That dark stuff that we literally walk on every day does not get enough credit in my opinion. In fact, a lot of people see it more as a nuisance than anything, causing messes when its wet, being tracked all over the house. Of course there are those who appreciate mud as a recreational asset but still, this isn't the kind of recognition I’m shooting for here.
Dirt creates life. Soil holds within, the power to sprout fruits, vegetables, grains and food for our protein sources. Without soil, I can imagine that we would be a rather hungry bunch! The same goes for water as well, but that isn’t the only similarity between the two resources. Soil may be a nearly infinite resource but much like water, it is delicate. Soil structures are easily disrupted and damaged by everyday human activity.
The city I am currently living in is a farming mecca. Every direction you look from Lethbridge, all you see is crop lands and feedlots. Lethbridge is also known for something else though, and that something is wind. Those Chinooks come blowing hard off the mountains and give Lethbridge a shake on any given day.
It’s funny because the two things that Lethbridge is really known for are two things that don’t often mix well. Farming and wind- a combination that is a dangerous one if not properly handled. Wind causes erosion, and that is just a fact of nature; but there is a difference between naturally occurring geological wind erosion and intensified erosion. That difference happens to be one particular farming practice – tillage.
Tillage, defined as the preparation of land for crops, breaks up soil surfaces and exposes small particles that are very susceptible to being carried away by wind. This means that every time soil is worked up, the risk of severe damage increases. There are tillage methods that are being used to combat wind erosion and they definitely are helping but we have been tilling the land for over 150 years and most of the worst damage has already been done. Tillage became popular in western Canada 1862 when the Homestead Act was created and this is when the problems began.
A lot of farmers are changing their methods to reduced tillage and no tillage practices but there still a few farmers out there who practice this outdated farming method. The proof is in the pudding when loose soil begins pilling up in the ditches along the highways after a chinook blows through. I have to say, that’s one sight that makes me sad!
Ideally without rich and healthy soils, we cannot grow the plants we need to sustain the currently ballooning population, and that is a scary thought. Tillage has other effects on soil and I will admit that some are beneficial, but many are damaging, and the contribution wind erosion is just one.
In my program at Lethbridge College, one of the courses I am currently taking is on Agricultural Soils Management. Its a great class that really inspires me to think in terms of what my family and I are doing to one of the world’s most important resources. This is one of the reasons I love the program that I’m in. I love how all my classes leave me thinking about how I can apply what I have learned to the real world. Soil is important and I want to be a part of a generation that saves it, rather than one that lets it all blow away!
For more information visit the Government of Alberta website at: