The long-term effects of farming practices on soil quality, as influenced by farmer attitude and farm characteristics
Boehm, Marie Margaret
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Several farming systems, in a region of the Dark Brown soil zone west of Saskatoon, were investigated to identify farming practices that are soil-conserving, or soil-degrading, by measuring their effects on soil quality. The study identified soil properties that are practical and measurable indicators of soil quality, and factors that influence farmers adoption of soil-conserving farming practices. On coarse-loamy to sandy-textured, glaciolacustrine soils, farming systems with long rotations and adequate fertilizer inputs or permanent cover, were associated with a higher quality of soils than tillage-intensive crop-fallow systems. Better soil quality was attributed to the larger addition of crop residues, enabling long-rotation soils to maintain a relatively large pool of mineralizable C, N, and P, and a large microbial biomass. The larger microbial biomass was an indicator of the improved quality of continuously cropped soils as a habitat for microorganisms, and their increased ability to cycle nutrients and C. Other indicators of improved soil quality were increased soil thickness, organic C content, infiltration rate, and aggregation, and decreased bulk density and salinity. Slightly lower A horizon pH was the only negative indicator of quality associated with the continuously cropped soils. The ability of farmers to adapt the longer-rotation systems was constrained by capital and labour limitations, management skills or lifestyle choices. Farmers with limited capital were less willing to invest in the inputs required to continuously crop, because they perceived an increase in the risk of crop failure in that system. Farmers with a large land base, or with off-farm employment, may not have the time or labour to seed and harvest all of their land every year. Among the study farms, the farmers who were best able to adopt continuous cropping systems were those involved in multifamily, mixed farms. There were less labour and capital limitation to continuous cropping on multifamily farms. On mixed farms, where income was derived from both livestock and grains, the risk of reduced grain yield was less serious. Appropriate use of low quality, erodible soils was often an important consideration of farmers who raised cattle.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeAnderson, Darwin W.
Copyright DateSeptember 1995