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The Big Alberta Soil Benchmarking Project

Soil is one of the most important components involved in growing crops, yet soil biology is not well understood, and the physical characteristics have not been monitored. Now there is a study that is hoping to fix that.

Trevor Deering leading a lesson on soil testing at the July 2019 Plot Hop.

Led by the Chinook Applied Research Association (CARA) and supported by 10 other Alberta forage and applied research associations, the CAP-funded project aims to create a new soil health database starting with the biological, physical and chemical results of more than 1200 soil samples.  Evaluation of biological soil characteristics has only become available during the past few years in laboratories in the United States and more recently eastern Canada.  The existing biological labs do not base analysis and recommendations on parameters specifically related to Alberta soils.  CARA’s Soil Health Lab, under the direction of Dr. Yamily Zavala, provides a unique service in evaluating soil health constraint indicators.  A biological and physical baseline developed within the province will provide a framework that can help define strategies for managing and improving the productive capacity, and sustainability, of our soils. A diverse micro-biological underground community may contribute to an overall healthier soil, including improved carbon sequestration. Improved aggregation stability will also contribute to enhanced carbon levels in the soil.  Healthy soils produce healthy plants resulting in a higher quality food product.  

There is an increasing interest in the link between soil health, plant health and ultimately food quality.  Society is also concerned with carbon both in the air and soil.  Since carbon and soil health are very closely connected, management practices that improve carbon sequestration will result in healthy soil and nutritious food products. The status and functionality of soil should be measured not only by its chemical (fertility) properties but also for its physical and biological properties.  Chemical components of soil have been intensively evaluated by commercial soil testing labs in Canada.  Chemical fertility recommendations have been based on this knowledge.

Visit Alberta soil health benchmarking monitoring project to learn more.