The Agronomists, Ep 34: Anne Verhallen and Marla Riekman on building soil resiliency


There are plenty of buzzwords in farming and agriculture. More than just a word, however, is soil resiliency: what does it mean to have “resilient” soil?

For this episode of The Agronomists, host Lyndsey Smith is joined by Anne Verhallen and Marla Riekman to discuss what makes a healthy soil, what makes up soil quality (they are different!), what soil resilience means, and the importance of understanding soil structure.

Catch a new episode of The Agronomists every Monday night at 8 pm E!


  • Hold up. Before we get into it, how do we define soil health? How do we define soil resiliency? Resiliency in a soil means it can rebound from abiotic and biotic factors.
  • Aggregate stability, drainage, the ability to sustain a crop, or perform ecosystem services
  • Clip #1: Soil School: Does organic matter really matter?
  • If resiliency is the ability to bounce back from stress, bounce back to what? Where are we starting from with a given soil/field?
  • Soil resiliency can also mean the ability of the soil to help buffer against adverse biotic or abiotic factors
  • Nature will dictate the limit, but within a soil type there are certain things that can be achieved, but in an agricultural setting, we’ll never get it back to what it was before breaking. What did the soil start out as, and how good was it to begin with?
  • Do you manage soil health with “medication” or do you have a certain soil quality, which are the pre-existing conditions?
  • Sand versus clay, the “genetic base” of a soil, what are the qualities of that soil? Those qualities can’t be neglected, those are the limitations
  • How do we manage soils to build soil resiliency? An Ontario perspective: Crop rotation. That means not just wheat and corn. Cover crops. Reducing tillage. Bringing in organic amendments. Managing compaction. A western perspective: Considering “appropriate” tillage.
  • Are you doing tillage passes just to keep your Dad busy? Change takes time too
  • Clip #2: Canola School: There’s more to soil than just what you see
  • Soil Your Undies. Just do it. One caveat though, is that soil microbial activity is complex. It might not always tell you what you think it will.
  • Soil microbial activity. How important is it to understand microbes? Functional redundancy exists within microbial communities. Many of them will fill different niches. They live within the water films between pore spaces, and they need soil structure and well-formed aggregates. If we want to cycle more organic matter, it means more living roots, for longer.
  • Moisture + temperature = microbial activity
  • What looks like a sick jellyfish, is actually a latex mold of earthworm channels
  • Clip #3: Canola School: The compaction condundrum
  • When it’s really wet, water won’t drain properly. When it’s dry, it can *kind of * hold onto water in compacted areas. But it also impedes root growth.
  • Talk about compaction with your grain cart operator. The best way to prevent compaction is to be proactive. 80 per cent can happen in the first pass.
  • Water infiltration clip. Compaction affects pore spaces. Less connectivity between pores, which is important for internal movement of water.
  • There’s great information out there on reducing compaction, making changes to air seeders, sprayers, and harvest equipment, adjustable inflation on tires. Heck, you might save money on the diesel bill…
  • Subtle changes to management can make a big difference in the long run
  • Cover crop cocktails. How helpful are they at building soil resiliency? It depends. Even one or two species will make a difference in building organic matter. Species, and how long they’re there, is most important.
  • Plus, what’s your goal? Multi-mixes are best for grazing.

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