Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority

Recent Soil Health Initiatives

Find out about soil health
Find out about soil health
Can we 'scale up' soil health data?
The Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) recognizes the importance of soil health to farms within our community. We have been working to help farmers monitor the health of the soils on their farms. However, we are also interested in finding ways to monitor and report on the health of soils at broader landscape scales. This is a challenging process and we will continue to develop approaches to monitoring soil health.
Here are some recent soil health initiatives:
1. Inter-jurisdictional Review Report
5. Measuring Soil Health at different landscape scales – Workshop – March 8, 2018:
Cover crops featured in article
The importance of cover crops was shared in the November 2018 article, Sunflowers improve soil and public relations, by Frances Anderson, published by The Ontario Farmer in the November 2018 corn+soy+wheat HANDBOOK. 
The article mentions the role of the sunflower as a cover crop ambassador (“They are the most obvious variety in a cover crop mixture that may contain six different plants ...”). The piece also goes into more depth about the positive role cover crops play.
The photo captions summarize much of cover crops’ importance: “A mix of cover crops improves soil quality, alleviates compaction and holds phosphorus over the winter ... The sunflowers feed pollinators and make people smile ...”
The catchy headline captures the public interest in, and love of sunflowers, but the article goes on to explain much of what’s happening under the ground, below the surface of the photogenic plants, and into the active microbiology in the soil beneath: 
“Sunflowers have a great taproot as well as a very fibrous root system,” the article quotes Stefan Zehetner. “They leave the ground very mellow, especially in my seed crop fields. They are also great at extracting zinc from the soil, and the residue that remains in the spring is black, which helps warm up the soil in the spring.”
The article also shares some of the cover crop planting, after wheat, by Tom Hayter and sons Justin and Adam, in the Dashwood area at Hayter’s Turkey Farm. 
“We want to harvest sunlight, and the way to do that is to keep something growing,” Tom is quoted in the article. “We used to plant oat and peas, but in the last five or six years, we have gotten into growing more complex cover crops. Our aim is to have something growing year ‘round.”
Ausable Bayfield Conservation was pleased that the article feature Professional Agrologist (P.Ag.) Ross Wilson, our Water and Soils Resource Coordinator. When 34 diverse community members, from all walks of life, developed our Conservation Strategy, they said it was important to protect water, living things, and soil. Ross is one of many staff members putting the community’s soil focus into action.
Ross, in the Ontario Farmer article, said an agricultural producer’s choice of cover crop depends on what they want the cover crop to do.
In Anderson’s article she paraphrases Ross that “... if you want to improve soil condition, a fibrous root, like buckwheat is a good choice, while sunflowers and oilseed radish will send down deep taproots to alleviate soil compaction.” She goes on to say that “ ... to reduce soil erosion, you need a cover crop that will overwinter – and a plan to terminate it in the spring.”
The article also captures the important point (mentioned by Tom Hayter) that overwinter vegetative cover can help to retain phosphorus. By retaining phosphorus, the cover crop prevents it from leaching out and becoming a problem for creeks, rivers, and the Great Lakes.
The article acknowledges some of the challenges to growing cover crops but also the tangible benefits.
A sidebar article in the Corn, Soy and Wheat Handbook also acknowledges the success of the cover crop incentive category of the Huron County Clean Water Project. The program is funded by the county and delivered by the Maitland Valley and Ausable Bayfield conservation authorities. The article notes that in Ausable Bayfield’s part of Huron County there are more than 4,000 acres of land, on more than 40 farms, with cover crops planted with support of this incentive category thanks to the county program and the participating landowners. 
The sidebar article mentions Ross’s decade of experience with Ausable Bayfield Conservation and that “ ... he’s one of the few Certified Agrologists on Conservation Authority staff in the province, and he can help get farmers get growing.”
For the complete article please read the November 2018 corn+soy+wheat HANDBOOK, published by Ontario Farmer. To learn more visit:
To download the full article, courtesy of The Ontario Farmer click this link:
To find out more about cover crops visit or contact Ausable Bayfield Conservation’s stewardship staff at 519-235-2610 or toll-free 1-888-286-2610.
The ABCs of Soil Health
Thanks to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (Iowa NRCS) for their great idea, the ABCs of Soil Health! 
Ausable Bayfield Conservation hosted a 'countdown to World Soil Day' (#WorldSoilDay) public information campaign and shared the local A-Z for soil health ... one day at a time!
Thousands of people were engaged by the campaign and we thank you for your interest.
This article was prepared by about the campaign:
Ausable Bayfield Conservation's Soil Health ABCs (on Facebook and Twitter!):

Visit our Facebook page and Twitter feed for all the 26 posts.

ABCs of Soil Health - from Ausable Bayfield Conservation

Introduction the ABCs of Soil Health:
Thanks to USDA (Iowa) for their great idea, the ABCs of Soil Health! Stay tuned over the next 26 days as the ABCA shares local A-Z for soil health ... one day at a time! 
A is for Ausable River
A - Ausable River is home to 20+ species at risk. Ausable River Action Plan is joint effort by federal government, ABCA, community to protect these rare species. By keeping soils on land you preserve habitat for important aquatic species:
B is for Bayfield River
B - Since 2011, Main Bayfield River watershed residents have kept soil in place and improved water quality in the river, and Lake Huron. For recent example of our land-to-lake approach check out the new Main Bayfield newsletter:
C is for Conservation Champions
C - Conservation Champions - Many producers go the extra mile to protect soil and water. The Strang family, Exeter, ON, protect and improve soil health with best practices on their farms. Can some of these practices work on your farm?
D is for Diverse Cover Crops
D - Diverse cover crops help farmers to improve soil health: Nov. 2018 Ontario Farmer article. Cover crops break up compaction with tap roots, use legumes to fix nitrogen in soil. Discover ways cover crops can work for you! 
E is for Earthworms
E - Earthworms! Soil's engineers. Indicators of healthy soil. They create pores to allow water infiltration, break down organic matter. Count earthworm populations, check soil health. (Photo - Colette Kessler, USDA NRCS) 
ABCs of Soil Health focuses, each of 26 days, on a different alphabet letter + soil health message for that letter, as a countdown to #WorldSoilDay on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Today's post was E for earthworms. Follow us each day for A to Z of soil health!
F is for Fungi
F - The fungi network in soil is one of Earth's largest organisms! Fungi break down organic matter into forms other organisms use, provides a network plants use to communicate. Fungi are vital for healthy soils! 
G is for Grants
G - Grants, from Huron County Clean Water Project and other programs, help landowners with projects that improve soil health, such as erosion control, cover crops, tree planting. 
H is for Healthy Soils
H - Healthy soils = healthy lakes. Farmers in five priority areas along Lake Huron help to protect soil and the lake. Doug Rogers, Lambton Shores, is taking positive action and sees value in healthy soil and healthy lakes. 
I is for Infiltration
I - Infiltration is how soil absorbs water from the surface. When water doesn't infiltrate the ground quickly, water runs off the surface, leading to erosion. The healthier the soil, the faster water infiltrates. 
J is for Join Us
J - Join us! OMAFRA has supported Ausable Bayfield Conservation’s soil protection efforts and continues to support agriculture and rural communities with soil health initiatives – thanks! Join us by protecting soil! 
K is for Kingdoms at Our Feet
K – There are kingdoms at our feet. The relationship of all of the kingdoms: plants, microbes, animals, fungi, are working together in healthy soil to feed our crops. 
L is for Living Soil
L - "It is our work with living soil that provides sustainable alternatives to the triple crises of climate, energy and food ... Without fertile soil, what is life?" - Vandana Shiva. 
M is for Monitor Your Soil
M – Monitor your soil. A spade is one of the most important tools in your tool kit to assess the health of your soils. Do a little digging in your soils – you never know what you might find! 
N is for Good Nutrient Management
N – Good nutrient management creates healthy soils and healthy crops. Remember to follow 4Rs: Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place. 
O is for Organic Matter
O – Organic matter is built by good soil health practices, like cover crops or leaving crop residue. Water holding capacity of soil is improved with increased organic matter. Are you building soil organic matter? 
P is for Partnerships
P – Partnerships are vital to better understand soil health! The Ontario Soil Network are farmers who work toward improving soil and sharing lessons learned. What a valuable resource to have in Ontario! #LetsTalkSoil 
Q is for Quality of Water Benefits
