By Stefanie Croley
While most producers are wrapping up planting this spring, the Top Crop Manager team has soil on the mind. We’ve spent much of the very long winter and even shorter spring season planning our 2019 Soil Management and Sustainability Summit (to be held Feb. 26, 2019 in Saskatoon, and March 11, 2019 in Ottawa – check out www.topcropsummit.com for more details).
When we plan our annual research summits, we spend a lot of time working on the marketing and promotion of the event – not only because we want to convey what attendees and participants can expect from the event, but also because the words we choose play an important role in the content we provide. In agriculture, buzzwords like management and sustainability are thrown out in regular conversation, and it is no coincidence those two words are part of the name of the 2019 Summit. Healthy soil is a key component to a successful crop, and with research, products, education and resources readily accessible, it can be something Canadian producers may take for granted.
Canadian farmers play an important role in contributing to the global food chain, but most are fortunate enough to be able to rely on other sources besides their own crop to put food on the table. But for families who do look to their own crops to feed their families, a poor crop year can have devastating consequences. I was reminded of this recently when I came across an article about a project happening in Ethiopia, where conservation agriculture practices have become life changing. The Scaling-up Conservation Agriculture in East Africa program of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank is halfway through a five-year term that aims to have 50,000 farmers practicing conservation agriculture after five years. Through the program, which comprises 11 projects across Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, families who struggle to grow enough to support themselves are being trained in conservation agriculture methods to increase the fertility of their soil and improve their yields. In one example, farmers in Ethiopia practicing conservation agriculture yielded an average of 925 kilograms of faba beans per hectare. Those using conventional methods saw an average yield of 750 kilograms – a nearly 25 per cent
difference. Another farmer reported yielding more than 200 kilograms of maize in an area where he once had next to no yield because of drought.
Of course, there are critics and skeptics to the suggested conservation ag techniques, but the success stories are quickly spreading from one farm to the next. By the end of last year, more than 21,000 farmers had adopted the practices, and the program is on track to hit its target.
It’s easy to take for granted the luxuries, no matter how big or small, we have access to in Canada – I’ll be the first to admit this from where I sit in my climate-controlled office with an abundance of resources at my fingertips. Reading about how these farmers developed new appreciation for their soil gave me a refreshing and inspiring perspective, and as we continue to prepare for the 2019 Soil Management and Sustainability Summit, and all future projects, I’ll be thinking of those who are working hard to make the best use of what they have – in Canada and beyond.