New report explores ways to improve soil health

An important part of precision agriculture is soil management. No matter how advanced technology becomes, soil health is central to precision agriculture’s success. 

For its part, Ontario is in the midst of creating an agricultural soil health and conservation strategy. Open houses started this week in rural Ontario to introduce the current strategy document, called New Horizons: Ontario’s Draft Agricultural Soil and Health Conservation Strategy, to producers and other stakeholders, and seek further input. 

Working together to protect soil

The draft strategy proposes ways farmers, government, conservation organizations, researchers and others can join forces to “foster a fundamental shift in the way we take care of our soil,” says Jeff Leal, the province’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs. In a rapidly changing climate, agriculture must work together to protect our soil while both growing and sustaining capacity to produce food, he says. Benefits extend beyond the farm gate, including better water quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The strategy began in 2015, the International Year of Soils, with the announcement by the province that it was creating a soil health strategy. That was followed last year with the discussion document Sustaining Ontario's Agricultural Soils: Towards a Shared Vision. The latest draft, developed in collaboration with the agricultural sector, reflects feedback from farmers, Indigenous participants and other interested groups and individuals.

Action items

The draft covers four overarching themes: soil management, soil mapping and data, soil evaluating and monitoring, and soil knowledge and innovation. There are dozens of actions areas and best management practices within the themes, as well as feedback from producers in subsections called “what we heard,” and key principles.

For example, under soil management, key principles to improve soil health are diversify crops, minimize soil disturbance, keep soil covered, keep plants growing throughout the year (i.e. plant some perennial crops) and build soil organic matter. As an action, producers are urged to start their soil health management plan with a farm-level risk assessment, and an analysis of the appropriate BMPs to address site-specific issues.

“We all know that healthy soil is the basis for a strong, sustainable agri-food system,” says Leal. “Wise management can ensure that soil is fertile and full of the living organisms that are essential to grow food and other agricultural products.”

A PDF of the full 56-page report is posted on the OMAFRA website.

Bottom line

Open houses around Ontario will be held in the upcoming weeks to gather feedback on the soil health and conservation strategy. The OMAFRA website has details on how to participate.

Article by: Owen Roberts