Local demonstration showcased soil management options

Machinery demonstration designed to spur more thinking on soil health

A Kingsville-area demonstration day was held July 23 to showcase a variety of tillage and other equipment and how each can be used to improve soil management.

But while the machinery was the focus visually, the main purpose of the event was to highlight how producers can incorporate profitable and environmental production changes using both new and pre-existing soil management tools, something that is desperately needed in the area, organizers say.

Why it matters: Nutrient runoff from soil loss continues to be an issue in southwestern Ontario. Machinery retailers and conservationists say new equipment designs and old equipment used differently, can be part of the solution, but a change in mindset is also needed.

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All about soil loss

Jim Boak, a dealer for Advantage Farm Equipment, the company behind the demonstration day, says the purpose of the event was to discuss equipment and other soil management strategies, such as cover crops and buffer strips.

The discussion is more necessary than ever, he says, because of ongoing nutrient runoff issues into Lake Erie and other waterways. These issues, most notably regarding phosphorus, are a result of what should be easily preventable soil loss. He adds farmers in southwestern Ontario are in a position where more widespread change could make a significant impact.

“We really don’t have a phosphorous problem, we have a soil movement problem,” Boak says. “We’re not doing as good a job as we think and have to start thinking out of the box… we can’t farm right to the ditch bank.”

Covers, buffers, and profitability

Boak says buffer strips and cover crops are a big part of the conversation, and some of the equipment on display was designed to facilitate just that.

More specifically, he says more producers should, at the least, consider using cover crops and planting buffer strips in areas, such as ditch banks and washout-prone areas, where soil loss is common, or in places where profitability is generally low. He also encourages others to consider the value of lost soil and factor that into investment decisions, whether or not that includes machinery.

A prototype fertilizer wagon and seeder, from Advantage, showcased at the event. This could, for example, be used to apply a cover crop while also side-dressing nitrogen in standing corn, or to plant wheat into unharvested soybeans (given sufficient row width).
photo: Matt McIntosh

Boak says the demonstration of Advantage’s prototype and the ERC drill were designed to get attendees thinking about the role strategically placed buffer strips and cover can play in reducing soil loss.

Boak reiterates soil management can be improved with existing equipment. More importantly, he says “a change in mindset” is required for more farmers in the area to incorporate cover crops and buffer strips into their production strategies.

“The ideas are efforts at combining operations, to be profitable and environmental…. We can take any farmer in the county, with the equipment they have, and help them,” he says.

Assistance programs

Margaret May, regional program lead for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), and Michael Dick, agriculture technician with Essex Region Conservation, were also present to support the event.

“We’re trying to establish more buffer strips to keep phosphorous out of the waterways… it also establishes pollinator habitat,” says Dick.

He adds the ERC and other conservation authorities have programs to financially assist farmers with buffer strip and other ecologically minded projects; the Clean Water — Green Spaces program, for example, provides farmers with $1 for every foot of prairie grass buffer strip planted. Other programs are also available through both the ERC and OSCIA.

May says the equipment demo event and other programs like the upcoming Compaction Day event in Elgin County give farmers a practical look at how different technologies can be used to achieve better soil management goals. Fundamentally, however, their purpose is to promote soil health awareness, and how improvements in soil health support better profitability.

About the author

Contributor

Matt is a freelance writer based between Essex County and Chatham-Kent. He is interested in all things scientific, as well as rock n' roll, hunting and history. He also works with his parents on their sixth-generation family farm.

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