Breathing life into New Brunswick soil

Potatoes in Canada
April 16, 2018
By Potatoes in Canada
Louis-Pierre Comeau, landscape and soil carbon scientist at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre examines a soil sample in his lab.
Louis-Pierre Comeau, landscape and soil carbon scientist at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre examines a soil sample in his lab. AAFC

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientist Louis-Pierre Comeau is sifting his way through New Brunswick soil in search of answers to one of the biggest issues facing local farmers: the loss of soil organic matter and the decrease of soil health in farm fields.

He wants to help farmers reduce soil degradation.

New Brunswick soils are typically rocky, shallow, prone to erosion, and have low and diminishing levels of organic matter, which is important for holding the soil together and providing essential plant nutrients. In comparison to other farmland worldwide, New Brunswick has some of the most challenging soil for farming.

Potato farming requires deep tillage that breaks soil structure and accelerates organic matter decomposition.

Carbon is the main component of soil organic matter; and therefore, soil degradation is not only hurting potato yield, but it also contributes to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Since joining AAFC’s Fredericton Research and Development Centre earlier this year, Comeau has been taking soil samples and gas measurements from different fields in New Brunswick to calculate the carbon balance in different fields.

Armed with an infrared gas spectrometer he can tell the amount of CO2 emissions from farmland soils.

Using modern lab techniques and equipment, Comeau can measure plant and root production to determine the annual balance of carbon going in and leaving the soil.

Solutions to soil degradation may come from new beneficial management practices such as tillage practices and diversified crop rotations. Comeau believes we should include more nitrogen fixing plants in the crop rotations and promote pulse as cash crops in the region.

Farmers are well aware of the soil degradation issue and are willing to take steps to correct it, but they need more support to try new and innovative practices.

With the implementation of agricultural beneficial management practices, more carbon from crop residues can be put back into the soil, which improves soil health and fertility. In addition, this contributes to soil carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change.

He will be working regionally in the Maritimes with research colleagues on the same topic.

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