Soil Health Program & Benchmark Study

Healthy soil is the basis for both sustainable farms and healthy ecosystems. Yet the majority of Ontario’s farms are losing soil organic matter, are at risk of erosion, and have low or very low year-round soil cover.

EFAO’s Soil Health Program gives farmers the tools and strategies they need to implement  practices to improve the health of their soils through knowledge-sharing with other farmers. Even more, investing in soil health can really pay off for farmers over time – by making farms more resilient to climate change, improving yields and profitability, reducing soil inputs, improving nutrient density of crops, and increasing water retention and release.

Applications for 2019 season have closed.  If you are interested in participating, please be in touch with katie@efao.ca to find out more. Participants must be EFAO members.

 

Program Goals

  • Offer farmer-to-farmer training and mentorship rooted in environmental stewardship of soil health
  • Provide opportunities for farmers to visit and experience soil health in practice at various farms across Ontario
  • Continue to build language, conversation and enthusiasm around soil health on farms in Ontario
  • Assist farmers in the collection and analysis of soil data for their own use and to contribute to soil evaluation and monitoring in Ontario
  • Help farmers to achieve their own soil health goals and reap the additional benefits of healthy soil, including: cost savings from reliance on soil inputs, increased water holding capacity and infiltration, improved resilience in the face of climate change and extreme weather events, increased yields, and more nutrient-dense crops
  • Support farmers in their own work toward the environmental stewardship of their soil, and, in the long run, help  mitigate climate change and its effects

What You Can Expect

The Soil Health Program takes a whole farm approach to soil health training and mentorship. The program centres around the key principles of soil health 

Principles of Soil Health*:

  • Build soil organic matter
  • Keep soil covered
  • Diversify crops
  • Minimize soil disturbance
  • Keep live roots in the ground all year
  • Use organic inputs wherever possible

Who Can Participate**

The program is applicable to all farmers of all scales and types who have an interest in understanding and improving their farm’s soil health. Participants should be EFAO members.

Participating farmers receive:
  • Sampling scheme
  • Training for sampling: webinar, written protocol, support as needed for sampling
  • Sampling bags, submission form and mailer
  • Analysis of 3 samples using active carbon (from the Cornell Soil Health Lab) and organic matter (value $150), with option to pay for additional samples
  • Interpretation of results
  • Detailed Benchmark Report that shows how your soil health and management practices compare to peer farms and farms across Ontario
  • Connection to a learning community of farmers who are working to solve practical soil health challenges
Participating farmers contribute:
  • Method to geo-reference sampling location (GPS, app, etc)
  • Straight shovel, such as a sharp-shooter or drain-spade style
  • PVC rings and time to conduct infiltration samples
  • Time to soil sample and mail sample
  • Detailed management records for the sites sampled

How to Participate

Option 1 — Engage with soil health at your own pace by attending stand alone events. This option does not include participation in soil health benchmarking on your farm and does not require an application.

Option 2 — Register to work as part of the Soil Health Program by earning points (as noted below) and take part in soil health benchmarking for your farm.***

See upcoming events

Soil Health Program events are noted in event descriptions. Don’t see an event in your area or on a topic that interests you?  Email katie@efao.ca with an idea or recommendation. More events will be announced throughout the season, including field days in all regions of Ontario, a soil health webinar series for the fall and EFAO Conference workshops.

 

Stage 1 – Soil Health Student

10+ points required

  • Attend a workshop – 4 points
  • Attend a field day – 2 points
  • Participate in a webinar – 2 points
  • Use the advisory service for a soil-related consult with a Soil Health Leader**** – 2 points
  • Host a field day – 4 points
  • Speak in a webinar – 4 points
  • Write an event report for EFAO blog/newsletter – 5 points
  • Speak in a workshop – 5 points

 

Stage 2 – Soil Health Leader

16+ points required

  • Speak in a workshop – 5 points
  • Host a field day – 4 points
  • Speak in a webinar – 4 points
  • Offer services as a Soil Health Leader (at least 2 consults) – 6 points
  • Write an article for EFAO blog/newsletter – 8 points
  • Become a Demonstration Site – 10 points

 

Demonstration Sites

The program includes the establishment of research Demonstrations Sites that highlight farmer-led innovations, research projects and best practices for building soil health on your farm.  Research protocols will be available online for others in the province to replicate the research trials and results will be published online and presented at next year’s EFAO Conference. Each Demonstration Site will host a field day to showcase their farm’s soil health strategies in action.

 

*New Horizons: Ontario’s Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy, OMAFRA: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/landuse/soil-strategy.htm

Putting Soil Health First: A Climate-Smart Idea for Ontario, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario: https://media.assets.eco.on.ca/web/2016/11/Putting-Soil-Health-First.pdf

**Though the focus of the program and data collection is on the Lake Erie Basin, farmers throughout Ontario will be welcome to engage with the program.

***Webinars on the topic of taking soil samples for soil health benchmarking is mandatory for those conducting the benchmarking but does not count towards points.

****Requests for Soil Leader advisory consults must be received by October 31, 2019.