This summer, many dairy farmers have been spending a lot of time in their fields. Between cutting hay, planting corn, and spreading manure, our BC dairy farmers maintain busy schedules with fieldwork. This is in addition to the other duties required on a farm such as milking cows, fixing equipment, and being a part of the family.
Did you know that Canadian dairy farmers are continuing to assess their environmental impacts, particularly when it comes to the health of their soil and the environment. Let’s explore what farmers are doing to improve soil health!
Once a crop has been taken off, the soil can be tilled. Tilling is the process of loosening topsoil, usually with a tractor and cultivator (i.e., large frame with sharp teeth that digs into the soil), to bury the remaining crops back into the soil. This practice is used to allow for effective nutrient absorption and increase root development for future crops.
However, while tilling may allow for increased root development, increased tilling may lead to destabilization and erosion of the soil and increase the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.
How are BC farmers promoting the health of the soil?
Practices such as no-till or minimal-till, are becoming more common and help limit erosion from wind and water on fields. Also referred to as ‘conservation tilling’, this is the practice of leaving organic matter on fields which can improve the moisture of the soil.
Another practice is the use of crop rotation. This is when different crops are grown in a section of land each year. For example, one year a farmer may plant corn, and the next year they may plant a timothy hay. This practice helps prevent soil erosion and water run-off due to root systems of each plant.
One of the benefits of crop rotation is it can be continued into the fall, through the use of cover crops such as fall rye, winter wheat, or alfalfa. These crops are typically hardier and are used to protect the soil from water erosion and run-off. Winter crops can allow the soil to be more efficient with water by recycling nutrients.
Over the years, Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) has been working with farmers to improve sustainability on Canadian dairy farms. Developments have included DairyFarms+ and the continuing development of proAction. Through these programs and initiatives, farmers have been able to learn how to improve sustainability by implementing soil health practices.
In a press release, it was announced that Dairy Farmers of Canada received recognition from Unilever for sustainable agriculture practices. The recognition highlights the hard work dairy farmers across Canada continue to do on-farm.