Healthy Soils, Profitable Farms

The collective knowledge of our soils on PEI has revealed some trends that are causing some alarm and encouraging farmers to review soil management practices. For several years, soil organic matter levels have been decreasing across the province, according to the 2012 Soil Quality Monitoring Report (Link: Soil organic matter is the foundation of sustainable production systems. This gradual decrease in soil organic matter is being paralleled by gradually decreasing yields. Farmers are taking notice and addressing this challenge on many fronts.

Recently, the PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association held its annual conference in Summerside in February. A great deal of the agenda was focused on soil health, quality and organic matter building. There was a producer panel that discussed the change in organic matter levels over time from varying rotations across the Island, and many speakers highlighting use of green manures and cover crops; all of which provided timely information for issues and concerns that are often raised by producers. Over 150 people attended the conference, of which the vast majority were farmers.

Also last month in Charlottetown, a Soil Health Workshop was held to discuss soil health basics and soil health testing techniques with a speaker from the Cornell Soil Health Laboratory in Ithaca, NY. The Cornell Soil Health Test is a comprehensive assessment of soil health that provides field-specific information on constraints in biological and physical processes, in addition to standard soil nutrient analysis. This approach is a whole new way of looking at soil health and linking it with profitable yields . This workshop was attended by 30 farmers and many industry representatives. Farmers in the Kensington North Watersheds Association and East Prince Agri-Environmental Association areas are currently involved in piloting the Cornell Soil Health Test on select fields. Within this project, the fields tested will be used to help develop a Soil Health Test that will be more specific to PEI conditions and may potentially be offered as a service by the PEI Analytical Laboratories for Island producers in a few years’ time.

The PEI Potato Board is also organizing the “Enhanced Agronomy Initiative”, which is a collaborative effort between processing potato growers, Cavendish Farms and the provincial government to increase marketable yields and grower returns in an environmentally sustainable way. A better understanding of soil and water dynamics will be one of the three main subjects of this project.

Overall, there is sincere interest from every corner of the agricultural sector in maintaining and building healthy soils. Good soil management is a key component to healthy watersheds, and will require much work to keep progressing forward. Fortunately, Island farmers are clearly demonstrating that they are up to the challenge.

This column is presented by the Kensington North Watersheds Association and the East Prince Agri-Environment Association to inform our communities of the ongoing efforts farmers are taking toward good environmental stewardship.

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