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Can we justify our soil-management practices?

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Don Lobb, a farmer from Huron County, Ontario was recently awarded the L.B. Thomson award for his long-standing commitment to soil and water conservation in Canada. An early adopter of no-till farming, Lobb has been widely recognized as both an innovator and a leader in soil and water conservation locally, nationally and internationally. L.B. Thomson was one of the agronomists whose developed tillage practices to combat the drought of the 1930s, and was later a director general of the PFRA. These are excerpts from his acceptance speech.

As we look ahead, please consider this: historically, most civilizations have destroyed their soil and then moved on. Now, there is no place left to move to.

Furthermore, current predictions indicate that within 20 years only six countries will be able to feed themselves. Canada is one of the six. This brings focus to food-production technology. Our interest has been dominated by iron, crop inputs and genetics. The current attention to crop culture has brought great production improvement. However, this does not matter if soil is degraded as a result of production pressure, ignorance, carelessness or greed. Our food supply is only as stable as the soil in which it is grown.

More than anything else, healthy soil contributes to crop yield and to production stability and production sustainability. Healthy soil means more soil life and more organic matter. Tillage destroys both. We also must improve soil moisture management because water is the first limiting factor for crop growth. We must close the nutrient loop because supplemental sources of nutrient are finite. We need to adopt landscape restoration as a normal practice because this substantially reduces soil management variability and has payback opportunity as good or better than cropland drainage. We need perennial food crops. Their culture would dramatically reduce soil degradation.

Our highest research priority must be serious soil science. We cannot tolerate philosophy or emotion here. Responsible farmland managers will participate in this exercise and they will prosper by doing so. The leadership must come from farmers. Groups like the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) have a role here.

We do have a few wonderful examples of really good soil management leaders. One of the best is the Kaiser family of Napanee. Our president, Max, can be very proud of their farm operation and we in OSCIA can be proud of him. I know from personal experience that every farmer can follow the Kaiser example. We do have the technology and the tools. This is a matter of choice. Choices now determine our legacy to the future. The future is our progeny.

If our children’s grandchildren were sitting in front of us, could we each proudly justify the soil management practices that we use today?

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