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Senate Soil Study Highlights the Importance of Healthy Soil

By Jean-Paul MacDonald

The health of our soil plays a critical role in our lives, from the food we eat to the environment we live in. The Canadian Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry has recognized this and has taken a keen interest in understanding the current state of soil health in Canada and how to enhance it.

Through their extensive research and interaction, senators listened to over 60 witnesses. These included farmers, scientists, businesspeople, indigenous producers, environmentalists, and officials. Each brought unique insights into the soil's health and strategies for its betterment.

Not just restricting themselves to Ottawa, the senators expanded their research in the field. They visited Guelph, Ontario in 2023, where they observed firsthand practices like no-till farming, soil mapping, diversified crops, pest control, and methods to capture carbon. Such hands-on experiences allowed them to understand how the soil is protected and nourished.

To get a global perspective, they joined the Global Soil Partnership Plenary Assembly in Rome. Hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, this event showcased how countries worldwide are safeguarding their soil. The senators were keen to identify practices that might be beneficial in the Canadian context.

From these efforts, several vital themes emerged, farmers will be familiar with many of these themes:

· Soil: The Food Source: Soil isn’t just dirt; it’s a living entity providing nutrients, water, and support to plants. Improved soil health means more food production even on limited land, a boon for urban areas and the ever-increasing global demand.

· Cultivating Soil through Farming: Practices like no-till farming retain essential micro-organisms. Using cover crops reduces soil erosion, and innovative technologies have further enabled farmers to maintain soil health.

· Soil and Climate Change Connection: Factors like erratic weather patterns and increasing temperatures impact soil health. However, on the flip side, healthy soil can capture a significant amount of carbon, aiding in the fight against climate change.

· Indigenous Insight into Soil Health: Indigenous communities in Canada have unique and time-tested agricultural practices. They perceive food systems in a holistic manner, focusing on regeneration.

· Protecting Precious Soil: Soil takes centuries to form but can be ruined in mere moments. Threats include urbanization, pollution, and climate changes. Protecting it is crucial for food, water quality, ecosystems, and livelihoods.

· An Overdue Study: For effective action, understanding the current state of the soil is essential. This knowledge aids in informed decision-making for both producers and policymakers.

As the summer progresses, senators will further their study in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Their commitment promises more insights into the state of Canadian soil.

The Senate Committee believes that the soil, often taken for granted, is now receiving the attention it deserves. Its health is pivotal not just for farmers but for every Canadian.

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