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Canada Soil Conservation Week Approaches

11 April 2013
Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development

CANADA - Soil conservation week in Canada is April 21 to 27, 2013. The importance of soil often goes unrecognized. Almost 99 per cent of the food consumed in Alberta comes from soil.

It is, therefore, important that soil resources are conserved and protected for future generations. In the future, we will become even more dependent on the land to produce crops not only for food, but for fibre and energy.

“In Alberta, we have almost 159 million acres of land,” says Dr Ross McKenzie, senior agronomy research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

“Of this land base, only 25 million acres of land is used for annual production, which is only 16 per cent of our total land base. An additional 26 million acres is used for hay, tame pasture or is in native rangeland and used for livestock grazing. Much of this land is not suitable for cultivated agriculture or annual crop production. Canada’s total agricultural land base is about 167 million acres, about five acres for each Canadian.

“In southern Alberta, about 1.6 million acres of land is irrigated, which is about 6.5 per cent of our cultivated land base and about 3 per cent of our total agricultural land base. Over 20 per cent of our total agricultural production comes from Alberta’s irrigated land.”

Using Canada’s Land Suitability Rating System, for cereal and oilseed crops, there is not any Class 1 land in Alberta. In 1983, PFRA estimated the loss of income due to soil degradation on the Canadian prairies was C$625 million per year. Wind and water erosion, soil salinity and degradation of soils by loss of soil organic matter were reducing the quality of soils and soil productivity across the prairies.

“Over the past 40 years, agricultural scientists and leading edge farmers across the prairies have worked incredibly hard to change the direction of cultivated agriculture to improve cropping practices to become much more sustainable,” says McKenzie.

“Many prairie farmers have adopted reduced tillage or direct seeding practices. Over the past 20 years, producers have benefited from adopting direct seeding management including: reduced labour and fuel requirements, soil moisture conservation, more efficient fertilizer use, increased crop yields and improved soil quality and productivity.

“There have been strong environmental benefits including reduced greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and increased crop biodiversity. Good conservation soil management has decreased water runoff and soil erosion, which has reduced the risks to water quality of nearby watercourses and has helped to maintain healthier aquatic and wildlife habitat.”

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