Celebrating Ongoing Progress In Soil Conservation

soil conservation council of canada release

Most Canadians have seen severe soil erosion. It might be the dramatic images of the dust bowl of the Canadian Prairies replayed as a reminder of the “Dirty Thirties.” Or it might be images of water erosion of severely flooded lands in Eastern Canada. Other than the odd reference of these disasters, it’s likely most people don’t give soil erosion a second thought.

So why should they be concerned about how we are doing as a country on the soil conservation front? National Soil Conservation Week April 19-25, has been set up to drive dialogue across Canada on soil and the importance of managing this often-forgotten resource in a way that can ensure its vitality for today and tomorrow.

According to SCCC figures, soil degradation is a problem that costs Canadians $2 billion a year.

“There’s good news and bad news on the soil conservation front,” says Glen Shaw. As executive director of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC), he says there is much to celebrate about soil management today. “There’s been a revolution in soil management and growing public interest in how food is grown.

“On the other hand, there is still much to be done to have people ‘wake up’ to the importance of managing the soil in a sustainable manner. It’s why SCCC was a charter supporter of National Soil Conservation Week and why, this year, it remains as important as ever,” says Shaw.

THE GOOD NEWS

The good news, says Shaw, is that there are several forces today taking action to improve soil management practices, focus public attention on the importance of soil, or both.

Low-disturbance minimum-or zero-till cropping systems that have revolutionized the way producers approach the soil and are used across Canada are one example, says Shaw. “The industry continues to expand and improve these systems and there are clear examples of that progress at work in all provinces,” he says.

Low-disturbance systems have been directly responsible for a reduction of thousands of acres of summerfallow across the Prairies. That practice often leaves land exposed to erosion.

Farming and ranching can be a major factor in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon. The SCCC is currently testing a greenhouse gas calculator across Canada that will give producers a better way to estimate emissions and develop farming systems that play a larger role in mitigating climate change.

Farmland has captured the interest of the investment community and food production has been pegged by some as one of the next big investment opportunities. Suddenly farming has another way to engage the urban consumer, says Shaw, and that helps reinforce the value of good land management.

Studies show more consumers today are interested in how their food is grown. That interest in food for health and a keen interest in environmental standards are driving an interest in food produced according to certain standards of sustainability. “Soil conservation can be a key tool in long-term stewardship efforts,” says Eugene Legge, Newfoundland and Labrador producer and president of SCCC. “Good soil management reduces runoff from the land into water sources and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

As pressures for land resources increase, there is a new interest at the policy development level as to how land is used and how it fits into long-term sustainability. “This is a strong opportunity to build in soil conservation at the policy level,” says Shaw.

Many of the innovations in soil conservation have come directly from farmer innovation, says Legge. “SCCC’s strength in pushing for sustainable soil management lies in that strong grassroots support combined with the scientific, technical and practical expertise of its members.”

THE BAD NEWS

Not all the news is good, says Shaw.

Although producers have made great strides in soil management, there is still farmland that is not being managed effectively, says Shaw. Some soil is being overtilled, some is left exposed to wind and water erosion, some has too many crop nutrients applied and there is much to be learned about managing soil quality in cropping systems.

One downside from better returns from farming and renewed interest from the investment community is a tendency to push land that is not suitable for farming or ranching into production.

More farmland today is being lost to creeping urbanization, says Shaw. In many cases, this is top-quality farmland and it means a loss of soil that can be difficult or impossible to reclaim for agricultural production in the future.

Pressure for resources is increasing. In a world focused on an economy in recession, there is always the risk of soil management becoming lost in the shuffle of what may seem like more immediate concerns.

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