Originally published August 12, 2019 on AgriNews
The final article in this six part series looks at the impact of soil health on management practices.
A pilot project aimed to help Alberta producers adopt new technology and innovation recently brought ranchers and farmers together with experts and scientists during a tour of east central Alberta farms. The group discussed the importance of soil health and how to measure it.
“Ranchers often focus on the performance of their livestock to measure productivity and ranch economics,” said Susan Markus, livestock research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “It is difficult not to when your income appears to be derived from the sale of commodities. However, ranchers understand that they are stewards of the land, which ultimately means soil health contributes to their success.”
Darren Bruhjell with Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada conducts applied research and extension with forages and soils. As part of bale grazing and swath grazing projects, he showed that both extended winter grazing practices increased soil fertility and soil carbon.
He found that increased forage production above ground and increased root biomass below ground, combined with an increase in soil moisture associated with more plant residue, was related to improved soil carbon when annual crops are winter grazed. Soil fertility improvements were attributed to the deposition of urine and manure in addition to increased plant litter under these conditions.
Yamily Zavala, soil scientist with the Chinook Applied Research Association in Oyen conducts laboratory testing for soil health. She said she cannot stress enough that the soil results are only as good as the sampling techniques and that they reflect a specific time and location on the ranch.
Zavala added that there is great value in deriving a baseline of soil health qualities as it not only provides information on the current status of the soil, but creates an opportunity to measure the impact of various management practices over time. Qualities such as aggregation, water infiltration, active carbon and microbial health all influence productivity, quality of production as well as carbon sequestration.
The group conducting this project included researchers at the Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre (ABFGC) along with specialists at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, members of the Alberta Beef Producers and the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta.