By Tim Kalinowski
Farming Smarter will be digging in to reveal the truth about soil quality and health in the Southern Alberta region.
The benchmarking project, which is set to run through 2022, will take samples from 20 different sites throughout the region per year to help build up a comprehensive picture of soil health on agricultural and non-agricultural lands.
“The project was a Canadian Agricultural Partnership application put forth by the Chinook Applied Research Association, or CARA, out of Oyen,” explains Farming Smarter assistant manager Jamie Puchinger. “The premise was to get a baseline of soil-health quality across the province. We go out into a field, pick a fairly small one and a half acre piece, and take some soil samples within that benchmarking area to get analysis done on it.”
Farming Smarter is one of 11 different agriculture associations working on the project in the different regions of Alberta.
“We don’t have any real current data on soil health across the province,” says Puchinger. “Soil sampling was formerly done extensively by the province, but that was about 20 or 30 years ago now. There is nothing current as far real soil data on what is happening out there today.
“We’re doing a combination of cultivated land and uncultivated land. We will be sampling some native pasture, some tame pasture, cultivated irrigated land and cultivated dryland. We’re trying to get a range of different attributes as well as different locations in southern Alberta.”
Factors the study will be looking at include compaction, bulk density, soil infiltration and physical indicators of soil health, confirms Puchinger. Aggregate, active carbon and potentially some biological assessments will be produced later on, she says. One question the project hopes to answer is how modern agricultural management practices aimed at creating greater soil health are working over time.
“In 2021 we’re going to go back an re-sample all those first fields (from 2019-2020) we initially sampled, and in 2022 the same thing,” Puchinger confirms. “Then we can compare the differences or any changes that were found in the soil parameters— and look to see if there are any management practices that are changing the soil’s properties.”
Puchinger says there is no shortage of volunteer landowners for the benchmarking study.
“Everyone is interested in soil health; so we have had a lot of people offer their soils up for analysis,” she says. “We sent out a notice on (Sept. 4-5), and even over the first weekend we were at close to 20 responses. We’re definitely not short on fields to test right now.”
Puchinger expected nothing less, as there is no group of individuals out there more aware than farmers of the importance of having good soil health.
“If you don’t have good soil, you won’t have good crops,” she states simply. “So the emphasis has been and always will be on soil health. In recent years there have been new techniques come out that are intended to help increase soil health, and we just want to get new data to look at some of the claims.”