On February 16 2021 the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance, in partnership with the Sudbury West Soil and Crop Improvement Association, held the Northern Ontario Producer Research Day, an event showcasing agricultural research going on in the north.
The event included presentations from the University of Guelph, York University, Collége Boréal, and the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue. These presentations addressed a variety of subjects, from land usage and soil quality to weed control and grazing.
One particularly interesting presentation came from Dr Claudia Wagner-Riddle of the University of Guelph. Her project is entitled Assessing the Impact of Pasture/Forage Management on Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions in the Northern Ontario Great Clay Belt. This project, put simply, assessed the presence and availability of carbon in the soil in the Kapuskasing and Val Rita areas.
Soil organic carbon is a component of soil organic matter, which is an important indicator of soil health and fertility. Across much of Ontario, the SOC stocks are being depleted, primarily due to a general shift away from pastured livestock fields and towards annual cropped fields that are more frequently tilled.
The purpose of this project is to compare the soil carbon data for different land uses, and to assess the impact of different agricultural activities on carbon amounts. SOC measurements from permanent forests were used as the baseline and were compared to the SOC measurements from permanent pasture fields and arable fields used to grow crops.
When comparing the land use (i.e., forest, cropping, or pasture) and the carbon concentrations on a scale of carbon kilograms per square metre of soil, it was found that pasture held about 30% higher SOC stocks than either forest or cropping fields. The researchers were expecting the cropping fields to have lower SOC stocks than the forest areas, but they found that they were actually roughly equivalent.
As the pastured fields had been cleared about 70 years ago, Dr. Wagner-Riddle and her team were able to calculate that, based on the differences in SOC found between the forest and pasture areas, the rate of carbon sequestration under pasture is about half a tonne per hectare per year.
To conclude her presentation, Dr. Wagner-Riddle offered some suggestions that could help farmers increase their carbon sequestration and reduce their carbon loss. Some of the suggestions to increase carbon inputs are to increase acreages of pasture and integrate grazing animals, diversify crop rotations and include perennial forages, and to return crop residues to the soil. Some of the suggestions for reducing carbon losses are to avoid overgrazing pastures, and reduce tillage, soil erosion, and fallowing.
Dr. Claudia Wagner-Riddle’s entire presentation, including a question and answer period at the end, can be found on the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance Youtube page along with all of the other presentations from the Northern Ontario Producer Research