Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Quesnel Observer and Williams Lake Tribune.

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Quesnel Observer and Williams Lake Tribune.

FOREST INK: More soil amendment science needed for degraded soils

After the signal is disabled, roots are able to push through compacted soil

In a paper published this year, an international research team, led by scientists from the University of Nottingham’s Future Food Beacon and Shanghai Jiao Tong University has discovered how the plant signal ‘ethylene’ causes roots to stop growing in hard soils.

But after this signal is disabled, roots are able to push through compacted soil.

The research published in Science describes how hard (compacted) soils represent a major challenge facing modern agriculture that can reduce crop yields over 50 per cent by reducing root growth, causing significant losses annually.

Europe has over 33 million hectares of soil prone to compaction which represents the highest in the world.

Soil compaction triggers a reduction in root penetration and uptake of water and nutrients.

Despite its clear importance for agriculture and global food security, the mechanism underpinning root compaction responses has been unclear until now and the hope is to use genetic manipulation to turn off the signal that stops the root penetration.

The concern I have with the plant selection approach is that it does not deal with the soil compaction problem which will likely get worse with the ongoing industrial farming practices.

Soil compaction is usually made worse by the loss of organic matter and the associated soil microflora. Smaller organic operations use a variety of soil amendments like compost, rotation grazing, biochar, branch wood chips or green manures to improve the soil fertility and long term soil texture which not only improves plant production but also quality of the plant produce.

The forest industry has made significant progress in the marketing of wood pellets for bioenergy export maybe there is also an opportunity to develop soil amendments from residual wood products for improving degraded soils around the world.

For example in a previous article the importance of branch wood chips for long term soil improvement was discussed.

READ MORE: Ecological economics not a popular topic for most people

There is some interesting Canadian research reported in the January 2021 Logging and Sawmilling Journal.

Author Tony Kryzanowski had an article on work being done in short rotation afforestation sites attached to the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre’s National Network of Short Rotation Afforestation Sites — one in Guelph, Ont. and the other near St. Albert, Alta.

The objective of this recovery study is to assess carbon sink and validate wood fibre/ biomass growth and yield, and to effectively recover the primary stems as well as branches and tops.

In Guelph, hybrid poplar clones planted at a variety of densities and harvested after 16 and 12 years had grown 20 metres and up to 24 centimetres in diameter. In Alberta, hybrid poplar and selected high production clonal aspen were planted in 2009 and 2010, with 1,600 and 6,400 stems per hectare. They achieved a height growth of eight, 12 and 15 metres based on their age and specific management regime.

What caught my attention was that the chipped wood was going to be used for for landscape and livestock bedding as well as pulp and energy production.

If the trees were intended for branch wood chip production or livestock use, the trees could be harvested earlier and even higher production rates could be achieved.

Additional research will be needed on the best products (pellets, chip sizes, moisture levels) and application methods that could be used for degraded industrial agriculture soils and rehabilitation of mining sites.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Members from the BC Wildfire Service and the Williams Lake Fire Department are conducting controlled burns at the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds and at Boitanio Park today, April 20, in Williams Lake. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Fire department, wildfire service, conducting controlled burns in Boitanio Park, Stampede Grounds April 20

Locations include at the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds and in Boitanio Park

Smoke rising from a slash pile near Canim-Hendrix Road on Tuesday, April 20. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Blaze on Canim-Hendrix Lake Road a false alarm

The smoke was coming from a legal under-control slash pile

Jason and Pharis Romero’s latest album <em>Bet on Love</em> garnered three Canadian Folk Music Awards. Here Patrick Metzger, bass, from left, Jason, Pharis and Marc Jenkins perform at Arts on the Fly 2019 in Horsefly. Both Metzger and Jenkins performed on the album, as well as John Reischman on mandolin. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Romeros’ latest album garners three Canadian Folk Music Awards

Recorded in Horsefly, Bet on Love was released in May 2020

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

The Nazko River is under a flood warning. (Emcon Services Inc. Facebook photo)
Nazko River under flood warning

Rest of the Cariboo, including Quesnel and Williams Lake at lowest advisory level

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

The city asking the public if they want to pursue legal action against the province and their decision to override the city on the Victory Church issue. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton ready to sue province over homeless shelter

City council voted unanimously to authorize legal action

Interior Health issued warning April 18, 2021 of crack cocaine in Penticton that looks similar to the substance above containing fentanyl. (Interior Health photo)
Interior Health warns of fentanyl contaminated crack-cocaine in Penticton

There have been recent reports of overdose associated with the use of this substance

Abbotsford nurse at ‘breaking point’ pleads with public to take COVID-19 seriously

Instagram post urges general population to stay home, wear a mask and get vaccinated

Most Read