Soil is one of the earth’s most precious resources. Good soil health plays a vital role in our food system and is critical to ensuring an abundant food supply. But keeping soil healthy can be a challenge, especially as we face the impact of climate change on our environment.
Assistant Professor Sean Smukler and Associate Professor Maja Krzic together with their graduate students are working on complementary research projects to help address some of the serious soil issues that farmers in Delta, BC are up against.
“Changes in precipitation have impacted farmers’ ability to produce crops,” said Smukler, whose climate change adaptation project is looking at soil drainage issues on 30 fields across Delta. “Irrigation and drainage issues have produced a buildup of salt in the soil. Plants don’t like salt. A build up of salt in the soil can reduce crop productivity. In some cases, salt can completely reduce crop yields to zero.”
Smukler’s research will provide updated drainage recommendations for the region as well as a current cost benefit analysis of management options for farmers. He’s also working on a grassland set aside project that examines to what extent soil quality improves on fields that are left fallow, as well as what happens to the production of vegetables when those fields are put back into rotation.
Krzic’s project builds on Smukler’s research. Over a five year period, she’ll follow the changes in soil properties after the grassland set asides have been planted.
“Soil conservation is a long-term process,” she said. “When soil properties have been compromised by overuse and excessive tillage that will inevitably lead to decline of soil quality. One approach that will improve soil quality, is to take the land out of production for a period of time.”
To help return soil to a healthier state, the field is seeded with a mix of grasses and legumes, and left fallow for at least a year, sometimes more. Adding organic material supplies additional nutrients for the soil and also protects the soil surface from the impact of rainfall. Once the field is put back into commercial production, the hope is that the soil is in a better condition, and will ultimately increase production yields.
Taking valuable land out of production to rest the soil is a costly proposition for farmers, however. Fortunately, the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust – a non-profit organization established in the 1990s by LFS Professor Emeritus Art Bomke and former LFS Research Associate Wayne Temple – provides local farmers with $325,000 of cost-share funding to help them invest in the long-term health of their soil while providing habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway.