Extreme wind causes concerns of soil erosion in Alberta agriculture industry

Click to play video: 'Wind wreaking havoc on southern Alberta farmland, erosion a concern'
Wind wreaking havoc on southern Alberta farmland, erosion a concern
It may still be winter but recent dry and windy weather is wreaking havoc on farmland in southern Alberta. Lethbridge County and other rural municipalities say the ground is very susceptible to erosion right now. Jaclyn Kucey has more on the conditions and ways producers can prevent soil loss – Mar 3, 2023

Freeze-thaw cycles, combined with dry conditions and extreme wind is putting soil in parts of southern Alberta at risk of erosion.

“We identify it as probably one of the biggest problems that southern Alberta agriculture — or agriculture in general in the Canadian prairies — is facing,” said Gurbir Dhillon, research scientist with Farming Smarter.

Dhillion considers topsoil an irreplaceable natural resource. He said it takes hundreds to thousands of years for dirt to form.

“Losing that, we lose soil fertility, it brings down our yield potential, so it makes the lands less valuable,” said Dhillon.

Farming Smarter is in the first of a five-year research project called Saving Soils, specifically looking at fall-seeded cover cropping under dryland and irrigated systems, helping keep the soil covered and capture extra nitrogen in the fields.

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“Especially the irrigated systems following high-disturbance crops like potatoes, sugar beets, because those crops tend to disturb the soils more, so the need for a follow-up crop that can anchor the soils,” Dhillon said.

Click to play video: 'Southern Alberta farmers alarmed as irrigation dispute continues'
Southern Alberta farmers alarmed as irrigation dispute continues

Other ways to prevent erosion are conservation tillage or planting winter crops like winter wheat.

“That will not only generate some income, but it also again provides a lot of the functions that covered crops provide,” said Dhillon.

Carla Preachuk, agricultural fieldman for the MD of Willow Creek, warns we’re now entering a time of year when erosion can get worse, and it’s not only a problem for farmers.

“One big issue is actually being a neighbour, nobody wants to have their house filled up with somebody else’s dirt,” said Preachuk. “I do know that the NRCB fields a lot of complaints every year on these things.”

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The province has a soil conservation act that says landowners must remedy the cause of soil erosion or be faced with fines.

“We just don’t want to see that loss of topsoil for farmers across the prairies,” said Mike Gretzinger, research coordinator for Farming Smarter.

He hopes research being done now will help with conditions that are changing annually to keep more of this precious earth in the ground.

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