Developing a soil health assessment protocol for Saskatchewan producers

Posted on 27.07.2018 | Last Modified 27.05.2021
Lead Researcher (PI): Kate Congreves
Institution: University of Saskatchewan
Total WGRF Funding: $567,300
Co-Funders: Agriculture Development Fund, Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission
Start Date: 2017
Project Length: 3 Years

New knowledge regarding soil health status of cropped soils in Saskatchewan. Producer-oriented manual describing Saskatchewan Soil Health Assessment Protocol.

Project Summary:

Farmers are looking for appropriate tools and methods for assessing and interpreting the health status of their soils; however, for Saskatchewan there is no standardized and prairie-based soil health test available. As such, we focused on developing a soil health testing protocol for arable cropping systems in Saskatchewan by building off of the Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (CASH) framework developed in the USA. In Sept and Oct 2018, soil samples (0-15, 15-30, and 30-60 cm depths) were collected from 55 arable fields across Saskatchewan—along with a couple native prairie samples. Various soil chemical, physical, and biological attributes were measured (23 attributes in total). Based on the data distribution for each attribute, we developed scoring functions. The results from multivariate analyses were used to determine the weighting factors needed to integrate the individual scores from each soil attribute into a single Saskatchewan Soil Health Score (SSHS). Soil C and N indices (soil organic C, active C, total N, and soil protein) produced the highest weighting factors. We also tested if there were linkages between the soil health scores and crop productivity by assessing the cereal yields for the past 10 years as reported from the same rural municipalities where the soil samples were collected. A positive relationship between soil health and yields was most apparent during dry years; thus, we recommend further research to explore this linkage at a finer scale. Overall, this research forms the foundation of a promising tool for Saskatchewan producers who are interested in tracking soil health and using the results to inform management practices.