Farmer-led research groups shine spotlight on soil health

Improving soil is the key to successful farming, say groups 
behind the Soil Health Applied Research Alliance

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Declaring ‘soil is bigger than oil,’ two Alberta farmer-led research organizations are teaming up to increase the focus on soil health.

Ian Murray
Ian Murray photo: Supplied

“Soil health is the foundation of successful farming — if we can maintain and improve the health of our soils, we will be successful farmers,” said Ian Murray, an Acme rancher and chair of the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA). “I want to understand more about the soil on my farm, and I know other farmers feel exactly the same way.”

That’s borne out by a 2014 survey of 120 farmers and agronomists conducted by the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund, said Craig Shaw, the group’s vice-chair and a producer from Lacombe.

“Soil health was rated second-highest priority across Alberta from a list of nine production challenges,” said Shaw. “Clearly, Alberta farmers have questions about their soil and how we can improve it.”

The two groups’ initiative — the Soil Health Applied Research Alliance — will parallel the United Nations’ International Year of Soils and includes summer events and tours across the province and summaries of soil quality and soil health research from around North America.

The soil health events began this month with Peter Donovan and the Soil Carbon Challenge. Australian expert Christine Jones will give workshops at seven locations in late July and early August. Foothills Forage and Grazing Association is organizing a four-day trip to Bismarck, N.D. from Aug. 16-20 to tour the 5,000-acre operation of soil health guru Gabe Brown and the 150-acre Menoken Farm — both of which use holistic management to improve soil health. In July, there will be a field day at the Mattheis Ranch in Newell County and a high-intensity grazing session at the Lucends Ranch near Ponoka.

“We will end 2015 with the Western Canada Soil Health Conference in Edmonton in December,” said Murray. “But we won’t stop there. Soil is bigger than oil to Albertans, and ARECA will focus on soil for a long time.”

Event details are at albertasoilhealth.ca along with profiles of Alberta producers who are ‘soil health champions.’

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