University of Saskatchewan Student Guest Blogger
Soil has been degrading around the world for as long as the earth has existed through natural erosion from wind, water runoff, and floods washing away the nutrient-rich topsoil. Half of the world’s topsoil has been depleted in the last 150 years (WWF, 2021). Naturally, over time, the soil has the ability to maintain itself but cannot maintain itself at the accelerated rate caused by agricultural practices such as tillage, heavy machinery use, monocropping and irresponsible pesticide usage. In Eastern Canada, since 1981, soil health has been declining, according to the Government of Canada’s soil organic carbon change map from 1981-2011. A decrease in soil organic carbon levels in the east is mainly attributed to the transition of pasture and hay land into annual crops. However, the prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) have experienced soil organic matter steadily increasing. The positive trend is largely due to the producer’s reduced tillage and summerfallow which is allowing soils to retain organic carbon (Government of Canada, 2021).
Ensuring the sustainability of our planet’s soils for our future farming generations and satisfying the ever-growing global demand for food is no small task. According to a study out of the University of Gottingen, global food demand could rise nearly 80% by 2100 (Lao, 2019). But implementing soil sustainability techniques into farming operations can come at a cost not every farm can afford. While practices like zero-till farming and reduced summerfallow can be done cost-free, for producers who would like to take it a step further, seeding cover crops to protect the soil structure and moisture content during non-growing seasons can run them an additional 10 to 50 dollars per acre in seed expenses alone (Myers, 2019). Realizing this, state governments across America have started to provide funding and incentives to farms that use sustainable land-use practices. In California, Bill SB.1350 “provides financial assistance for incentivizing” soil management practices that sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gasses, and improve overall soil health. In New Mexico, Bill HB.204 The Healthy Soil Act issues grants for service providers to give technical assistance to producers “to advance soil health, and soil health stewardship” (Soil Health Institute, 2021). The Canadian government, however, does not provide this financial aid and currently has no official policy in place regarding soil sustainability in Agriculture.
Make Sustainable Land Use a Priority
As a country, we have an opportunity to take initiative and set the global standard for sustainable land use in agricultural practices. Impressive progress is currently being made with the first concrete soil conservation bill (Bill C-290) in the first reading at the House of Commons. (Parliament of Canada, 2021) The bill calls upon the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to develop a nationwide strategy to promote improved soil health and conservation. The strategy is required to include measures to evaluate and collect ongoing data on the state of Canadian soils, maintain and enhance the soils’ ability to produce in a manner that is regenerative and profitable, and provide education and training in soil health conservation (Bill C-290, 2021). The bill also spreads awareness by making the third week in April, each year “National Soil Conservation Week”. There is still a long road ahead towards total sustainability. Thankfully, innovation in the Ag industry is at an all-time high. We continue to see the future of agriculture unfold before us, assuring that we have the capability to maintain our soil’s health and continue to prosper not only as an industry but as a nation.
Bill C-290, Soil Conservation Act, 2nd Sess, 43rd Parliament, Canada, 2021. https://parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/bill/C-290/first-reading#ID0EKAA
Government of Canada. Soil Organic Matter Indicator, 3 June 2021, https://agriculture.canada.ca/en/agriculture-and-environment/soil-and-land/soil-organic-matter-indicatorhttps://agriculture.canada.ca/en/agriculture-and-environment/soil-and-land/soil-organic-matter-indicator.
Lao, David. “Study Warns Global Food Demand Could Rise Almost 80% by 2100.” Global News, 10 Dec. 2019, https://globalnews.ca/news/6275824/global-demand-food-increase-insecurity/.
Myers, Rob. “Creating a Baseline for Cover Crop Costs and Returns.” SARE, 30 Sept. 2020, https://www.sare.org/publications/cover-crop-economics/how-to-get-a-faster-return-from-cover-crops/creating-a-baseline-for-cover-crop-costs-and-returns/.
Soil Health Institute. “Policy Catalog.” 11 Mar. 2020, https://soilhealthinstitute.org/resources/catalog/.
World Wildlife Fund. What Is Erosion? Effects of Soil Erosion and Land Degradation. 2021. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/soil-erosion-and-degradation.
I am from Coronach, Saskatchewan, and I’m currently a second-year Agribusiness student at the U of S. I grew up spending summers on our family ran grain farm south of Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan, where I learned a lot about agriculture and heavily influenced my decision to study it in university. Outside of school, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, hunting, golfing, and playing hockey. In the coming years, I look forward to completing a degree in Agribusiness and gaining more experience in the industry!