Reason to Celebrate our PEI Farmers during National Soil Conservation Week
April 14, 2016:
Prince Edward Island farmers, along with farms across the country, will be celebrating Soil Conservation Week on April 17th to the 23rd. The week was created by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada in 1984 to bring national focus and attention to this very important matter.
"Soil conversation on Prince Edward Island is an important practice by farmers that not only helps to protect our environment but assists in the growth of a high quality product," said Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Alan McIsaac. "This week we recognize the consistent efforts of our Island farmers taken to reduce soil loss, as well as their commitment to protecting Island waterways."
This year marks thirty (30) years of progress in Prince Edward Island. Starting as a research initiative involving earthen structures and agronomic practices, the soil conservation movement has evolved into diversion terraces, strip cropping, farmable berms, retirement of sensitive agriculture land, extended buffer zones, winter cover cropping, hay mulching, residue management and minimum or no-till management systems.
"In those early days, when terraces, strip cropping and farmable berms were largely unheard of on the Island, a few very innovative and successful producers took the chance and installed large integrated soil conservation systems on their farms. They quickly realized improvements in soil conservation and runoff control. Those early adopters became important and influential advocates for soil conservation practices in PEI", says Gwen Vessey, Soil Conservation Specialist with the PEI Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Farmer recognition of soil conservation benefits not only to their farms, but to the environment and society in general, has resulted in continued interest and growth of soil conservation practices. An example of changes in farm practice related to soil conservation involves the practice of moldboard plowing. In recent years, this practice is being replaced with primary tillage that provides 20 to 30 % more crop residue as ground cover from the previous crop, usually grass. This practice reduces erosion from both wind and water. Annually, 9100 hectares of primary tillage in the province would be by this residue management method.
Current geographic information system (GIS) data indicates that Prince Edward Island has over 1,100 kilometers of soil conservation features including berms and grass waterways; approximately 1,800 hectares of high sloped land retired from agriculture production since 2000; and close to 1,300 hectares of land voluntary removed from production adjacent to buffer zones and edge of fields. Estimated costs for the soil excavation work would be in the range of $ 3.8 million. In 2015 alone, soil conservation systems built included 18 kilometers of diversion terraces, 27 kilometers of grassed waterways, and 8 kilometers of farmable berm terraces.
Since 1989, PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association has recognized livestock and cash crop producers with the Soil Conservation of the Year Award (www.peiscia.ca). This years' recipients were Frizzell's Valleyville Farms (dairy farm in Glen Valley); and Darren and Brenda Peters (mixed cash crop operation in Maple Plains). Also the PEI Federation of Agriculture awarded the Gilbert Clements Award for Sustainable Agriculture to Klondike Farms of Wilmot Valley.
"Healthy soil is the backbone of a thriving agriculture sector for this and future generations" says John Hooper, President of PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association. "That is why we think it is important to recognize those in our community who encourage soil conservation practices and inspire that stewardship philosophy in all of us".
The commitment of PEI farmers to soil conservation is impressive and they continue to be committed to work diligently until the job is complete. In fact, there are farmers who will develop soil conservation plans for every acre they farm and each year will implement one or two of them until they are all completed. Over time this becomes a significant piece of work, time and financial commitment. These earthen structures are an obstruction in their fields, taking land out of production and slowing down the field work. But obviously this is a factor farmers are willing to accept.
For more information, contact:
Soil and Water Engineer, PEI Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Volunteer Manager, PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association