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Soil Health Recent Initiatives

Can we 'scale up' soil health data?

Ausable Bayfield Conservation recognizes the importance of soil health to farms within our community.
We have been working to help agricultural producers monitor the health of the soils on their farms. 
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.
For general information about why we need to protect soil health and how you can help do it visit our Conservation Strategy soils page:
Here are some soil health initiatives:  (links are to PDF files)
  1. Inter-jurisdictional Review Report (Pending)
  2. Fact Sheet on Monitoring Soil Health
  3. Soil Health Brochure
  4. Soil Health Monitoring Project Summary Report - Ausable Bayfield Conservation - 2016-2017
  5. Measuring Soil Health at different landscape scales – Workshop – March 8, 2018:
Cover Crops in Sixty-Inch Corn

Ausable Bayfield Conservation is working with agricultural producer Bill Gibson, and family, and other partners on a field site to demonstrate successfully establish cover crops using 60-inch corn rows.

Thanks, on this project, go to Bill Gibson and Family; Hensall Co-op; Pioneer Feeds and Corteva Agriscience; Claussen Farms; and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation; among others.

Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) and Professional Agrologist (P.Ag) Ross Wilson, of Ausable Bayfield Conservation, provides updates, in new videos, on the work to use #covercrops after corn and #60inchcorn in a trial south of Clinton, Ontario, Canada.

You may watch the videos here:

Ausable Bayfield Conservation improving cover crops with 60-inch corn

#healthylakehuron #landtolake #pieceofthepuzzle 

This Cover Crops (#CoverCrops) in Sixty Inches of Corn (#60inchcorn) research project observes the effect of different cover cropping strategies within a 60-inch twin-row corn scenario.

Variables include population size (70,000 versus 48,000).

Another variable is the effect of different cover crop mixes. For example ... tailored either to the corn crop (mostly legume, especially early maturing); or the subsequent bean crop (mostly Italian ryegrass with some clovers and a little brassica and radish).

Other variables are cover crop seeding rate (30 pounds per acre versus 60 pounds per acre); and effect of pruning corn after maturity to enhance cover crop biomass production, in the 30-inch-row scenario.

Ausable Bayfield Conservation is working with the participating landowner and with agricultural industry partners to monitor.

The project partners will be monitoring 2020 corn yield; 2020 cover crop biomass production; autumn 2020 soil health indicators; 2021 bean yield; and autumn 2021 soil health indicators.

Strips are 60-feet wide to accommodate three passes of eight row planters and four passes of 15-foot drill. Strips about 700 feet long equate to about one acre in size.

(A football field is about 1.32 acres in size. An acre is more than 4,000 square metres.)

The 60-inch corn twin rows are planted by the two-pass, every-other-row method, offset by seven inches.

Cover crop mixes are drilled into the corn at the 'V4' stage.

There is a common fertility program for all strips.

The project uses GPS (Global Positioning Systems) to locate strip boundaries for furture reference.

The damage to corn is minimized, when planting the cover crop, by splitting twin rows with drill-seed openers.

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.) and Certified Crop Advisor (CCA-ON) Ross Wilson. 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.

World Soil Day

World Soil Day 2020 is Thursday, December 5, 2024.

Local research has shown how covered soils store water and help to limit water running off of land during storm events. Soil health actions like cover crops can help to preserve topsoil, contribute to the long-term ability for that soil to produce food, and protect local creeks, rivers, groundwater, and Lake Huron.

People and groups around the world promote the value of soil health leading up to World Soil Day. A local ABCs of Soil Health social media campaign, spearheaded by Ausable Bayfield Conservation, ran each day, for 26 days, with the posting of a daily soil health message for a different letter of the alphabet from A to Z.

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 did a 'countdown to World Soil Day' (#WorldSoilDay) and shares our local A-Z for soil health ... one day at a time!

ABCs of Soil Health - Ausable Bayfield Conservation

A is for Action:
Ausable River Action Plan - Did you know that the Ausable River is home to over 20 species at risk (including fish, freshwater mussels, and reptiles)?  The Ausable River Action Plan is a joint effort between the federal government, conservation authority and the community to protect many of these rare species.  By keeping  soils on the land, you can help preserve the habitat for these important aquatic species.  
B is for Bayfield River:
Since 2011, residents who live in the Main Bayfield River watershed have been making efforts to keep the soil in place on the land and do their part to improve water quality in the river, and ultimately in Lake Huron.  To see a recent example of our land-to-lake approach, please check out our most recent Main Bayfield newsletter.
C is for Conservation Champions
Many producers and landowners go above and beyond to protect our soils and water. The Strang family, of Exeter, Ontario, uses many practices on their farms that protect and improve soil health. Can some of these practices work on your farm? Find out more with this video: 
D is for Diverse Cover Crops
Diverse cover crops are one way farmers improve soil health, as 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. Diverse cover crops work in many ways - 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
Earthworms are the soil's engineers and a good indicator of healthy soil. They create large pores to allow water infiltration and break down organic matter.  Count your earthworm populations to check the health of your soil.
Watch the video:
F is for Fungi
The fungi network that spreads in the soil is one of the largest organisms on earth!  Fungi works to break down organic matter in to forms that other organisms can use, and provides a network that plants can use to communicate.  Fungi are vital for healthy soils! Watch video here: 
G is for Grants
Grants are available through Huron Clean Water Project, and other programs, to help landowners with projects can improve soil health such as erosion control, using cover crops and planting trees.  Find out more about grants that are available by contacting Ausable Bayfield Conservation:
H is for Healthy Soils = Healthy Lakes

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Learn more:

I is for Infiltration

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Watch this video:

J is for Join us

Soil Health ABCs: 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! Learn more:

K is for Kingdoms at our feet

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Watch video:

L is for Living soil

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Learn more from the Soil Science Society of America:

M is for Monitor your soil

Soil Health ABCs: 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! Learn more with USDA:

N is for good Nutrient management

Soil Health ABCs: N – Good nutrient management creates healthy soils and healthy crops. Remember to follow 4Rs: Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place. Learn more:

O is for Organic matter

Soil Health ABCs: 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? This PDF tells you more:

P is for Partnerships

Soil Health ABCs: 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 Learn more:

Q is for improved water Quality

Soil Health ABCs: 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) Check out our findings:

R is for Results

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Read more:

S is for School groups can help and learn

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Contact our education department to find out more!

T is for reducing Tillage

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Watch video:

U is for Urban people can help too

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Watch this video:

V is for Visit Huron County Demonstration Farm at Huronview

Soil Health ABCs: 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! Learn more:

W is for Watershed Report Cards

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Discover more about your watershed here:

X is for Visit us in eXeter

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Read more:

Y is for You can make a difference

Soil Health ABCs: 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. Check out this blog:

Z is for being a soil health whiZ

Soil Health ABCs: 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! Learn more:

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.