We can learn a lot about how we should feed our soil for the future by looking at the past. Compared to some soils in different parts of the world, our prairie soil is pretty young, but if you’ve been testing soil samples and tracking the results over time, you will see how the soil on your farm is ageing. It’s taken tens of thousands of years to get to this point – so we can’t take this finite resource for granted.
“Young soil” is especially evident in the Peace River region, where soil has been slower to degrade because of its higher latitudes. And it’s relatively recently that the Peace has been cultivated for farming.
Across most of the prairies, soil tests were showing good micronutrient levels through the years, but big crops have been depleting them. We’re seeing a slower decline in the Peace, while further south farmers are used to adding micronutrients.
For example, we once had an abundance of potash, but farmers are starting to add potash to maintain levels. It’s also becoming routine to add copper and boron. Consider this. A 50-bushel/acre canola crop requires: 30 g copper; 180 g zinc; and 185 g boron. That means these micronutrients are becoming the limiting factor for yield.
Meanwhile, we’re growing bigger and bigger canola crops without brand new genetics to provide a yield boost. More rainfall also leads to nutrient loss because some soil nutrients are water soluble.
That’s why organic matter is vital to soil health. Some older soils have seen organic matter degrade over time because of over-cultivation, but organic matter can really improve the soil’s water holding capacity as well as supplying nutrients.
It seems like a lot to worry about, but the one and only way to track what’s happening in your soil is to start with a soil test and compare your results through the years. More than a few of the farmers I’ve worked with have been surprised at the nutrients they’re losing. I recommend looking at soil like a bank account. Don’t take out more than you put in. Respect it, maintain it, and it will produce for you.
If you need to start tracking your soil nutrient levels, contact your Cargill location today. We’re booking soil sampling appointments into the late fall.