Q - Improved water quality is one of many off-farm benefits of healthy soils. Soils that are healthy are less prone to erosion, kept out of water systems, and kept on the land. (Photo - Michael Funk - UTRCA) 
R is for Results
R – What are results of Ausable Bayfield Conservation’s soil health initiatives? Preliminary work in 2016-17 showed there is room for improvement in our soils. With your help, our next results could show a positive change. 
S is for School Groups
S – School groups can dig in and discover soil! Ausable Bayfield Conservation has FREE healthy soil programs available to classes from now until April 2019. 
T is for Problems Created by Tillage
T – Tillage causes soil pores to collapse, leaves particles exposed to wind and water forces. Many farmers in Huron use no till or minimal till (like strip till, below) to maintain soil structure, improve water infiltration. 
U is for Urban People Helping to Improve Soil Health Too
U – Urban dwellers can help soil too! Urban practices that help soil reach its full potential include rain gardens for stormwater management, and composting to enrich soils for backyard or community gardens. 
V is for Visit the Huron County Demonstration Farm in Clinton
V – Visit Huronview Demonstration Site in Clinton. Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association plans to demonstrate different types of tile drainage and their effect on soil and water. Watch for a Demo Day in 2019! 
W is for Watershed Report Cards
W – Watershed Report Cards are released every five years. Last year, Ausable Bayfield Conservation began to report on soils using a measure of vegetative cover. 
X is for Visit Us in eXeter
X – Visit us in EXeter! If you are looking for ideas, guidance or funding to help improve your soil, we are here to help. Give us a call or stop by to find out about opportunities to fund your projects that will improve soil. 
Y is for You Can Make a Difference
Y – You can make a difference in the way soil is used! Eat foods grown on the landscape you want. Discover more about how your decisions can work towards improving soil health for everybody. 
Z is for Be a Soil Health WhiZ
Z – Be a soil health whiZ, take the OMAFRA soil health quiZ! Understanding your soil is the first step to improved land and water conditions. Grab a shovel and check out your soil … when there’s less snow! 
ABCs of Soil Health (USDA)
Here are some of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (Iowa NRCS), 2016, 'ABCs of Soil Health.'
  • Life is remarkably ABUNDANT in healthy soil.
  • Soil BACTERIA are key for soil fertility and plant health.
  • COVER CROPS feed the soil, prevent erosion and build organic matter.
  • Plant variety builds soil health by feeding micro-organisms a DIVERSE diet.
  • EARTHWORMS are a farm's architect for building soil health.
  • Billions of FUNGI, bacteria and micro-organisms are in one teaspoon of healthy soil.
  • The sticky secret called GLOMALIN builds a strong soil structure.
  • Healthy soil builds HOPE for a healthier future. Thank you, farmers!
  • Watch how reduced tillage and healthy soil improve INFILTRATION.
  • Healthy soil does a better JOB at boosting farm productivity.
  • We need the vast KINGDOM of living soil organisms to survive.
  • Behold our LIVING soil. Healthy soil is teeming with life.
  • There are more MICROBES in one teaspoon of healthy soil than people on earth.
  • This North Dakota farmer eliminated synthetic NUTRIENTS by farming for soil health.
  • Soil health management builds ORGANIC MATTER, increasing water holding capacity.
  • PROTOZOA release nitrogen used by plants and members of the food web.
  • Soil health improves water QUALITY and other off-farm benefits.
  • Healthy soils store more water and are more RESILIENT during dry and wet periods.
  • A SPADE or shovel is your #1 soil health evaluation tool.
  • TILLAGE can damage well-structured healthy soil.
  • Want to learn more about soil health?the Secrets.
  • What is the VALUE of improving soil health?
  • Healthy soil protects WATER quality by resisting erosion.
  • XTRA, XTRA! You read about it on the Iowa NRCS website.
  • Healthy soils protect YIELDS and productivity in time of drought.
  • Read about local producers who farm with a real ZEAL for soil health.
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