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Tuesday, 18 July 2017 07:00

CARA’s new Soil Health Lab is giving producers a better understanding on how to make their lands healthy

Written by  Demi Knight
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Crop management specialist Yamily Zavala inspecting crop properties under the microscope. Crop management specialist Yamily Zavala inspecting crop properties under the microscope. Photo courtesy Chinook Applied Research Association

Chinook Applied Research Association, or the company better known as CARA, is expanding its reach with the new CARA’s Soil Health Lab this year.


This new soil health lab will help producers access biological and physical soil assessments so they can gain a better understanding of their own crops’ health and work on improving their lands based on their needs.
Dianne Westerlund, manager and forage agromonist at Chinook Applied Research Association, says this new lab’s existence was large in part due to Yamily Zavala, to help advocate for  healthy soil’s importance.
“It comes with encouragement and interest by soil and crop management specialist Yamily Zavala. She has been the catalyst behind the whole initiative, with a passion and knowledgeable processes about soil health,” says Westerlund. “We want the lab so that producers can share a good understanding of how to monitor that and how important it is to have healthy soil.”
CARA is a society dedicated to expanding agriculture research throughout southern Alberta by conducting studies, demonstrations and extension projects to better connect producers to new knowledge found within their research.
Each year CARA works with partners and organizations across the province for the continuance of the program, with funding being received from Alberta Agriculture, the Special Areas Board and the M.D. of Acadia.
The organization, which was founded in 1979, has been working alongside the agriculture business for 30 years to provide advanced research on cereal, oilseed and pulse crops as well as information of pasture and grazing management and heightened methods for conserving soils within the  environments.
With the hopes to build on its already existing knowledge of soil within Alberta’s land, CARA officials made efforts to create the Soil Lab so they can share their wisdom with producers and promote better lands throughout the province by observing the many factors that contribute to a healthy soil.
Westerlund says there are many aspects to consider when discussing ‘healthy soils’ and some are less explored than others.
“There are chemical, physical and biological factors involved in crop health and there’s already existing labs that work more with chemical and we’re not trying to overstep that.”
However, Westerlund added this new lab will focus on the biological factors that could be contributing to unhealthy lands for producers across the province.
“But there hasn’t been much opportunity for producers to look at biological aspects of soil. With this Lab, we hope to give our analysis and expertise to help producers monitor different management practices. It will help people better understand and monitor where their soils are at.”
Although the Soil Health lab has yet to be officially opened, Westerlund says they are currently in the process of bringing in the materials and getting the lab ready. One aspect in particular officials with the lab want to have in place is the development of a database of benchmarks for Alberta residents to follow that will better fit the description of the unique soil this territory holds.
“We’re developing a database of benchmarks and standards for soils in Alberta. It’s a new process and some producers have analyzed their soil in the U.S. previous to us, but here in Alberta we are a unique area, so our first step will be establishing these bench marks to best assist landowners in the province.”
Besides the excitement of the new Lab which has hopes of opening this year on Sept. 1, CARA will also be hosting a Crop and Soil Health Day, later this summer on Aug. 3.
Here participants will get a taste of the new lab as well as demonstrations and techniques on how to better monitor the health characteristics of their soils.
The event, which will be held at the CARA centre in Oyen, will also give people the opportunity to see different crops that have been used widely to improve soil and learn what these crops are, how they adapt and their benefits to the lands health.
“During the Crop and Soil health day we will also be visiting crop trial sites and during the day people can take time to discuss and ask questions about cropping systems,” says Westerlund of the other aspects the day has to offer.
The new Soil Health lab will be opening within the CARA centre as soon as the equipment has been properly installed and practices are ready to assist the public in their land owning and soil needs.

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