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Improving Soil Health—Naturally

Our ability to feed people in Canada and around the world is directly related to the quality of the soil we use to grow our food. Soil is also vital to the health of our environment. Modern agricultural practices, however, create terrible stress on our soil, affecting the complex mixture of organisms that give our soil many of its beneficial characteristics.

Canada Research Chair Dr. Mario Tenuta, a recognized expert in soil science, evaluates management practices aimed at improving soil health. A major focus of his research is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from manured soils, which are an important source of nitrous oxide and often methane. Tenuta uses advanced micrometeorological techniques to monitor methane levels at test sites in Manitoba, and he is experimenting with different types of manure and manure storage systems.

In addition, Tenuta uses biological indicators to evaluate conventional and organic management approaches, studying factors like crop rotation, no-tillage practices, and manure use at long-term sites in Manitoba and Canada.

Tenuta is concerned with the development of reliable bio-indicators. Bioindicators are typically species or assemblages that can indicate whether there’s been a disruption in ecosystem processes. For example, indicators of poor soil health include reduced species diversity and changes in the make-up of organism communities.

In his current research, Tenuta is examining the use of nematodes as bio-indicators, along with bacterial and fungal levels in soil. His exciting work with bio-indicators is contributing to a promising shift in how we produce our food. Instead of relying on high inputs of agrochemicals that can disrupt the soil’s healthy balance, we are seeing a greater reliance on the natural actions of beneficial soil organisms.