BY CARMEN PONCIANO
When we drive through the countryside and pass the many long stretches of farmland, we often don’t think about the amount of work and maintenance farms require and the challenges that farmers face every year. Those who make a living through agriculture deal with many different problems, but one in particular has become a key challenge in Ontario – soil erosion.
Soil erosion refers to the wearing away of the fields’ topsoil through water, also known as water runoff, wind and, in some cases, tillage. For the most part soil erosion is a slow process that can go unnoticed, but, throughout the years, it can become a significant problem for farmers. However, it is also possible that it happens very suddenly which causes serious loss of topsoil. This makes the land unsustainable for long-term production.
“Erosion doesn’t just happen during the spring runoff,” said Anne Loeffler, Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) conservation specialist. “We’ve also had some significant soil losses after heavy rainfall events in late spring and early summer. Producers can’t lose topsoil to downstream reservoirs and lakes.”
To help address the problem, the GRCA held several workshops earlier this month where they educated farmers on soil erosion and how to reduce the problem on their own lands. One topic in particular was the importance of using cover crops which are planted between harvests.
“Cover crops are one of the best management practices recommended to farmers to address soil erosion,” Loeffler said. “Cover crops can have many beneficial effects on soil health because they not only reduce erosion, they add organic matter to the soil, reduce nutrient losses to watercourses and groundwater, and improve soil fertility.”
GRCA has also identified watersheds such as Canagagigue Creek, the Upper Ninth, Upper Conestoga and Fairchild’s Creek as having significant soil erosion issues.
Leofflen said soil erosion causes excess nutrients and sediment to enter watercourses that, in turn, cause water quality problems for aquatic life in the surrounding areas and for downstream water users. Loeffler said climate change has a lot to do with the problem.
“One of the factors that affects the rate of soil erosion is the timing and intensity of rainfall events. Heavy rainfall events have caused significant localized soil erosion losses in our watershed during the past few years,” she said.