Submitted by Elizabeth Thorn, BPBA
To understand “best management practices” that would be most useful for controlling sediment and phosphorus flows, we need to understand what triggers them and whether the source of major contribution is from the tile drains or overland flows. Using funds from the Environment Canada Eco Action Winter Demonstration project, the Biosphere Association under the leadership of John Rodgers and Neils Munk, installed a weather station that will provide weather information for the central Peninsula area. This is useful as Environment Canada weather from Wiarton or Tobermory can be significantly different than the central Peninsula. The weather station will provide Peninsula residents locally-based weather information including sunlight hours, dew point, air and soil temperatures, rainfall, wind direction, speed and maximum gusts and relative humidity. The weather station will also measure soil moisture levels at multiple locations and crop canopy moisture that is important to soybean producers. This will help farmers to quickly detect moisture issues that could lead to crop-damaging mold.
The station will be ultimately connected to a larger mesh network of sensors in the soil which will measure soil moisture and temperature and be linked to the other systems that measure tile drainage and outflow. It is important to note that the Biosphere has installed “drainage outlet controls” on the two tile drains outlets in this demonstration project. This allows the farmer to open and close the drains depending upon soil moisture levels and field conditions.
This instrumentation is key to understanding how highly variable storm events are affecting water flows over land and through tile drains. Overland flows lead to “sheet erosion” and erosion of stream channel banks and move substantial amounts of phosphorus-laden soil into the streams.
The project fields are being managed with a variety of cropping combinations and tillage techniques such as cover crops, spray variations and no-till and reduced tillage methods. The monitoring we will do includes satellite and drone images and together with the weather station data will allow us to explore the impact and demonstrate aspects of best environmental farming practices on yield, input costs and environmental effects such as nutrient losses to surface water.
TSC Stores Grant Application
Les Nichols, the head of the Ontario Soil and Crop Association, attended our AGM. Impressed with our project work, he suggested the Biosphere Association submit a grant to TSC Country Stores. We have applied for a grant of $40,000 over 3 years that seemed to fit with what they had awarded to other groups in the past. The purpose of the grant is to build a practical field application of the published bioremediation project we undertook with Professor Bulent Mutus. We will use tomato root based filter or other media on a tile drain to see how much phosphorus and nitrates (i.e. nutrients) can be practically recovered. This will be on the same site as the weather station and thus constitute one big demonstration site.