Huffman, T., Coote, D. R. and Green, M. 2012. Twenty-five years of changes in soil cover on Canadian Chernozemic (Mollisol) soils, and the impact on the risk of soil degradation. Can. J. Soil Sci. 92: 471-479. Agricultural soils that are covered by vegetation or crop residue are less susceptible to degradation by wind and water erosion, organic matter depletion, structural degradation and declining fertility. In general, perennial crops, higher yields, reduced tillage and continuous cropping provide more soil cover than annual crops, lower yields, intensive tillage, residue harvesting and fallowing. This study presents a model for estimating the number of days in a year that the soil surface is protected and demonstrates its application on the Canadian prairies over the period from 1981 to 2006. Over the 25-yr study period, the average soil cover on Canadian prairie soils increased by 4.8% overall. The improvement came primarily as a result of widespread adoption of no-till and a decline in the use of summerfallow, but the gains were offset to a great deal by a shift from higher-cover crops such as wheat, oats and barley to more profitable but lower-cover crops such as canola, soybeans and potatoes. The implication of these trends is that, even though protection of prairie agricultural soils has improved over the past 25 yr, soil cover could decline dramatically over the next several decades if crop changes continue, the adoption of conservation tillage reaches a peak and residue harvesting for biofuels becomes more common.
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Vol. 92 • No. 3