A new research project started this spring at Glacier FarmMedia Discovery Farm (Langham) is expected to illustrate to western Canadian producers one management tool to deal with the issue of saline soil.
“The establishment of perennial forage crops is an effective practice producers can use to manage saline land,” said Blake Weiseth, Applied Research Lead at Discovery Farm. Once established, producers will benefit from above-ground biomass on otherwise largely unproductive land, which reduces evaporative losses from the soil surface. Over time, forage crops will help to draw down the water table in the soil, preventing the upward movement of salts in the profile.”
The challenge, Weiseth continued, is knowing which species or species mix to seed on a particular site. This is what will be investigated in the project, as well as the ability of forage crops to positively impact soil conditions. “We’ll be focusing on the economics but also considering if forage cropping saline soil is a strategy that could be used to reclaim the land over time.”
To illustrate the scope of the issue, Weiseth said salinity affects upwards of 2.5 million acres across the western provinces with another 19 million acres at a moderate to high risk of salinization. In general, forage crops have a greater salt tolerance than annual field crops, “and establishing a salt-tolerant crop in an area of salt accumulation is a critical component to any
successful management strategy.”
The first step in the study was selecting a two-acre plot of saline land at Discovery Farm (Langham), he said.
“We then did three different treatments of crop types to compare how well they established under the saline conditions.”
The treatments being evaluated are: AC Saltlander, a perennial green wheatgrass; a proprietary blend of several species with varying degrees of salt tolerance; and Halo alfalfa. Weiseth said Nutrien Ag Solutions and Proven Seed are partnering on the project, providing inputs and agronomic oversight.
Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is also partnering on the project because of its interest in expanding nesting habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife. Jeremy Brown, a DUC agrologist in Saskatchewan, said enhancing the sustainability of grasslands is beneficial for the agriculture industry, the landscape and a wide variety of birds and animals. DUC also notes analysis that
suggests whole farm profits can increase when hard-to-farm areas are converted to perennial forage.
Weiseth said evaluating several treatments with different salt tolerances “will increase the number of options available to producers because degrees of salinity vary from field to field and from farm to farm.” It will also help producers evaluate which species may work best for their situation.
Over the course of the multi-year project, a number of variables will be measured. These include forage biomass yield and how the treatment impacts soil properties such as electrical conductivity, water infiltration, surface organic matter and nutrient levels.
“When it comes to salinity, we know there is no silver-bullet solution but our results could go some way to improving the economics of a lot of land in Western Canada.”
To learn more about this project, tune into the Discovery Farm Salinity Project Panel on Friday, July 24, 2020 at 3:00PM on Ag in Motion Discovery Plus. Register for Ag in Motion Discovery here.