Amanda Loesch HBESc Thesis

Thesis Title: 
An Evaluation of Soil Quality in Agricultural Soils of Northwestern Ontario: Thunder Bay, Rainy River, and Kenora Districts

The Northwestern Ontario Healthy Soils Project (NOHSP) was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) in 2014 and 2015 to increase the uptake of soil testing by farmers in Northwestern Ontario. In the Fall of 2014 and Spring/Summer of 2015 farmers’ fields were sampled on a volunteer basis to assess physical and chemical soil quality parameters to assist farmers in managing their soils. These attributes included loss on ignition (LOI), pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC), texture, and available phosphorous, magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron concentrations. This thesis compiles the data of the NOHSP to identify trends in soil health attributes among the Dryden, Thunder Bay and Rainy River regions. 

The Dryden soils were identified by the farmers as a major concern due to low regional crop yields and lack of fertilizer response. The soils sampled were slightly acidic with an average pH of 5.68, however both the available phosphorous concentration and the CEC were ideal for crop growth. The organic matter content is low for this region, particularly in relation to the clay content of the soil. The potassium concentrations were in excess of OMAFRA recommendations in the region. There was no relationship between CEC and the clay content (R2=0.06), despite the expectation. 

Thunder Bay region reportedly experienced fewer problems with crop yield. The regional average pH value is 5.97; just above an ideal value for crop growth. The average available phosphorous concentration, 27.48 mg/kg, for Thunder Bay was more than ideal for crop growth. The Thunder Bay soil organic matter content is also above the requirement for the average soil type at 7.03 % organic matter. 

Rainy River analyses indicated that the sampled agricultural soils were overall healthy. The pH value is within the ideal range at 6.53, and the organic matter content averages 6.11%. The Rainy River area does show a significant relationship between CEC and clay content. 

Based on the synthesis of the data, I propose that farmers in Dryden increase the organic matter content of their soils. This will prevent the current heavy clay soil from binding together further trapping nutrients and moisture, and making them unavailable to plants.