The Agronomists, Ep 104: Soil water infiltration, manure application, and compaction, with Jake Munroe and Dr. Jeff Schoenau

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There are two key messages from this episode of The Agronomists: avoiding compaction and minimizing topsoil movement is well worth the planning and effort, because the alternative results in significant yield loss and is expensive to fix.

To dig in (!) to the topic, host Lyndsey Smith is joined by guests Dr. Jeff Schoenau, from the University of Saskatchewan, and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs soil specialist, Jake Munroe.

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Summary:

  • Eroded knolls need love
  • What is a soil health assessment and plan?
  • How valuable is topsoil? More than manure, more than fertilizer
  • Erosion, wind, water and tillage erosion have been occurring for years. Today’s problem is to address this
  • Cost of eroded knoll, depending of soil type and growing season weather but eroded knoll’s have significant yield drops
  • Schoenau shares data on amendments to restore productivity of eroded knolls in South Central Sask.
  • Bringing topsoil from sloughs and valleys to eroded knoll to determine effects — shows stopping erosion is so valuable
  • Looking at water infiltration rate
  • They found that one manure application had little effect on building up soil structure while adding topsoil showed a large improvement in soil health
  • Topsoil showed a 40 per cent increase in most crops, outside of legumes as they fix their own N
  • Munroe discusses the dry condition effects seen in Ontario and how good crop management practices showed when it came to yield
  • Difference between liquid dairy cattle manure and solid cattle manure on soil nutrient enhancement
  • Clip 1: Marla Riekman and compaction risk
  • Soil compaction is at highest risk when soil is moist
  • There needs to be consideration for where and how often you travel across the field and make sure you control the things we can, such as tire pressure and using tracks if accessible and reducing equipment weight
  • As equipment gets heavier compaction grows deeper into soil
  • Low organic matter and increased moisture effect compaction
  • Schoenau discusses techniques to reduce compaction and address areas where compaction has taken its toll such as an approach or haul road
  • Munroe discusses the soil health assessment tool
  • Visual evaluation of soil structure (VESS) has been around for a few years to determine a scale for soil to be scored on
  • Past tillage shows up years later in visual assessment of soil
  • Platy structure; a result of compaction over the years, results in restricted root growth
  • Ways to improve soil structure through forages and earthworms
  • Why do we love earthworms: deep burrowing worms restore porosity of soil, building channels for water and roots. Surface earthworms rake through topsoil to increase porosity as well.
  • organisms and microbiomes are a key part of soil health in both a mechanical and nutritional sense
  • Munroe shows a cool prop to show the role organisms play in nutrient recycling
  • High moisture areas receive further benefit from forage root systems and residue cover to reduce erosion
  • Alleviating compaction over time: strategic tillage to open soil up and getting a root system in it,
  • Schoenau shares his work with precision tillage — with subsoiling to loosen soil there was significant benefit to subsoiling the traffic compacted area.
  • Schoenau adds that freeze-thaw cycles through prairie winters, naturally breakup soil structure
  • Soil amendments, manure, composted manure, bio-chars, byproducts such as thin stillage, and more!
  • Just like so many things, soil amendments work as well as they are managed and applied
  • Solid manure injection unit research, still not as good as liquid manure for nutrient incorporation but did allow them to look at the effect of accuracy or application with manure
  • Infiltration and runoff of manure
  • Runoff seen in Western Canada is majority snowmelt runoff, this can be addressed by adjusting the time of year manure is applied
  • Precision application of manure based on topography also helped reduce nutrient disparity across land
  • More and more awareness of land value and crop price to maximize productivity by increasing productivity in poor yielding areas through soil amendments
  • Winter cover crops to reduce topsoil erosion and nutrient loss

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