The Great Northwest Soils Experience
Soils were under scrutiny as part of the Northwest Soil & Crop Improvement Association tours in 2019. Sebastian Belliard, OMAFRA Soil Management Specialist, took the opportunity to discuss soil health, rotations and tillage.
During the Rainy River Soil & Crop tour, we stopped at the farm of John Sawatzky. He had dug a soil pit for Sebastian to dissect. The pit was located in the pasture of an ex-dairy farm, and John is planning on cultivating the field to grow crops. The field had been in pasture for as long as anyone could remember.
The pit had distinct soil layers, including the predictable layer of top soil, the secondary layer and the base layer. The locals stated that the soil was very deep in this location, hundreds of feet deep.
Sebastian talked about the life that is in the soils, and the importance of earth worms in helping to digest the trash layer on top, plus opening the soil pores to allow water to drain out of the soil. He talked about how compaction can make a hard pan that prevents drainage, how tillage can compound that, as well as interrupting earth-worm activity.
He explained that reducing tillage, having a good crop rotation and being aware of the problems of compaction can help you maintain soil health. Some causes of compaction include taking hay off a field, working soil when it is not ready, or driving grain buggies or trucks across a field, squishing the soil and causing crops to have challenges growing.
Sebastian explained that tile drainage assists with water removal and helps in times of drought as well. The earlier the excess water is removed, the more the plants are forced to send roots down deeper to the water table in the spring. When the ground really dries out, there are already roots down deep through the soil to capture moisture that is further from the surface, allowing the crop to be more drought resistant.
Soil management is key to successful cropping. During the crop tours, farmers got to discuss this important point and learn some management techniques.
Even the cows in the next field seemed interested!