GFM Network News


Miles Dyck studied sulphur deficiency at the Breton Plots, a long-term crop rotation research site established in 1930.

Nutrient balance key to avoiding sulphur deficient soils

Production of more high-sulphur demand crops such as pulses and canola is creating a shortage in some fields

In order for any crop to use fertilizer efficiently, it needs to have all of its nutrient deficiencies met, says Miles Dyck, an associate professor of soil science in the department of renewable resources at the University of Alberta. The most common nutrient deficiencies in Western Canada are nitrogen and phosphorus, but because of the […] Read more

“Soil is life,” says producer Blain Hjertaas. “Our job as farmers is to be stewards of that, and improve it as we use it.”

The building block of soil

Soil scientists are putting more focus on the value of organic matter for feeding important microbes and boosting moisture-managing capacity

Without it, soil is just dirt. There’s a new recognition of the importance of soil organic matter, and not only for improving crop yields. It’s also a tool in the effort to mitigate climate change. Blain Hjertaas, a holistic management farmer and grazier at Redvers, Sask., participates in the Soil Carbon Challenge, an international “competition” […] Read more


Soil pH is often highly variable within fields, as demonstrated in this map of a single central Alberta field. The range is from red (pH of 4-4.5) to dark lime green (pH of 7.5-8). That is why grid sampling is an important step in lime application.

If you have low soil pH, should you lime?

It can take tonnes of lime per acre to move soil pH from 5 to 7, but improved fertilizer availability for all crops, better nodulation for pulse crops and alfalfa, and reduced risk from clubroot in canola can make the investment worthwhile

“Finally.” That word got special emphasis when Doug Penney was asked about liming. “It has become a hot topic… finally.” Penney, a long-serving Alberta Agriculture fertility specialist and now semi-retired crop consultant, says many fields in Western Canada — especially in Alberta — probably would have benefited from lime a long time ago. Fields most […] Read more

Tillage is the number one soil-degrading process, says one University of Manitoba professor.

Tillage erosion costing farmers billions

The pressure to get an early start on newer crops such as corn and soybeans encourages tillage practices which may not be sustainable

This past spring was one of the worst on record for so-called “snirt,” or dirty snow, in ditches across the Prairies — a sign that wind is moving loose topsoil to the margins of fields. While snirt is an indication that fields are susceptible to wind erosion, however, University of Manitoba soil science professor David […] Read more


Students work at seeding the lysimeters by hand at the Elora Research Station.

The crop rotation effect

At last, scientists hope to explain exactly why rotations are such a good practice

It’s one thing to know the benefits of a practice, it’s another to understand the “why,” especially when it comes to biological functions where the road to understanding can be anything but simple. In cropping terms, science has known about the benefits of longer rotations for years, but not about the exact reasons why. This […] Read more

An example of a cover crop seed mixture in the U.S., where some producers are using cocktails of 20 or more species. However the U of M’s Yvonne Lawley warns about brassicas such as tillage radish, which might contribute to diseases including clubroot in canola.

Season too short for cover crops? Maybe not

They could have a fit for Western Canada, but they require just as much planning as any other crop choice

Open just about any U.S. farming publication and you won’t read for long before seeing the words “cover crop.” There’s been an explosion of interest in the practice of sowing a cheap mixture of seed to cover the soil after harvest, and then seeding directly into it the following year. The benefits go beyond soil […] Read more


The Breton Classical Plots were established in 1930, just east of the town of Breton and 100 km southwest of Edmonton.

Some old ways aren’t better, but…

Long-term rotation study underlines that summerfallow harms soil health, but the old mixed farming model looks pretty good

You might think that a long-term crop test might mean five years. A decade would be remarkable. But what could plots tell you about soil health if they’ve been going on for 87 years? They would tell you that Prairie farmers were right to stop keeping fields in fallow as part of a rotation and […] Read more

The cover crop plot with the most complex blend of different species, including planting dates, method and rates.

PHOTOS: Farm Show demo digs deep on value of soil health

Roots, worm casts and different cover blends show amazing effects

Soil health has been a buzz phrase that’s gone from a whisper three to five years ago to a chorus that’s spreading across the agrifood industry. That goes to show the swinging of the pendulum away from plowing and aggressive tillage — and it seems to be gaining more advocates with each passing day. This […] Read more


More than 100,000 farmers and ranchers have attended Ray Archuleta’s soil-health talks, which start with two clumps of soil dropped into columns of water.

It’s not soil ‘quality’…

Terminology can make a difference, and using ‘health’ rather than ‘quality’ is helping bring together different interests to a common cause

For three weeks every month, Ray Archuleta captivates audiences with a few handfuls of soil. He begins with two clumps, dropping them into water. The soil from a farm where the soil isn’t tilled holds together, while the tilled soil immediately disperses, indicating poor soil structure. Next, volunteers from the audience — mostly farmers and […] Read more

A giant leap for soil kind

Soil-health advocates like Jocelyn Velestuk look forward to new technology to help make better decisions to improve both soil health and whole-farm profitability

Jocelyn Velestuk did a lot of spitting the first time she met her future father-in-law. It made a lasting impression. As she describes it, Velestuk and her then fiancé and his father were touring around the farm she would soon marry into. Being a soil scientist, Velestuk scooped up handfuls of topsoil here and there, […] Read more