Recent Soil Health Initiatives
Can we 'scale up' soil health data?
The Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) recognizes the importance of soil health to farms within our community. We have been working to help farmers monitor the health of the soils on their farms. However, we are also interested in finding ways to monitor and report on the health of soils at broader landscape scales. This is a challenging process and we will continue to develop approaches to monitoring soil health.
Here are some recent soil health initiatives: (links are to pdf files)
- Inter-jurisdictional Review Report
- Fact Sheet on Monitoring Soil Health
- Soil Health Brochure
- Soil Health Monitoring Project Summary Report - Ausable Bayfield Conservation - 2016-2017
- Measuring Soil Health at different landscape scales – Workshop – March 8, 2018:
- Draft Workshop Proceedings
- Research Opportunities – Asim Biswas
- Updating Ontario’s Soil Maps – Daniel Saurette
- Study of Agricultural Soil Health in Quebec – Marc-Olivier Gasser
- Ontario Soil Network – Mel Luymes
- ABCA Approaches to Soil Health – Abbie Gutteridge
- Inter-jurisdictional Review – Ross Wilson
The ABCs of Soil Health
Thanks to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (Iowa NRCS) for their great idea, the ABCs of Soil Health!
Stay tuned over the next 26 days - until Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - as Ausable Bayfield Conservation does a 'countdown to World Soil Day' (#WorldSoilDay) and shares our local A-Z for soil health ... one day at a time!
Soil Health ABCs:
Cover crops featured in article
The importance of cover crops was shared in the November 2018 article, Sunflowers improve soil and public relations, by Frances Anderson, published by The Ontario Farmer in the November 2018 corn+soy+wheat HANDBOOK.
The article mentions the role of the sunflower as a cover crop ambassador (“They are the most obvious variety in a cover crop mixture that may contain six different plants ...”). The piece also goes into more depth about the positive role cover crops play.
The photo captions summarize much of cover crops’ importance: “A mix of cover crops improves soil quality, alleviates compaction and holds phosphorus over the winter ... The sunflowers feed pollinators and make people smile ...”
The catchy headline captures the public interest in, and love of sunflowers, but the article goes on to explain much of what’s happening under the ground, below the surface of the photogenic plants, and into the active microbiology in the soil beneath:
“Sunflowers have a great taproot as well as a very fibrous root system,” the article quotes Stefan Zehetner. “They leave the ground very mellow, especially in my seed crop fields. They are also great at extracting zinc from the soil, and the residue that remains in the spring is black, which helps warm up the soil in the spring.”
The article also shares some of the cover crop planting, after wheat, by Tom Hayter and sons Justin and Adam, in the Dashwood area at Hayter’s Turkey Farm.
“We want to harvest sunlight, and the way to do that is to keep something growing,” Tom is quoted in the article. “We used to plant oat and peas, but in the last five or six years, we have gotten into growing more complex cover crops. Our aim is to have something growing year ‘round.”
Ausable Bayfield Conservation was pleased that the article feature Professional Agrologist (P.Ag.) Ross Wilson, our Water and Soils Resource Coordinator. When 34 diverse community members, from all walks of life, developed our Conservation Strategy, they said it was important to protect water, living things, and soil. Ross is one of many staff members putting the community’s soil focus into action.
Ross, in the Ontario Farmer article, said an agricultural producer’s choice of cover crop depends on what they want the cover crop to do.
In Anderson’s article she paraphrases Ross that “... if you want to improve soil condition, a fibrous root, like buckwheat is a good choice, while sunflowers and oilseed radish will send down deep taproots to alleviate soil compaction.” She goes on to say that “ ... to reduce soil erosion, you need a cover crop that will overwinter – and a plan to terminate it in the spring.”
The article also captures the important point (mentioned by Tom Hayter) that overwinter vegetative cover can help to retain phosphorus. By retaining phosphorus, the cover crop prevents it from leaching out and becoming a problem for creeks, rivers, and the Great Lakes.
The article acknowledges some of the challenges to growing cover crops but also the tangible benefits.
A sidebar article in the Corn, Soy and Wheat Handbook also acknowledges the success of the cover crop incentive category of the Huron County Clean Water Project. The program is funded by the county and delivered by the Maitland Valley and Ausable Bayfield conservation authorities. The article notes that in Ausable Bayfield’s part of Huron County there are more than 4,000 acres of land, on more than 40 farms, with cover crops planted with support of this incentive category thanks to the county program and the participating landowners.
