Soils provide ecosystem services critical for life as it acts as a water filter and a growing medium which provides habitat for billions of organisms. Soils are the basis of our nations agroecosystems which provide us with feed, fiber, food and fuel. As a producer, the sustainability of your business is dependent upon the conservation of the soils of your land.
Soil Conservation Act
The Soil Conservation Act describes the requirement for landholders to prevent soil loss or deterioration from taking place or to stop loss or deterioration from continuing. The Act delegates authority to local municipalities and outlines the powers and duties of the designated officers. It also outlines the process, procedures and governance for appeals under the Act. Offences related to, and penalties for, contravention of the Act are described.
Soil Conservation Notice Regulation
The Soil Conservation Notice Regulation, under the Soil Conservation Act, contains the information required for a form of notice and provides an example form.
Farming Smarter - Soil Conservation Series
In 2021, Farming Smarter in partnership with municipalities in Southern Alberta produced a series of articles on soil conservation and methods which can be implemented to stop soil loss. The following links will take you to the articles.
- Yes, Blowing Soil Breaks a Law - by Kristi Cox
- Dollars Blowing in the Wind - by Kristi Cox
- Economics of Agricultural Blow-Dirt - by Madeleine Baerg
- Don't Blow Good Neighbour Relations - by Madeleine Baerg
- Tillage is Problematic on the Prairies - by Kristi Co
Assessing your soils
The Soil Information Viewer assists land managers and producers in making general land management decisions. This resource tool allows users to query soil information from the Agricultural Region of Alberta Soil Inventory Database (AGRASID). AGRASID describes the distribution of soil types for the agricultural land base of Alberta. The viewer is an excellent tool to determine the possible soil conditions, horizon depths, and soil textures on your property. This is merely a tool, and all conditions should be verified by field investigation. To use the Soil Information Viewer, visit the following link:
A soil survey of the County of Warner was initiated in 1978 in response to specific concerns regarding soil salinity and erosion as well as the need to update the land resource base. The product of that survey is a report which includes a general description of the area, in-depth information on the soils in the region, and a section on present land use, interpretations and degradation. You can access the report at the link below:
The County of Warner No. 5 covers an area more than 450,000 hectares and includes three physiographic regions, the Eastern Alberta Plains, the Western Alberta Plains, and the Southern Alberta Uplands. These regions surficial deposits are primarily glacial till, with minor amounts of lacustrine and fluvial sediments.
Surface soils within the County are brown to dark brown on the plains, to black on the western side of the Milk River ridge. The soils are dominantly Chernozemic, with minor amounts of Solonetzic, Gleysolic, and Regosolic.
Soil erosion is a naturally occurring process in which soil is removed by wind (aeolian), Ice, water (fluvial), or by gravity. The gradual removal of topsoil from these processes reduces the soil organic matter content and affects the fertility of the soil profile. A reduction in the fertility of the soil, has direct implications for agricultural yields. The County, as with much of Southern Alberta has experienced historical wind erosion.
Types of erosion:
- Water erosion – The movement of soil particles by the force of water, includes splash, sheet, rill, gully, and tunnel erosion.
- Wind erosion: the Detachment and movement of soil particles by air, occurs by saltation and suspension. Saltation refers to the dislodgement and impact of soil particles, the particles then result in the movement of other particles causing a chain reaction. Suspension refers to the
- Mass movement: Downward movement of soil and rock under the influence of gravity, this is observed along the Milk River and coulee sides.
Soil salinity in Warner County
Soil salinity is a major land degradation issue in the County of Warner. Saline soils contain high levels of soluble salts, these salts increase the electrical conductivity of the soils. High concentrations of salts reduce the plants ability to uptake water and nutrients, and increase the toxicity of other anions (i.e. aluminum).
While saline soils are visible by the white crystalline crust at the top of the soil, this is just expressed with soils that have increased electrical conductivity (2-4 dS/m), with soil EC less than this range can result in invisible salinity. Invisible soil salinity is typically expressed in the field with reduced yields as the salts affect the physiological development of the plants.
Coulee bottom salinity occupies the largest proportion of the county’s total saline area (34.5%), followed by contact/slope change salinity (32.7%). Saline seeps are a natural process in which groundwater movement transports salts to discharge areas. For saline seeps to form, there must be a source of the soluble salts, water to move and contrate the salts, and evaporation exceeding precipitation and soil porosity to be conducive to capillary action. These tend to develop when there is successive wet years followed by dry conditions in which evaporation exceeds precipitation.
Saline seeps can be classified into;
- Contact/ slope change salinity
- Outcrop salinity
- Artesian salinity
- Depression bottom salinity
- Coulee bottom salinity
- Slough ring salinity
- Irrigation canal seepage salinity
- Natural/ irrigation salinity
Common salts are sodium, calcium, and magnesium sulphates, there are also sodium, calcium and magnesium chlorides. The dominant salts in the county are sodium and magnesium sulphates, originating from bedrock and glacial till of the Bearpaw bedrock formation.
The identification of saline soils is typically done using aerial photography or satellite imagery, but are confirmed through the collection of soil samples from multiple depths in the soil profile, one sample is not sufficient.
For more information on soil salinity within the county, please view the following documents;
Mitigating salinity issues
Agricultural practices are the most useful to control saline seeps, introducing salt-tolerant grasses in saline areas and alfalfa in applicable upslope recharge areas.
Upland Salt-tolerant crops may include; bromegrass, russian wild ryegrass, alfalfa, slender wheatgrass, altai wild ryegrass, crested wheatgrass, sweetgrass, and tall wheatgrass.
Mesic and riparian soils salt-tolerant crops may include; reed canary grass, timothy, and bromegrass.
Salt tolerances of crops. Moderate (4-8 dS/m) salt tolerant species include; six row barley, two row barley, fall rye, winter wheat, spring wheat, oats, flax, and canola (open pollinated).
Deep rooting crops – are used to lower the water table which restricts the capillary action by drying out the subsoil and thus restoring the soil water storage capacity. Alfalfa is a widely used species for this use as it uses 30 inches of water per year, roots may grow to depths of 6 metres in fours years with an active rooting depth of 3 metres. While kochia has incredible abilities to survive within saline soils, it is not advisable to permit their growth as herbicide resistant genes can be present within the population.
Soil salinity controls involve the control of saline seeps which require the management of increased groundwater, this can be accomplished with the following actions;
- Deep rooted forages in the recharge area,
- Salt tolerant forages in the discharge area,
- Continuous cropping, and
- The use of subsurface or tile drainage.
Consider using annual crops with increased salt tolerance such as barley or canola, increased seeding rates may further be a benefit. Also, consider the use of perennial forages in rotation such as alfalfa in the dominant recharge and salt tolerant grasses in the discharge.
Managing Soil pH
The desirable pH range for optimum plant growth varies by crops, the best method to assess the pH of agricultural soils is to conduct soil testing throughout the field. These samples can be submitted to a laboratory which completes analysis of soil pH.