Local efforts to conserve soil pay off

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

The fields of local farmers may be covered in snow, but after two dry and difficult years, water conservation and erosion prevention are never far from their minds.

In August 2019, as part of the Programme Climat-Municipalités, the MRC of Brome-Missisquoi received just over $700,000 for three water conservation projects in Bedford, in Sainte-Sabine and in the Lac Davignon watershed.

The Sainte-Sabine project involved setting up a multilevel rain channel, to divert runoff into fields on either side. “This type of arrangement will not only retain more water in periods of heavy rain, but also reduce wetland erosion, to improve aquatic habitat and improve water quality,” a press release from the Quebec ministry of the environment said at the time. Two and a half years later, Anthoni Bérubé, communications and projects manager of the Organisme du bassin versant (OBV) de la Baie Missisquoi, calls the project “very promising” and hopes it will be replicated around the province.

“These channels are unique in Quebec and create a situation where there’s less sediment flowing into rivers,” Bérubé says. “We’ve been working on it for several years with the MRC; it’s a new approach we’ve been promoting and hopefully it will become the norm.”

Bérubé is grateful for the collaboration of area farmers. “We’re lucky; people in our region are aware and they want to take action,” he says. “The drought has also made people aware of the importance of caring for the environment; when there’s extra work to do on the farm [due to unusual weather conditions], the wider situation becomes obvious. People are saying that they don’t want to contribute further to a big collective problem.”
Jonathan Robinson is one of Bérubé’s regular collaborators. He farms 300 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and hay in Stanbridge East, St. Armand and Bedford.

“They [the OBV] came to me four or five years ago to talk about a rain ditch being dug in Saint-Armand, and they asked if we were interested in seeding cover crops,” recalls Robinson, referring to crops that are planted in otherwise unused fields to hold soil in place with their roots. “We said we’d already started, and they told us there were subsidies for that. The seed doesn’t cost very much and it helps us prevent soil erosion and soil compaction.”

Robinson says rain channels similar to the one dug in Sainte-Sabine have helped prevent erosion on his land. “The channels help when you have big rain events – the water has got to go somewhere. The main goal, for us and for the OBV, is to retain the soil and keep it out of the lake.”

Robinson’s no-till techniques are relatively labour-intensive and do require some use of pesticides. “The big challenge for myself and others is to find a balance – if it was simple, everyone would do the same things,” he said. “Most people are worried about the time and the management that goes into it.”

However, he says preventing erosion also helped his own bottom line this past year. “We had a dry year and we had an average crop, so I’m sure that being able to better conserve soil had an impact,” he said. “It follows you all through the year.”

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