Knowledge is power: combing the data to support building organic matter


On many topics, we can require some convincing on what the right move is. Does a fungicide pass make sense? Can I fully move to zero-till? Will managed grazing be worth the investment?

Too often we rely on anecdotes and personal experiences, but it can because that’s all there is to draw from. Solid data, enough of it to be reliable, and access to that data can be a real hurdle in using it for our decision making processes.

So I was rather excited when earlier this week I had the chance to catch up with Stuart Chutter, policy analyst with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), the organization that administers crop insurance for Alberta.

Chutter was tasked with digging in to reams of data and evaluating whether or not certain measurable actions or items on-farm had an impact on predicting higher yields and lower insurance claims.

The list to choose from included access to a grain dryer, early seeding, crop rotation, and soil organic carbon levels, among others.

What the analysis showed is rather astounding, though perhaps not surprising for anyone who pays attention to organic matter levels in soil.

Chutter says that soil organic carbon being higher than average for a given area resulted in higher yield and lower insurance claims. By how much? For example, in a very dry year those farms with higher than average soil OM hit 12 bu/ac of barley more than those with lower than average soil OM.

While there are plenty of mysteries surrounding soil microbes, we do know that 1 per cent organic matter can hold the equivalent of a 1″ rainfall event. For areas struggling to capture moisture in a growing season, an “extra” inch of rain could be a make-or-break scenario.

What about areas that don’t lack for rain? As this interview with Ohio State climatologist Aaron Wilson explains, higher organic matter also adds water holding capacity during large rain events — slowing percolation, decreasing erosion risk, and lessening leaching risk, too.

In short, regardless of whether rainfall totals are a concern, higher soil organic matter levels still offer a benefit — and that’s just on water holding capacity.

Regardless of where AFSC or other insurance organizations go with this data, just having access to it and being able to have someone explain it is a real asset. Measuring soil organic matter is an actionable item everyone can do beginning this spring, and taking steps to conserve or build it can factor in to all decisions going forward. That’s powerful knowledge, right there.

Listen on for more details regarding the AFSC analysis here: 

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