Feds need to act on National Soil Study recommendations

It was great to see the final recommendations of the National Soil Study, the result of months of testimony, submissions and in-depth conversations with the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

From farms and ranches to laboratories and meeting rooms, senators heard from those who work, study and care deeply about Canada’s soil health.

Last year I appeared before this committee and had the pleasure of chatting with Senators Robert Black, Colin Deacon and others to outline my concerns. Some of the issues we discussed are contained in the new report, titled Critical Ground

One of the first recommendations of the study is to instill a sense of urgency within the federal government to protect Canada’s soil and acknowledge that it is a precious and strategic resource. The report also states that our soils will be in dire shape if we fail to take action.

Other recommendations include:

  • Appointing a National Soil Advocate
  • Developing a long-term strategy to protect and conserve soil throughout Canada
  • Government to facilitate a viable and valuable carbon market
  • Ensuring better broadband access for easier adoption of precision ag techniques
  • Creating a National Soils Institute and Database to be shared publicly
  • Creating tax credits for farmers who are adopting new technologies that benefit soil health

As I told the Senators, the more I learn about the soil, the less I know about it. As farmers, we’ve done a pretty good job of understanding what the crop is doing above the ground, but still need to learn more about what’s happening below ground.

I believe, if adopted, these recommendations will help give us a much clearer understanding of Canada’s precious soil resource.

At our farm, we have four-foot probes measuring how water is infiltrating the soil and being taken up into the plant, from this we can run yield algorithms to make in-season nutrient plans. A couple of years ago, we did a plot of the full carbon burn-off and bulk-density soil tests. These tests are very expensive, costing close to $40/acre. This cost is very burdensome to farms, which is why we need the federal government to step up in helping us get a national soil database.  Especially one that can be cross-referenced to the “typical” soil test that is significantly cheaper. 

There are current technologies that can glean this information, but I think we need more innovation around newer technologies that will make it easier, faster and more accurate. Also incorporating LIDAR data, I believe it’s just a matter of time before Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will have the ability to create a national soil survey map of the entire country.

I can’t overstate how important it is for all of this information to be compiled into one system that can be accessed by academics, farmers, researchers, agronomists, etc.  

Knowledge-sharing between sectors will allow private innovation to flourish. 

The best outcome of this study would be a robust set of public data, measuring nutrients, carbon, water and elevation, and then research and development grants will allow for huge strides to be made in the area of soil and agriculture innovation. The worst outcome of this study would be an increase in government regulation, policy and rhetoric. It would be disheartening if the results of the study were used to create more barriers and rules for farmers.

I am excited about what the Senators have produced and believe the federal government should act urgently on these recommendations to help unleash new opportunities for the agriculture industry and private business in Canada.

You can read about all of the recommendations in the full report, Critical Ground.