A large project co-led by researchers at the University of Alberta will provide the most comprehensive mapping ever of the amount of carbon stored in Saskatchewan’s perennial grasslands.
The data resulting from the $3.2 million initiative will help livestock producers there — and eventually across the Canadian prairies — manage their land to keep as many harmful greenhouse gases in the soil as possible. .
“We know that grasslands hold large amounts of carbon, and this project will help us quantify some of the contributions of the cattle industry in terms of maintaining their land as pasture, which helps keep carbon in the ground and not in the atmosphere,” says Cameron Carlyle, a range ecologist from the University of Alberta, one of the project’s principal investigators.
Soil carbon also helps retain water, which makes grassland forage more productive and nutritious for livestock, as well as more drought-resistant, he says.
Project results could also help producers benefit from carbon offset protocols, like the one currently being piloted in Canada, if at some point such a program is implemented, notes Carlyle, assistant professor in the Faculty of agricultural, life and environmental sciences.
“Our research could help establish benchmarks for carbon storage and identify specific management practices that would allow a grower to put more carbon into the soil.”
The work, conducted with the University of Saskatchewan, encompasses eight million hectares of land in the southern half of the province and considers several factors that will ultimately help growers make long-term decisions , said Carlyle.
“We want to be able to identify, for example, if there is a risk to overall production, through a trade-off in carbon management.”
Researchers will analyze soil samples from various types of native and seeded perennial grasses and haylands, as well as the nutritive value of the vegetation. Farmers will also be asked about their current land management practices, such as grazing intensity and fertilization.
The results will be used to create accurate “fence-to-fence” maps of soil carbon on a grower’s land that will help quantify it across the region and allow estimation of soil carbon held under different scenarios. Management.
A database of information on many different soil samples will also be developed to help researchers estimate carbon values at lower cost and with less labor than current practices.
The research will eventually be applicable across the prairies to help producers in Alberta and Manitoba increase soil carbon in their pastures, Carlyle adds.
“These ecosystem and land management practices know no boundaries.”
The research, which Carlye co-leads with University of Saskatchewan soil scientist Angela Bedard-Haughn, is supported by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the Government of Saskatchewan, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association.