The sidebar article mentions Ross’s decade of experience with Ausable Bayfield Conservation and that “ ... he’s one of the few Certified Agrologists on Conservation Authority staff in the province, and he can help get farmers get growing.”
For the complete article please read the November 2018 corn+soy+wheat HANDBOOK, published by Ontario Farmer. To learn more visit: ontariofarmer.com
To download the full article, courtesy of The Ontario Farmer click this link:
To find out more about cover crops visit abca.ca or contact Ausable Bayfield Conservation’s stewardship staff at 519-235-2610 or toll-free 1-888-286-2610.
ABCs of Soil Health
A is for Action:
Ausable River Action Plan - Did you know that the Ausable River is home to over 20 species at risk (including fish, freshwater mussels, and reptiles)? The Ausable River Action Plan is a joint effort between the federal government, conservation authority and the community to protect many of these rare species. By keeping soils on the land, you can help preserve the habitat for these important aquatic species.
B is for Bayfield River:
Since 2011, residents who live in the Main Bayfield River watershed have been making efforts to keep the soil in place on the land and do their part to improve water quality in the river, and ultimately in Lake Huron. To see a recent example of our land-to-lake approach, please check out our most recent Main Bayfield newsletter.
C is for Conservation Champions
Many producers and landowners go above and beyond to protect our soils and water. The Strang family, of Exeter, Ontario, uses many practices on their farms that protect and improve soil health. Can some of these practices work on your farm?
Find out more with this video:
- https://www.facebook.com/scott.ctv/videos/1862958060387817/Cover crop video (CTV - Fields to Forks)
D is for Diverse Cover Crops
Diverse cover crops are one way farmers improve soil health, as shared in the November 2018 article, Sunflowers improve soil and public relations, by Frances Anderson, published by The Ontario Farmer in the November 2018 corn+soy+wheat HANDBOOK.
Diverse cover crops work in many ways - break up compaction with tap roots, use legumes to fix nitrogen in soil. Discover ways cover crops can work for you!
E is for Earthworms
Earthworms are the soil's engineers and a good indicator of healthy soil. They create large pores to allow water infiltration and break down organic matter. Count your earthworm populations to check the health of your soil.
Watch the video:
F is for Fungi
The fungi network that spreads in the soil is one of the largest organisms on earth! Fungi works to break down organic matter in to forms that other organisms can use, and provides a network that plants can use to communicate. Fungi are vital for healthy soils!
G is for Grants
Grants are available through Huron Clean Water Project, and other programs, to help landowners with projects can improve soil health such as erosion control, using cover crops and planting trees. Find out more about grants that are available by contacting Ausable Bayfield Conservation:
ABCs of Soil Health (USDA)
Here are some of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (Iowa NRCS), 2016, 'ABCs of Soil Health.'
- Life is remarkably ABUNDANT in healthy soil.
- Soil BACTERIA are key for soil fertility and plant health.
- COVER CROPS feed the soil, prevent erosion and build organic matter.
- Plant variety builds soil health by feeding micro-organisms a DIVERSE diet.
- EARTHWORMS are a farm's architect for building soil health.
- Billions of FUNGI, bacteria and micro-organisms are in one teaspoon of healthy soil.
- The sticky secret called GLOMALIN builds a strong soil structure.
- Healthy soil builds HOPE for a healthier future. Thank you, farmers!
- Watch how reduced tillage and healthy soil improve INFILTRATION.
- Healthy soil does a better JOB at boosting farm productivity.
- We need the vast KINGDOM of living soil organisms to survive.
- Behold our LIVING soil. Healthy soil is teeming with life.
- There are more MICROBES in one teaspoon of healthy soil than people on earth.
- This North Dakota farmer eliminated synthetic NUTRIENTS by farming for soil health.
- Soil health management builds ORGANIC MATTER, increasing water holding capacity.
- PROTOZOA release nitrogen used by plants and members of the food web.
- Soil health improves water QUALITY and other off-farm benefits.
- Healthy soils store more water and are more RESILIENT during dry and wet periods.
- A SPADE or shovel is your #1 soil health evaluation tool.
- TILLAGE can damage well-structured healthy soil.
- Want to learn more about soil health?the Secrets.
- What is the VALUE of improving soil health?
- Healthy soil protects WATER quality by resisting erosion.
- XTRA, XTRA! You read about it on the Iowa NRCS website.
- Healthy soils protect YIELDS and productivity in time of drought.
- Read about local producers who farm with a real ZEAL for soil health.