benefits go well beyond that

There are few things more important than the soil beneath our feet and this week — National Soil Conservation Week — highlights just how critical it is.

Running Apr. 17 to 23, this year the focus is the importance of land stewardship for soil and other resources under the care of the agriculture industry, Paul Thoroughgood, chair of Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) said in a recent release.

“Canadian farmers realize in order to operate sustainably for the benefit of future generations, soil, air, water and wildlife need to be cared for properly,” said Thoroughgood.

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Proper soil conservation does make land more productive, but the benefits go well beyond that, he said. Farmers can also contribute to solving other larger issues like greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, overall water and air quality and biodiversity.

The annual event, led by SCCC, aims to put the spotlight on continuing success in soil management and at the same time keeping the issue at the forefront for both farmers and the public.

Soil Conservation Week was established to commemorate the importance of soil health and agricultural sustainability, as championed by the late Hon. Senator Herbert Sparrow, a passionate champion for protecting Canada’s soil and the founding president of what would become the SCCC.

More work needed

SCCC’s Summit on Canadian Soil Health in December 2015 outlined the views, issues and challenges that farmers, scientists and industry face in soil conservation and health. Results from the summit made the case that more work is needed in Canada to support the intensification of agriculture in a sustainable way as world food demand grows.

“We want Canada to be a world leader in using sustainable management practices and production systems that ensure our agricultural landscapes continue to produce food, fibre and other products in the best manner possible,” said SCCC vice-chair Alan Kruszel. “Sustainable agriculture is dependent on good soil conservation practices. Environmentally responsible food production should be everyone’s priority and ultimately starts with the soil.”

As soil conservation continues to go mainstream, it’s become apparent soil health comes in many guises, including science-based approaches such as Fertilizer Canada’s 4R nutrient stewardship, which promotes the right nutrient source at the right rate, right time and right place. The program seeks to balance nutrient management decisions within a framework of economic, social, and environmental goals.

This program is proving to be an increasingly important tool for farmers to help them remain sustainable in their operations while also benefiting the environment, said Nutrients for Life chair Bob Adamson.

Public education

Adamson added educating the next generation on the importance of soil science to sustainable agriculture is another important goal.

“It’s crucial for youth to know the science behind food production. Learning about the 4R Nutrient Stewardship framework, in conjunction with National Soil Con­servation Week, helps us to inspire the next generation to be good stewards of our land,” said Adamson.

To illustrate the importance of soil health and conservation to Canadians, Nutrients for Life Foundation Canada and SCCC partnered with the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum to create an exhibit on soil, launching in 2017. It will highlight the link between soil science and food security. It will also serve as the new home for the SCCC’s Canadian Conservation Hall of Fame, which recognizes individuals who have had a national impact and made an outstanding contribution to the care of soil and all it affects.

The Conservation Hall of Fame was established by SCCC in 1990 and now has 28 inductees. These inductees represent a range of backgrounds and contributions ranging from agricultural extension specialists, soil-care leaders from university, government, and supportive organizations, and individuals who have campaigned for soil conservation and demonstrated that soil protection and care contributes to sustainable, reliable, and profitable crop production. That’s especially important since Canadians sometimes feel like we have land as an endless resource, Thoroughgood said.

Only a small amount of our land is suitable for agriculture, and much of this area is threatened by soil degradation, urbanization, and other uses,” he said. “We have the land management skills to do a better job of producing food in a sustainable way.”

To celebrate National Soil Conservation Week, SCCC is also launching a photo contest that focuses on the themes of soil, water, air and biodiversity as they relate to healthy agricultural landscapes in Canada. For more information, visit soilcc.ca.

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