Soil health is an increasingly important concept not just in the U.S., but also Canada. Earlier this year, the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) released its first-ever “national soil health report card” to grade how soil measures compare from one part of Canada to another.
The report card ranked eastern and western Canada in six categories related to soil health, including soil health awareness, biological diversity on the farm, cover crop adoption, and soil and crop diseases, based on 2019 data.
The report is in collaboration with University of Manitoba professors Mario Tenuta and David Lobb. The grades are based on farmer changes made over the past 5-10 years, soil conditions, and whether organic matter levels have improved.
Here’s a link to download an article about the report card, but here are some highlights:
- Both regions rank highly in soil health awareness, with the West getting a “B+” and East getting an “A.”
- In “Organic Carbon Matters” the West got an “A” grade but the East only managed a “C-“. But they noted better cover crop utilization in the East vs. the West.
- The West was rated a “B+” in biological diversity and East was a “B-“.
- In cover crop use, the West received only a “D” and the East a “B”.
The professors say there’s potential for a higher grade on biological diversity for Canadian growers, but shorter rotations in the West and a predominance of corn and soybeans in the East has prevented that.
No-till, or “direct seeding” has been around a long time in Canada, and there is a high degree of awareness about soil health in the country. That’s definitely something to build upon. But seeing low grades on cover crops in the West and organic carbon building in the East is disappointing.
I applaud SCCC for issuing this report card and giving farmers and educators in Canada some metrics to shoot for. As it’s been said before, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
Here in the U.S., through the Haney Test, Solvita Test, PFLA test and other tests available, farmers can get a picture of what’s going on with their own soils. But I’m not aware of any regular “Report Card” about soil health progress in the U.S. that actually has scores (someone please correct me if I’m wrong).
With all the data available now there really should be a report card for our country. The NRCS does have an excellent compendium of soil health resources, including videos, fact sheets, glossaries and the like. But why can’t the powers that be explore marrying the data (with personally identifiable information removed) from the USDA’s Census of Ag, soil testing labs, organizational surveys and other sources and at least come up with basic scores?
Perhaps it’s something to shoot for in the future if stakeholders can find a way to start working together. If you have a personal story on how soil health has improved on your farm, or where you’re still struggling, feel free to share it with me.