Celebrating soils

By Patrick Beaujot

Did you know:
• 95 per cent of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils
• A shortage of any one of the 15 nutrients required for plant growth can limit crop yields
• By 2050, food production must increase by 60 per cent globally and almost 100 per cent in developing countries
• 33 per cent of soil is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, and compaction
• It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of soil
• Sustainable soil management could produce up to 58 per cent more food
• Experts estimate that we only have 60 years of topsoil left

Source: United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization
The United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. This is also National Soil Conversation Week so it’s fitting to consider what the soil and the earth provide.

Since 95% of our food comes from the soil, we should treat the soil with great respect.

To make sure our top soil is kept healthy and preserved for future generations, farmers have been changing their practices from using intensive tillage to conservation or no-till.

Excessive tillage breaks down valuable organic matter in the soil that takes thousands of years to replace. Tillage also leaves the soil bare making it exposed to wind and water erosion.

With no-till farming practices, the farmer does not till the fields after harvest. This leaves the previous year’s crop residue standing to protect the soil and trap snow. Then the next crop is seeded directly into that residue.

Ideally the farmer uses a specialized seeder that allows him to place all his fertilizer and seed in that one pass over the field. This is much more efficient use of fuel, labor and tractor hours, but it does take very different management practices and crop rotations. It also takes investment in a different piece of seeding equipment. No-till has proven very effective at protecting the soil and improving soil health.

Canadian farmers have been among the best at adopting reduced tillage practices, as you can see from the charts below.

Canadian farmers have changed from 28 per cent conservation tillage in 1991 to 72 per cent in 2006.

Canada_tillage

Saskatchewan leads the way, with more than 80% of the province’s farm land under conservation tillage. In the world, Saskatchewan is second only to Western Australia at over 90 per cent adoption of conservation tillage practices.

Tillage_sask

This is a huge commitment made by Canadian farm families to change their farming practices for future generations. This change took risk, investment in equipment, trial and error, and education.

Canola crop emerging from a no-till field

Canola crop emerging from a no-till field

We should be proud of our farm families in Canada for leading the world in good soil conservation practices so we continue to grow affordable quality food for the world’s growing population for generations to come.

It’s interesting that with all the focus on the environment these days there is little attention paid to soil conservation. And yet if you look at what the UN says, soil conservation should be at the top of our radar.

I am proud to be part of agriculture in a province and a country that does take soil health seriously.

Pat Beaujot has a passion for agriculture and soil conservation. As Founder and Director of Strategic Market Development, he regularly talks to growers around the world about soil conservation and the seeding equipment that supports it. Pat is a founding partner in Seed Hawk Inc., a company offering no-till seeding solutions. You’ll find Pat’s insights on the blog NO-TILLville, found at www.notillville.com and on Twitter @PatrickBeaujot.

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