This story was first published on Farming

Healthy soil isn’t just vital for high crop productivity and grower profitability, it’s foundational to long-term agricultural sustainability. Soil health implies the capacity of soil to provide required ecological services within an ecosystem without suffering from degradation.

In agricultural ecosystems, improving soil health incorporates various properties and functions, from building soil structure to increasing organic matter content or improving water holding capacity and nutrient cycling.

However, soil health cannot be described through a single attribute and instead through the combined ability of multiple soil properties to provide desired ecosystem functions.

Intensive agriculture in the Canadian prairies over the last century has given rise to multiple soil deterioration threats such as erosion by wind and water, organic matter depletion, salinization, biodiversity loss, and compaction, etc.

The dry, windy climate in the southern Alberta region exacerbates soil erosion by warm westerly winds (known as chinook winds) that can melt the snow cover and frequently blow at high speeds, up to 150 km/h. Thus, it is vital to encourage adopting agronomic practices that can improve soil health and protect against soil deterioration.

These management practices can take multiple approaches to promote soil health such as minimizing soil disturbance through conservation tillage, maximizing vegetative covering on soil surfaces through fall-seeded cropping, improving landscape biodiversity through intercropping, and shelterbelt incorporation, and maximizing vegetative biomass input and soil carbon content through cover cropping

The following articles in this series will provide an in-depth description of agronomic management and benefits for each of these practices.