Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, all agricultural land on the Prairies was considered abnormally dry in December 2023.

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Soil erosion could worsen the ongoing drought, as soils have more difficulty absorbing water.

  • Marc- Antoine Leblanc (View profile)Marc-Antoine Leblanc

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If the drought continues, Alberta farmers could face another problem of pruning, soil erosion.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, at the end of December 2023, 81% of agricultural land in the country was considered abnormally dry or in a state of moderate or exceptional drought.

In the Prairies, that figure jumps to 100 percent. According to the federal agency, it will take a significant accumulation of snow in winter and melting of snow in spring for it to fully recover from this year's drought.

This situation increases the risk of soil erosion, the movement of soil from one location to another.

Henry Chau, a Lethbridge-based research scientist who works for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, explains that when drought causes crop failures, there is not enough residual vegetation left in fields in early spring to retain the topsoil.

The phenomenon of erosion effectively leads to the loss of topsoil and reduces soil organic matter, which contributes to the degradation of soil structure. Which, therefore, makes poor harvests more likely, specifies the researcher.

Henry Chau says the loss of soil also makes it more difficult for land to absorb precipitation, thus perpetuating the cycle of drought.

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You might not find it so concerning to lose a little surface soil, but replenishing [your land sustainably] takes a lot of effort.

Ken Coles, executive director of the nonprofit Farming Smarter, paints a similar picture.

If you have a vulnerable field, there is a chain reaction, as soon as the soil particles start to move. The next thing is you see the whole field moving.

Mr. Coles himself owns a farm in the Lethbridge area. A few years ago, it was at the forefront of the consequences of erosion. High winds lifted the top layer of a neighbor's field that had been weakened by drought and recent plowing, depositing more than two feet of soil on his own land.

We are definitely going through a drought cycle. One of the things we've noticed when it comes to our local climate in southern Alberta is that our winters are getting warmer and I also think our winds are getting stronger, actually. notice Ken Coles.

With these two combinations, I think the severity and risk of wind erosion has increased, he adds.

In addition of the impact on land, erosion also has financial consequences. According to a University of Manitoba study (New window) published in March 2023, erosion cost the Canadian agricultural industry an average of $1.59 billion in lost productivity between 2008 and 2015.

Lethbridge County Reeve Tory Campbell says municipalities also often have to foot the bill to clean streets or a drainage ditch from land plots.

He says county officials are therefore working to raise awareness about soil erosion and how to manage it.

For example, farmers may plant cover crops to cover the ground rather than for the purpose of being harvested. In particular, this helps slow erosion.

I think we all recognize how valuable topsoil is to us as producers. And you know, it's just heartbreaking when you see her go away, Campbell adds.

With information from The Canadian

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