Research Project

Balancing short and long term productivity, stability, and risk in semi-arid cropping systems by investing in soil health

AWC contribution: $192,257

Start Date: April 1, 2021

End Date: March 31, 2024

Dr. Charles Geddes, AAFC Lethbridge


In the coming decades, accelerating environmental and economic challenges will require Canadian cropping systems to be more productive and resilient than ever. Farms must be able to produce more food on less land, and quickly recover from perturbations such as severe weather events and pest outbreaks resulting from a changing climate. This unique challenge will require transformative efforts and changes to current cropping systems; with an approach based on productivity, stability, agroecosystem resilience, efficiency, and reduced environmental degradation. Many farmers look to the popular yet ambiguous area of "soil health" to help buffer perturbations to their farming operations and provide long-term productivity. However, there is little information on how farmers can use their management decisions to invest in soil health while achieving a balance of productivity, stability, profitability, and risk. We aim to integrate long-term data on management, soils, crops, and whether to provide a holistic view of how changes in management impact soils over time, and how these changes in "soil health" could buffer the cropping system and alleviate the impact of future perturbations. Our research questions include:

  1. Do farming practices deemed to "invest in soil health" pay off over short- and long-term timescales in the semi-arid Canadian prairies?
  2. If so, how can farmers invest in soil health while maintaining profitability and stability under a changing climate?