One tablespoon of soil has more microorganisms than there are people on earth
In Atlantic Canada, as in many parts of the world, the rural economy is closely tied to the sustained productivity of the land. How soil functions and how soil management can sustain this function is the idea behind the Centre for Sustainable Soil Management (CSSM) on the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Truro NS.
The Dalhousie Centre – a first for the Faculty of Agriculture - received final approval from Senate and the Board of Governors this past November. Led by founding director Dr. David Burton, the Centre builds on the extensive experience of a team of faculty members experienced in research and teaching on soils in agricultural, forestry and urban environments.
“The Faculty of Agriculture has the expertise, the applied research and the connection to industry that will be essential to lead our industry forward and to sustain our rural economy for future generations,” said Dean Dr. David Gray.
The Centre for Sustainable Soil Management occupies a series of labs on the top floor of Cox West Wing and will coordinate academic and scholarly activities related to the study of soil status and function in managed landscapes.
The Centre and its team will also examine linkages to socio-economic policy drivers, engage researchers from federal research centres, scientists and policy makers within provincial governments, and multiple academic and industry partners.
“One quarter of global biodiversity is found in soil,” said Dr. Derek Lynch, professor, former Canada Research Chair in Organic Agriculture and Centre co-founder. “Understanding and maintaining the functioning of soil life is key to sustaining the diverse ecosystem services, essential to life on earth, that soils provide.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural organization recently completed a study that determined if the current state of global soil degradation continues, there are only 60 harvests left.
This is a startling fact and as such, the sustainable management of soil is critical to maintaining productivity and ending hunger, achieving food security, and improving nutrition. This is particularly important in Atlantic Canada as soil degradation threatens the productivity of agricultural soils and the food security of the province.
Building up soil organic matter remains important to the sustainability of farming.
“The carbon that soil pulls from the atmosphere might only help us to reduce CO2 for a few decades, but that carbon, once put in soil, would help enhance the function of soils forevermore,” explained Professor Burton. "The real benefit of putting that soil organic matter there is to build more sustainable, more resilient soils that will support food production and provide environmental goods and services indefinitely."
Sustainable soil management is also the primary means by which nutrients, harmful chemicals, and pathogens are removed from water. Improperly managed, agricultural soils can have negative impacts on surface water and groundwater. Members of the Centre are active in finding and delivering solutions.
Soil management is also entering the era of “Big Data” and members of the Faculty of Agriculture are leaders in the innovation of the use of advanced sensing technologies, machine learning, and precision soil management. The CSSM is in the process of preparing a Canada Foundation for Innovation Fund application to support the activity of the Centre and a proposed Digital Agriculture Group.
Along with being a hub for the study of science and soil management in agriculture, forestry, and urban land uses, the CSSM will also have an educational component. Graduate studies in soil science, a Certificate in Sustainable Management and support for short courses for professional agrologists and certified crop advisors will be essential.
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