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Fitting That International Year of Pulses Follows International Year of Soils as Pulses in Rotation Benefit Soil Health (PCN Fall 2015) OCT 1 2015 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Pulse Crop News.

It is fitting that the United Nations declared International Year of Pulses 2016 to immediately follow International Year of Soils 2015 because the two share a mutually-beneficial relationship.

“I think it is a natural progression from International Year of Soils to International Year of Pulses because when you look at the crops that are good for the soil, pulses run to the top of the list,” said soil scientist Tom Goddard, Senior Policy Advisor with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “Pulses are important from a soil health point of view and from a producer’s point of view for nitrogen contribution.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations declared International Year of Soils (IYS) 2015, within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with Governments and the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The IYS 2015 aims to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.

“We must manage soils sustainably,” stated José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the FAO on its website. “There are many ways to do this. Crop diversification, which is used by most of the world’s family farmers, is one of them: this gives time for important nutrients to regenerate.”

Goddard said that he has witnessed the difference in the soil health of neighbouring Alberta fields where one field was planted to peas the previous year and the other across the fence was not.

“Farmers who use pulses in rotation often comment on how soil structure has changed,” he elaborated. “It’s good to have that diversity of root morphology and chemical makeup below ground because roots can break down at different speeds and penetrate in different areas of the soil, thus improving soil structure, which is good for allowing microbes or critters in the soil to move around to increase infiltration capacity of the soil and reduce erosion run-off.”

The soil scientist said that erosion from wind, water and tillage is an issue for agricultural land around the world, especially as an exploding world population demands more food and pushes agricultural operations to more marginal land as urban centres grow. Meanwhile, a changing climate, soil mismanagement and overgrazing are contributing to the increased size of some of the world’s desert areas.

“Pulses in rotation is a great way to improve more marginal lands because most of our cities even in Alberta were built on prime land, and as cities push out now, they are acquiring prime agricultural land,” Goddard said, adding that Alberta’s widely adopted no-till practices also help.

“I think farmers need to look at pulses as a first choice crop when designing their rotation,” he continued. “As price volatility of agricultural commodities is forecasted to continue, farmers need to be aware of how to mitigate the risks of pricing margins and the nitrogen benefits of pulses will speak for themselves.”

Goddard noted that pulses improve soil quality, and better soil is more resistant to drought and other extreme weather conditions.

“There’s no miracle cure or silver bullet that has come out during International Year of Soils,” he said, “but a general appreciation and understanding of soil as a resource. We’re not making any more soil and we can only move into new areas for agriculture to a certain extent.”

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry recently added satellite photos of Alberta taken in 2013 to its Alberta online soil viewer so that producers can compare photographs of their soil condition in 2000 to those taken 13 years later. The viewer is available through the Alberta Soil Information Centre website.