Dry today doesn’t mean “till” tomorrow

May 16, 2018 - Issue 7

Dry conditions across the Prairies have seen typical wet spots within many fields dry up and fields being broken up prior to seeding with tillage implements. Why?

Typically soil erosion in Canada comes from three main types: wind, water and tillage. This winter in Western Canada, strong winds on worked soils that saw little to no snow cover resulted in large amounts of topsoil being deposited in the ditches. That top layer of soil is extremely important to crop production as it is rich in organic material and helps feed the crop. Some estimates say it takes upwards of 500 years to rebuild an inch of topsoil. 

Improvements in soil erosion risk in Canada mostly reflects reductions in the risks of tillage erosion (22%) and wind erosion (11%), as well as a small reduction in water erosion risk (1%). Widespread adoption of conservation tillage across Canada, particularly no-till, is largely responsible for the decreased risk of all forms of soil erosion. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Agri-Environmental Indicator Report Series – Report #4. 2016. Summary)

Soil organic carbon (SOC) levels in Western Canada have increased from the stable levels seen in the 80s. This increase is primarily from the decrease in summerfallow acres that left the land barren for a year and contributed to soil erosion. Increased production of high-residue crops requiring little tillage has also contributed to the decreased risk of soil erosion. A key driver of reduced soil erosion risk is the adoption of no-till in grains and oilseeds production across the Prairies. 

Soil erosion poses a significant threat to the sustainability of crop production throughout the world. So next time you take out the tillage equipment, ask yourself why? Is it because of a poor job of managing crop residue at harvest timing? Is it because of herbicide resistant weeds? Or poor seed bed preparation? Or because the sloughs are finally dry? Before tilling, take a step back and look at the big picture. Ask yourself, what can I do better to help keep my soil productive for generations to come?

“Civilization itself rests upon the soil.” ~Thomas Jefferson 

Further reading:

Canola Encyclopedia sections on seedbed prep for canola and on tillage.
Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops: Soil Quality & Productivity

Canola Watch